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lachenal74693

Scales And Pitches On Highland Bagpipes - Do They Transfer To The Conc

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Posted (edited)

I've just been messing about with a tune in ABC which is actually scored for the Highland Bagpipe

(K:Hp). It (seems to) play fine on the 'tina, because as far as I can see, the C#, F# and Gnat which

appear in the Hp key signature just correspond to the C# and F# which are the 'accidentals' in the

key of D. In fact, if I transpose down, and then up a couple of semi-tones in my ABC editor, the key

magically converts itself from Hp to D...

 

So, in terms of notation, what's the difference between the Highland pipes key, and the key of D?

Is this 'inconsistency' simply down to the fact that the ABC system isn't man enough to cope with

this sort of musical subtlety?

 

In an attempt to find out for myself, I had a look at this - http://publish.uwo.ca/~emacphe3/pipes/acoustics/pipescale.html

and came away not much wiser, I'm afraid... :wacko:. In particular, the passage:

 

...This is because the size of the steps between some notes are incorrect. The note we call 'C' is really

closer to 'C#' and the note named 'F' is really closer to 'F#'...

 

left me somewhat bemused - putting aside the fact that we don't really know what incorrect means in

this context, does this mean that strictly speaking, I can't play any bagpipe tune on the 'tina 'cos the

intervals are different?

 

As I understood what I was reading, this isn't just an example of a modal scale in which the intervals

between notes are arranged differently to the 'standard' major key (Ionian), but a situation in which

the intervals between notes are actually different to the standard tone/semi-tone intervals. Puzzled...

 

Roger

Edited by lachenal74693

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Rather than "incorrect" the article should perhaps say "different". The intervals used in modern western music are simply a cultural convention, and different cultures use different scales with different intervals. Even in western music, equal temperament (which your concertina is probably tuned to) is a compromise which allows playing in any key but means that many of the notes aren't quite "right".

 

Likewise pitch is a matter of convention. A=440 Hz was only settled on as "concert pitch" relatively recently, and even now many orchestras tune to a different pitch.

 

Highland pipes are tuned to a different scale to those now commonly used for most western music.The difference is not much, but is noticeable especially when combined with the difference in pitch. It is close enough that you can play it on a concertina, but it won't sound quite right, whereas some exotic scales eg quarter-tone Arabic scales are simply impossible.

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Rather than "incorrect" the article should perhaps say "different"...

 

That's the interpretation I was tending towards - ta.

 

...Highland pipes are tuned to a different scale to those now commonly used for most western music.The difference is not much, but is noticeable especially when combined with the difference in pitch. It is close enough that you can play it on a concertina, but it won't sound quite right, whereas some exotic scales eg quarter-tone Arabic scales are simply impossible.

 

That's good - as I said, stuff sounds OK(-ish) on the 'tina - clearly it's not a set of pipes, but I have

a drone on one of my instruments and if used in moderation, up to a point, I can do a 'faux-pipes'

impersonation... The article I quoted didn't say exactly how far off the 'C' and 'F' actually were, which

was bugging me a little.

 

Ta - very helpful.

 

R

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So, in terms of notation, what's the difference between the Highland pipes key, and the key of D?

 

The highland pipes scale is normally written as if in the key of A-mixolydian, which is the same number of sharps as the D-major scale.

 

But the scale of the pipes actually sounds much closer to what is Bb in comparison to the modern pitch standard of A=440 hertz, i.e., a half step "higher" than written. And transcriptions from recordings may then be written as if in that key, which would make sense to a concertina wanting to play along with the pipes, but would not make sense to a piper used to the traditional notation.

 

As others have noted, the intervals on the pipes are slightly different from the even-tempered scale. Not enough for the tune to sound weird if you're playing solo on your concertina, but some of the notes could sound slightly discordant if you're playing in unison with a set of actual pipes.

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So, in terms of notation, what's the difference between the Highland pipes key, and the key of D?

 

The highland pipes scale is normally written as if in the key of A-mixolydian, which is the same number of sharps as the D-major scale.

 

But the scale of the pipes actually sounds much closer to what is Bb in comparison to the modern pitch standard of A=440 hertz, i.e., a half step "higher" than written. And transcriptions from recordings may then be written as if in that key, which would make sense to a concertina wanting to play along with the pipes, but would not make sense to a piper used to the traditional notation.

 

As others have noted, the intervals on the pipes are slightly different from the even-tempered scale. Not enough for the tune to sound weird if you're playing solo on your concertina, but some of the notes could sound slightly discordant if you're playing in unison with a set of actual pipes.

 

 

I agree with what Jim said, and would add that that’s why the G natural is specified in the key signature. You’re playing in a key centered on A, but although it has C# and F#, it doesn’t have the G# you’d expect in A major.

 

It’s a scale that uses the same notes as D major (so is B minor), but it is not a D scale, it is an A scale. Read (google) about modes.

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The essence of the bagpipe is the drones, which in the case of the Highland pipes cannot be turned off while playing (although the other drones are stopped when tuning one drone, sometimes by another person than the player). Also, the chanter of the Highland pipe sounds continuously, so every note in the chanter's scale has to be perfectly in tune with the drones. Any deviation from the natural, or Just, scale would sound "off", and spoil the unique rapport between each respective note and the drone.

 

Playing a bagpipe melody in equal temperament without a drone would not be quite so bad as with a drone.

 

Cheers,

John

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The highland pipes scale is normally written as if in the key of A-mixolydian, which is the same number of sharps as the D-major scale.

 

But the scale of the pipes actually sounds much closer to what is Bb in comparison to the modern pitch standard of A=440 hertz, i.e., a half step "higher" than written. And transcriptions from recordings may then be written as if in that key, which would make sense to a concertina wanting to play along with the pipes, but would not make sense to a piper used to the traditional notation.

 

As others have noted, the intervals on the pipes are slightly different from the even-tempered scale. Not enough for the tune to sound weird if you're playing solo on your concertina, but some of the notes could sound slightly discordant if you're playing in unison with a set of actual pipes.

 

Jim, thank you for those insights - I think that with this, and the previous contribution from hjcj, I begin to 'understand' the pipes!

Certainly, using my ever-present ABC player, I just played the tune(*) back after scoring it in Hp, Amix and D, and it sounded the

same each time which helps get the message into my thick skull! Not a totally convincing test, of course, as the ABC player is a

very basic tool.

 

I have PM'd you about other matters.

 

Roger.

 

(*) 'Twas 'The Irish Washerwoman'...

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Posted (edited)

 

I agree with what Jim said, and would add that that’s why the G natural is specified in the key signature. You’re playing in a key centered on A, but although it has C# and F#, it doesn’t have the G# you’d expect in A major.

 

It’s a scale that uses the same notes as D major (so is B minor), but it is not a D scale, it is an A scale. Read (google) about modes.

 

...and clearer still! I now appreciate why the apparently 'redundant' Gnat is specified in the Hp key sig..Thank you.

 

I've been reading <whatever> about modes since I started - it's veeeery sloooowly starting to penetrate...

 

R.

Edited by lachenal74693

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Posted (edited)

...Playing a bagpipe melody in equal temperament without a drone would not be quite so bad as with a drone...

 

So I should probably give up my (not very serious) attempts to 'simulate' a 'faux-bagpipe' using (1) EasyABC and

(2) the drone on my 'tina. Sigh... Quel dommage...

Edited by lachenal74693

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(*) 'Twas 'The Irish Washerwoman'...

 

The Irish Washerwoman is not generally regarded as a “modal” tune. It’s usually played straight major, with the raised 7th (G# in A, F# in G, where it’s usually played). I just looked at all the renditions in thesession.org and didn’t see one in the mixolydian mode (the mode that corresponds to Hp)

 

 

...Playing a bagpipe melody in equal temperament without a drone would not be quite so bad as with a drone...

So I should probably give up my (not very serious) attempts to 'simulate' a 'faux-bagpipe' using (1) EasyABC and

(2) the drone on my 'tina. Sigh... Quel dommage...

 

Nah. Don’t worry about it. I do it all the time. It may upset the pipers listening, but everyone else loves it.

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Posted (edited)

The Irish Washerwoman is not generally regarded as a “modal” tune. It’s usually played straight major, with

the raised 7th (G# in A, F# in G, where it’s usually played). I just looked at all the renditions in thesession.org

and didn’t see one in the mixolydian mode (the mode that corresponds to Hp)

 

The Morris side who have unfortunately (for them!) acquired my 'services', play it as straight Gmaj, as you

describe, when we play for a bit of dancing at the end of our Morris sets.

 

'Twas on 'The Session' I found the version I am burbling about - it was not in the formal 'Settings' at the top of

the entry, but buried deep in the comments. Here it is:

X:1
T:The Irish Washerwoman
R:Jig
C:Played by Ewan Boyd on A Great Highland Bagpipe Tutor CD (www.bagpipe.co.uk)
Z:Transcribed by Miklos Nemeth reusing extensively an arrangment by P/M Joe Wilson
M:6/8
L:1/8
Q:1/4=90
K:Hp
a | fdd Add | fdf agf | gee cee |Ace gfe | fdd Add | fdf agf | gfg eag |fdd d2 :| 
a | fdd add | fdd agf | gfg ece |Ace gfe | fdd add | fdd agf | gfg eag |fdd d2a | 
fdd add | fdd agf | gfg ece |Ace gfe | f<af dcd | Adf agf | gfg eag |fdd d2|| 
a | faf dcd | Adf agf | gfg ece |Ace gfe | faf dcd | Adf agf | gfg eag |fdd d2 :| 
e | f2f agf | Adf agf | e2e gfe |Ace gfe | f2f agf | Adf agf | gfg eag |fdc d2e | 
f2f agf | Adf agf | e2e gfe |Ace gfe | faf dcd | Adf agf | gfg eag |fdd d2 |]

As you can see, it's scored Hp - which is what caught my attention in the first place.

 

...Nah. Don’t worry about it. I do it all the time. It may upset the pipers listening, but everyone else loves it.

 

I wouldn't dare do it if I were still living in Edinburgh, within earshot of a few thousand pipers, but yes, some

people seem to 'like' it. So much so that I'm looking at a couple of other tunes to vandalise in this way. It does

have a serious purpose - helps me learn a little more about music each time I do it - look how much I've learned

about pipes since yesterday...

Edited by lachenal74693

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'Twas on 'The Session' I found the version I am burbling about - it was not in the formal 'Settings' at the top of

the entry, but buried deep in the comments. Here it is:

X:1
T:The Irish Washerwoman
R:Jig
C:Played by Ewan Boyd on A Great Highland Bagpipe Tutor CD (www.bagpipe.co.uk)
Z:Transcribed by Miklos Nemeth reusing extensively an arrangment by P/M Joe Wilson
M:6/8
L:1/8
Q:1/4=90
K:Hp
a | fdd Add | fdf agf |...
As you can see, it's scored Hp - which is what caught my attention in the first place.

 

It seems your initial instincts were correct. This is straight D major. There’s nothing modal or Hp about it except that it uses the same notes. I’m not sure playing it on a bagpipe justifies calling it Hp.

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Posted (edited)

It seems your initial instincts were correct. This is straight D major. There’s nothing modal or Hp about it

 

except that it uses the same notes. I’m not sure playing it on a bagpipe justifies calling it Hp.

 

I must admit that I couldn't see anything about the ABC code when I looked at it, which made me

think that it was particularly pipe-tune-ish - I couldn't see any other peculiarities either. It's sorta

why I raised the query in the first instance - I was puzzled. I mean, it even passes the simple(*) test

of 'if it ends on a D it's in the key of D'...

 

However, I'm now a little more knowledgeable about pipes, so I guess that goes into the ledger

on the credit side...

 

(*) ...and not necessarily reliable...

Edited by lachenal74693

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I recently posted a video of this tune. (Well two videos actually, partly to experiment with different camera/microphone positions and partly to correct a phrase I'd mis-remembered.) It's pretty obviously a pipe tune. I learnt it by ear before eventually discovering the music as written for fiddle. Both my remembered version and the notated one have an interesting feature in the B music: the leading note of the key (fourth note of the bagpipe scale) occurs twice as a natural rather than a sharp. This is one of the notes which, on the bagpipe, is somewhere in between the two.

 

So I guess, to answer the original question, the answer is "yes, but for the two ambiguous notes you have to decide whether the natural or the sharp makes most sense musically". Incidentally, I had always assumed that the bagpipe scale was deliberately ambiguous on these two notes so that they could serve for either purpose (in the absence of any accidentals.) But that may be somewhat naive!

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Firstly, in terms of key, historically, pipes were tuned to the key of A.

When the ban after the Jacobite Rebellion was lifted, the key was changed to Bb to play along with military bands.

Pipe music is still written in A, but pipe books have no key - there's no choice!

The actual pipe scale is A, but with flattened sevenths, i.e. G natural.

When playing a pipe tune, I always play the low G natural, but I sometimes play the high G as sharp or natural, depending on the feel of the tune.

Some tunes seem to need G#, but the pipes are constrained - they have to play G natural.

In other tunes G natural is an essential part of the tune.

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1 hour ago, davidcorner said:

The actual pipe scale is A, but with flattened sevenths, i.e. G natural.

 

More detail from Wikipedia:

 

Highland bagpipe music is written in the key of D major, where the C and F are sharp (despite the key-signature usually being omitted from scores). Due to the lack of chromatic notes, to change key is also to change modes; tunes are in A Mixolydian, D major, B Aeolian, or occasionally E Dorian. In concert pitch (notes on the piano) it will be B Mixolydian, Emajor, C Aeolian, or occasionally F Dorian.

 

Traditionally, certain notes were sometimes tuned slightly off from just intonation. For example, on some old chanters the D and high G would be somewhat sharp. According to Forsyth (1935),[9] the C and F holes were traditionally bored exactly midway between those for B and D and those for E and G, respectively, resulting in approximately a quarter-tonedifference from just intonation, somewhat like a "blue" note in jazz.[10] Today, however, the notes of the chanter are usually tuned in just intonation to the Mixolydian scale. 

 

Which explains why GHBP music sounds so alien to folks whose ear is not adapted to it.

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4 minutes ago, Don Taylor said:

 

More detail from Wikipedia:

 

Highland bagpipe music is written in the key of D major, where the C and F are sharp (despite the key-signature usually being omitted from scores). Due to the lack of chromatic notes, to change key is also to change modes; tunes are in A Mixolydian, D major, B Aeolian, or occasionally E Dorian. In concert pitch (notes on the piano) it will be B Mixolydian, Emajor, C Aeolian, or occasionally F Dorian.

 

Traditionally, certain notes were sometimes tuned slightly off from just intonation. For example, on some old chanters the D and high G would be somewhat sharp. According to Forsyth (1935),[9] the C and F holes were traditionally bored exactly midway between those for B and D and those for E and G, respectively, resulting in approximately a quarter-tonedifference from just intonation, somewhat like a "blue" note in jazz.[10] Today, however, the notes of the chanter are usually tuned in just intonation to the Mixolydian scale. 

 

Which explains why GHBP music sounds so alien to folks whose ear is not adapted to it.

 

In fact a very comprehensive summary, Don - I was just and still am wondering whether this ambiguity was actually result of the lack of holes or rather a feature of this kind of music (and similar, perhaps derivated types) - I seem to recall that with Appalachian fiddle tunes the musicians (albeit even being able to differenciate the enharmonic counterparts) would have used a similar intonation for what we now call "blue notes", i.e. the third and seventh (not sure about the fifth) somewhere "in the middle".

 

There are some Mixolydian tunes (both Appalachian and Irish) where I occasionally alternate the seventh when playing through the runs, or even play the major and minor interval at the same time (spread of course then).

 

OT in terms of pipes' scales, but a related matter anyway IMO. - What do you think?

 

Best wishes -  Wolf

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11 hours ago, Wolf Molkentin said:

 

In fact a very comprehensive summary, Don - I was just and still am wondering whether this ambiguity was actually result of the lack of holes or rather a feature of this kind of music (and similar, perhaps derivated types) - I seem to recall that with Appalachian fiddle tunes the musicians (albeit even being able to differenciate the enharmonic counterparts) would have used a similar intonation for what we now call "blue notes", i.e. the third and seventh (not sure about the fifth) somewhere "in the middle".

 

There are some Mixolydian tunes (both Appalachian and Irish) where I occasionally alternate the seventh when playing through the runs, or even play the major and minor interval at the same time (spread of course then).

 

OT in terms of pipes' scales, but a related matter anyway IMO. - What do you think?

That question is quite a bit beyond my pay grade!

 

Issues of psycho-acoustics and the way that musical scales vary with time and different cultures are really interesting especially as there is a nice mathematical underpinning to all of this stuff.  Ph. D. dissertation at least, I think.

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