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Updated 05/24/2017


Principles of Music

This week’s topic is a reproduction of the “Principles of Music” by William Gun from a 1846 collection of of strathspeys, reels, jigs, and quicksteps. It provides an interesting insight in how piping was taught.  William Gunn was born in Kildonan. He competed in the Highland Society's piping competitions and was 5th in Edinburgh in 1824 having moved to Glasgow the preceding year. He became a bagpipe maker around 1834. He died 14 February 1867.  Gunn was credited with being the first to make a smallpipe chanter that tuned to the highland bagpipes scale and used the same fingering.  Gunn was a fairly prolific composer and was published in his own book as well as William Ross’.


Music consists of a variety of pleasing sounds, produces by the Voice or by an Instrument, which sounds, when combined and arranged, produce Melody, and Harmony; the former being the result of a succession of simple sounds, and the latter, of the union of two or more musical sounds.  In Bag-pipe Music the Drones produce a fixed Harmony to the Melody, which is illustrated hereafter.


Musical Sounds are represented by characters called Notes, of which there are Seven, expressed by the first seven letters of the Alphabet.  The Notes are written on and between five parallel lines.  These lines and the spaces between them, form the Stave, and include none notes or degrees of sound.  The lines and spaces are named after their number, counting upwards from the bottom of the Stave.  Lines supplementary to the Stave, either above or below, are termed Ledger-lines, and are counted upwards from above the stave, and downward from below it.

The Stave &c.


Thus    C – 1st Ledger-line below

            D – Below the line

            E – 1st Line

            F – 1st Space

            G – 2nd Line

            A – 2nd Space

            B – 3rd Line

            C – 3rd Space

            D – 4th Line

            E – 4th Space

            F – 5th Line

            G – Above the line

            A – 1st Ledger-line above, &c.



The Gamut or Scale, inserted here, consists of two Octaves, and extends to all the notes and degrees, used in Vocal Music, and the letters by which they are named in the Treble or G cleff.  An Octave consists of any seven successive notes.  The first of which is the key note, and the whole seven, the scale of that note.  And as an eighth is in unison with the first or key note, and hence only a repetition thereof, either in a higher or lower degree; all supplementary notes, either above or below, are only repetitions of these seven.

The Scale is represented on perfect instruments such as an Organ, Piano &c. as consisting of 12 successive sounds in the Octave, called semitones or halftones, this is called the Chromatic Scale, in this case any of the 12 semitones may be assumed as a key note, but the Diatonic Scale is that represented in writing, by seven notes, consisting of five full tones and two semitones.  From the disposition of these two semitones in the Scale, arises the Major and Minor Moods in musical composition, and all the Tunes must be either of the one, or the other.  In the natural scale of C, the semitones are placed betwixt E and F, and betwixt B and C, and are indicated by a curve from the one note to the other, in the scale given below.

The Gamut or Diatonic Scale

The above figures denote the 1st 2nd 3rd &c. degrees of the respective scales to which they belong.  It is also seen that in the Major scale, the semitones are placed betwixt the 3rd and 4th and 7th and 8th degrees, and in the Minor scale, betwixt the 2nd and 3rd, and 5th and 6th degrees, and as the same disposition of the semitones serves for both Moods, every Major Mood has its relative Minor, the key note of the Minor is the 3rd degree downward, or 6th upward from the Major key note, as is seen in the example above.


In order to suit the limited compass of the Voice and of certain Instruments, other keys than C are assumed, but as in the assumed key, the semitones must stand betwixt the same degrees of it, that they do in the natural key of C, they are transposed from their natural positions in the key of C, to their new positions by signatures, viz. a sharp (#) raises the note to which it renders a semitone, and a flat (b) in the same manner depresses the note to which it refers a semitone.

The Chanter of the Bag-pipes is limited in all to nine notes, and to the scale of A Major, from their natural positions in A Minor; as also the relative value of the Major and Minor Moods.  The scale is divided into three thirds, and the number of semitones in each third is marked.

The original positions of the semitones are marked under the notes as they occur in A Minor, and the positions to which they are raised by the sharps to form A Major, or the Bag-pipe Scale, are marked above the notes.


Other key notes than A Major, are assumed on the Chanter but their Scales cannot be perfected without the aid of artificial keys attached to the Instrument.  The small Drones are tuned in unison with the key note A, 1st degree 2nd space, and the large Drone an Octave below that.

The Bag-pipe Scale is fixed, and hence does not admit of transposition, therefore no signatures, of sharps or flats, are made use of in Bag-pipe Music.  The following is a representation of the proper fingering of the Chanter to produce the Scale of A Major.

The Musical Note is written six different ways, to indicate the duration of sound to be given to each.  The first and longest duration of time is represented by the Semibreve (whole note), and the half of the time of the Semibreve is indicated by the Minum (q). In Common Time, the duration of time represented by the Minum, is the revolution of a Pendulum beating seconds.  In duration of Sound, each successive note is half of the former, as

1 Semibreve is equal to 2 Minums,

                    or to - - - - - 4 Crochets,

                    or to - - - - - 8 Quavers,

                    or to - - - - 16 Semiquavers,

                    or to - - - - 32 Demisemiquavers.

These Notes and their Names are

A Dot placed after any of these notes, makes it a half longer.  The stems may be turned up or down at pleasure, depending on their position on the Stave, as under,

Those notes having hooks to the stems, may be grouped together in the following manner.

Each Musical Note has its Rest, but rests are not used in Bag-pipe Music.

A Bar is a line drawn across the stave.  Singe Bars divide the music into equal portions and time, and in beating time, the foot should always go down at the beginning of every bar.  Double Bars are placed in the middle, or at the end of a Tune, to show that a part, or the whole is finished.

To Dots at the double bar, signify, that the music on the dotted side of the bar is to be repeated.

Single and Double Bars, with and without Dots.

The quantity of notes in a bar are termed a Bar of Music, and every bar must be of the same quantity or value throughout the same piece; but a bar of music is different in different pieces, according to the Mood or Measure.  There are two measures, namely, Common, Time, and Triple Time, both of which are subdivided into Simple and Compound.  The value of music in the bar is denoted by Characters or Figures placed at the beginning of the piece.  When figures are used for this purpose, the denominator denotes the value of the notes, compared with the Semibreve, and the numerator, the number of these notes to compose the bar, or of smaller notes, being their equivalents in value,  - that is, 3/2 signifies that the bar contains 3 halves or 3 Minums, 3/4 signifies 3 fourths or 3 Crochets, 3/8 signifies 3 Quavers, &c.

Simple Common Time                       Compound Common Time

Simple Triple Time                            Compound Triple Time

A Hold or Pause, is a semicircle and a dot place over or under a note, Fermata.svg and denotes that it is to be held longer than its real time.  A Slur is a curve drown over or under two or more notes differing in pitch, and indicates that they are to be performed in a smooth connected style.  A slur with the figure 3 requires that the three notes be played in the time of two of these notes, and if the slur be six notes, with the figure six, they must be played in the time of four notes.

First and Second Time denotes, that you are to play the first time to the double bar, and in playing over the second time that you omit the part marked 1st time, and proceed to that marked 2nd time.

The Appoggiatura, or Grace Note.

The demisemiquaver Music-thirtysecondnote.svg is very much made use of in Bag-pipe music as a grace note, and falls into the principal note immediately following.  They are generally performed by the forefinger of both upper and lower hands and also by the third finger of the upper hand.

In beginning to learn to play the Bag-pipe, the learner should commence, first, with the practicing chanter, by placing the first three fingers of the left hand on the chanter, and the thumb on the hole behind, then place the four fingers of the right hand on the other holes of the chanter, observing that the fingers must be so far across the chanter as to bring the middle joints of the second and third fingers on the holes.  After placing the hands in this position, the learner commences with  the Gamut, and then the exercises, and after learning to play a few tunes correctly and with tolerable ease, he may then commence to keep wind to the Pipe.  First to place the first two fingers and thumb of the left hand on the chanter, and taking the stock of the big drone in  the right hand, then blow into the bag, and, when full, shove it under the left arm.  The arm must be kept firm on the bag, and when drawing breath press the arm gently on the bag, so as to keep the chanter and drones going, the same as wen blowing into the bag; and so on alternately blowing and pressing with the arm, and by a little practice he will soon be able to play the Pipe.