1. Introduction
  2. Why is singing more important than the written music
  3. How do teachers know what to sing to their pupils
  4. What is the Campbell Canntaireachd
  5. Other forms of Canntaireachd
  6. An example of a tune

What is the Campbell Canntaireachd

In the early 1800's the Highland Society of Scotland staged a competition to encourage the writing of piobaireachd on the stave. Pipers came forward with their suggestions, and one person came with a copy of written canntaireachd, produced by Colin Campbell from Nether Lorn. The 2 volumes of this manuscript which have survived to the present day are known as "the Campbell Canntaireachd".

This document containing 168 tunes was written in about 1797, and instead of representing the music in staff notation, a form of words was used – as if the tunes were being sung to the writer of the manuscript. This is indeed what could have happened: the writer, Colin Campbell, was taught (sung to) by his father, Donald Campbell, who himself was a pupil of the MacCrimmons.

In the manuscript, each note, gracenote and movement had its own individual sound, and this system of sounds is now also referred to as "the Campbell Canntaireachd" or sometimes the "Nether Lorn Canntaireachd".

For example ...

  • a G gracenote on low G is "him"
  • a B would be "0"
  • and the sound for throw on D is "tra".

If you were to combine these 3 sounds, ie "himotra", then that would be a G gracenote on low G, come up onto B, and then play a throw on D. See below for how this phrase is the start of the tune "Lament for the Viscount of Dundee"

The Campbell Canntaireachd is described in detail at the beginning of each of the Society's books of music, and is if you want to take a look at it, go to this link. The Campbell Canntaireachd is an example of an attempt to create a record on paper of the tunes, before widespread use of staff notation came about.

One obvious problem when reading the Campbell Canntaireachd, is that there is no indication of how long each note should be. The manuscript shows the pitch of the notes, and the gracenotes in some detail, but that is all. Luckily many of the tunes are known to pipers already (passed down through the oral tradition) so we can interpret them using some prior knowledge. However about 60 tunes were found in the Campbell Canntaireachd, where we have no other record of them. Again, the assumption was that those using these written sources at the time, would either know the ways of the tunes, or would have had recourse to traditional teachers.

How do we interpret these 60 tunes? Some experience of piobaireachd is needed, to begin the task. After that it is remarkably easy to say which notes should be long and which should be short, as piobaireachd is a firmly established and somewhat repetitive form of music.