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Why Most Bagpipe Harmonies Sound Bad

Why Most Bagpipe Harmonies Sound Bad

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Secondary_leading-tone_chordLet's face it. Most bagpipe harmonies sound bad. Even in a lot of "top" pipe bands.

While it's interesting that certain notes are played on top of other notes by pipe bands and ensembles... "interesting" isn't always good. It's often discordant. Or, it takes away from what we feel deep down is the true nature of the tune. Them harmonies just don't sound too good!

This problem is largely caused by a lack of understanding of basic music theory.

There is a system (and it's not that complicated either) to determining exactly which notes will harmonize with the notes of any bagpipe tune.

The system also tells us which notes to avoid.

What is this crazy system? It's called chord progressions.

What the Heck Are Chord Progressions?

Ok, so I'll admit this sounds a bit scary, but it's really not.

Let's start with chords. Chords are quite simply a word for any time two or more different notes are played over top of each other.

So, if you play a 'D' and I play an 'A', we're producing a chord! If we add in Uncle Billy playing an F#, that's an even bigger chord. That's really all a chord is. Honest!

Now, certain chords produce harmonious results and some don't. We talk extensively about what makes chords sound harmonious in our composition club, but we won't go much more into that here.

I will say this though: All of our bagpipe melodies are rooted in various chords. In other words, at any given time during a tune, there is an underlying implied chord.

Sequences of Chords

These aren't bagpipe notes, but regardless - it's a sequence of different chords played in a particular order.
These aren't bagpipe notes, but regardless - it's a sequence of different chords played in a particular order.

In music, we don't just play one chord for 20 minutes. Instead, we put chords in a sequence, and write melody and harmony that explores the relationships between different chords.

This sequencing is what we call "Chord Progressions"! And yes, I swear, it's as simple as that!

Know the Chords; Know How to Write Harmonies

So, back to the reason most harmonies sound bad - they are not conceived with any knowledge of chords and chord progressions! Quite literally, all you need to do to write successful harmonies is to make sure the harmony note is a member of the current underlying chord.

It's really not too hard with a basic understanding of this tiny aspect of music theory.

If you're interested in learning more, Join our Composition Club today! Month 1 is all about Chords and Chord Progressions, and by Month 3 you'll be writing amazing harmonies, and elevating your bagpipe music to a level you never knew YOU were capable of achieving!

Click Here to Learn More about the Composition Club

 

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Andrew Douglas Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, having been active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He's also the founder and creator of Dojo U and of PipersDojo.com

Comment(1)

  1. Good article. I often try to explain to lower (and upper) grade bands writing their own harmonies, to think of harmonies as the Rhythm guitar, not two note up and two notes down......

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