How many of us have heard an exciting bagpipe performance or some Celtic folk band and thought: “What is the name of that tune? I must learn and play it!”
Playing exciting music is part of what makes bagpipes fun. You owe it to yourself and your music to break out of the “duty” mentality once in a while and collect tunes you like. It’s the music that underpins your current and potential repertoire. Your collection begins with the tunes you find exciting and interesting, are able to play well, or just appeal to you in certain ways. Spending time with your music library will make you a better sight reader, improve your memory, and develop your overall musical knowledge.
These days though, the first impulse typically is to consult Facebook, websites, or internet forums for the tune itself. The impulse is a good one, but it’s the laziness that gets me. Everyone who is making a request for a tune on Facebook, or anywhere else online, has all the tools they need to find it on their own. Facebook and internet forums cast the illusion of being places to get quick piping answers but the truth is quite the opposite. It’s never clear what is right and what is wrong and you always must separate the good from the bad. You might indeed get someone to share their digital copy of that tune you want but, whatever score you uncover has murky origins at best and is more likely than not a corrupted mess. It’s impossible to trust random transcribed sheet music when it comes to bagpipes.
Here are some tips to help you seek out quality settings of the tunes that excite you.
The liner notes on folk albums are an excellent first resource. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of modern downloaded music that many folk albums mostly do not include any insert notes or tune lists but they are the best place for finding tune titles and composers, which is your first step to finding that tune. Solo piping CDs, pipe band albums, and traditional music tracks all will list the (hopefully accurate) titles of the tunes in each track.
We live in a modern age and information of all kinds is at our literal fingertips. Typing a tune title into the Google search bar is the easy first step to locating tunes. Google has changed its search over the years and search results are not always exhaustive. Put quotation marks around the complete title. Add the word bagpipes after the quoted title and you’ll inevitably find a video, website, or image with the information you need that will lead you to the score.
Use trustworthy sources that are as close to the undiluted original as possible. Random bmw files or pdfs sent to you by strangers should be treated with the scorn they deserve. Unless your human source is reliable and the provenance of the score is verified, you should not really rely on getting anything of any quality. In other words, don’t expect too much. There are several websites that return reliable and exhaustive results when searching for obscure tunes. Here are my favorites:
Go “old school” and buy books and recorded music! Once you find the name of the tune and its published source, buy the whole book or CD. It’s worth every penny and for every book you buy, you’ve given yourself dozens of other tunes you might never have discovered otherwise. Become an enthusiastic collector of traditional Scottish and Irish music and published work.
Eschew relying on internet strangers and rely instead on digital sources of music that are vetted and authoritative. If you really must acquire only the one or two tunes you desire, then these sites are likely to give you professional, quality settings.
Also, many of today’s top solo pipers (such as Bruce Gandy for one) offer recorded tracks, lessons, and scores of many tunes including piobaireachd for a complete package of learning. And, I would be remiss if I did not include the growing library of new settings of vintage music over at Pipehacker.com.