Home Media Frequently Asked Questions "Is Piobaireachd Difficult?"
"Is Piobaireachd Difficult?"

"Is Piobaireachd Difficult?"


It's likely that different accomplished pipers will give you different answers to this question. According to Robert Wallace, “piobaireachd is difficult music to play well. It takes a lifetime of study to do so, and to teach and to appreciate in full.”

The conventional answer would seem to be “yes.”

The notion that piobaireachd is “difficult” is an idea that has been with pipers for a long time. William Grant, writing in 1915, claimed “No piper can ever hope to excel in the art of piobaireachd playing unless he undergoes a considerable period of instruction by a good master.” The conventional wisdom has always been that the pipers of yore spent years of study at the old Highland piping schools before venturing out into the world as players. Add to this, the perception of piobaireachd as a mysterious and sometimes arcane artform, and you have the idea that piobaireachd is “difficult” firmly establishing itself in the tradition and carrying through to the present day.

Seumas MacNeill, though, late Principal of the College of Piping notes, "piobaireachd is easier to play than marches, strathspeys, and reels."

As with anything in music, and in piping, the real answer is not straightforward.

If we consider Wallace’s statement to be correct, then we should answer the corollary question, “given the fact that it is difficult, does it require more from us as learners, will this prevent me from learning piobaireached?”

The answer to that question should be a resounding "no!"

And, if we consider MacNeill’s statement to be correct, then we might ask ourselves, "If piobaireachd is easier to play than ceol baeg (light music), what makes it easier?"

Piobaireachd is simply another form of music. As with any music learning, it will require time, study, and practice to apply the techniques and concepts you already know.

Musically, you are already familiar with the idea of musical pulse and rhythm. Technically, you are already most probably familiar with many of the embellishments that are used in pioabaireachd. You have, in all probability, practiced and applied, embellishments such the taorluath and the lemluath (grip). Both of these embellishments are used in piobaireachd.

In contrast, piobaireachd employs a number of embellishments that are not found in ceol beag such as the crunluath, dare, and the edre. These embellishments, like any other, will require work to develop. The crunluath in particular, can be challenging to play correctly. However, if you apply basic Dojo U principles when learning these embellishments, you can simplify the task. Consider the crunluath:

If we break it down to its component pieces, we have a road map that we can follow to learn the crunluath:

  1. Play a G grace note on Low A (can start from any note preceded by a G grace note)
  2. Play Low G
  3. Play a D grace note on Low G
  4. Play an E grace note on Low A
  5. Play an F grace note on Low A
  6. Play E

Ultimately, as with any style of music, mastering piobaireachd will take dedicated study and work. If you apply what you do know and apply the principles with which you are familiar, you may just find that piobaireachd can be indeed be easier than marches and other light music as Seumas McNeill says. You can then join one of the "world's most rewarding clubs—that of the piobaireachd player."

Take Action

Bruce Gandy - Piobaireachd Classification with Bruce
What Is Piobaireachd?
Bruce Gandy - Piobaireachd Introduction and Critique


Mark Olson Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.