To help learn and memorize a new tune, it’s helpful to look over the tune to identify its unique and repeating elements. Before picking up your chanter to start playing, take a few minutes to look and understand the tune’s structure.

Most pipe tunes fall in the traditional structure:

• Parts (usually 2 or 4, but sometimes 3, 5, 6, 8 or more)

• Lines (almost always 2 lines per part)

• Bars (almost always 4 bars per line, 8 bars per part)

Oftentimes the bars repeat in groups of two. We call this a phrase. Sometimes phrases are one bar or three or more bars, but most typically we have two bar phrases.

Download and print out this copy of the classic 2/4 march The 79ths Farewell to Gibraltar.

You will need a copy printed on real paper. Looking at it on your computer screen won’t work for this exercise. Grab your colored highlighters. Colored pens or pencils will work in a pinch, too.

Tune structure

Take a look over The 79ths and try to identify any two bar phrases that occur more than once. Mark the phrase with the same colored pen each time it shows up. Resist the urge to play the tune or to try and find a recording to listen to. Look over the whole tune find as many repeating phrases as you can.

Video Demonstration
Highlight Three More Tunes

1. A tune you have been playing for a while — a tune you know well.

2. A tune you have been working on — a tune in progress.

3. A brand new tune — a tune you’ve never played or never even heard.

What did you observe? Was it easier or harder than you expected? Did you notice anything odd or unexpected? Did you tune follow a similar pattern of phrases as in 79ths?

Once you get the hang of it, print out fresh copies of the three tunes you selected for your self recordings and highlight them as well. You’ll find that this exercise can help you learn faster and memorize tunes with less effort. 

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