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What is Piobaireachd?

Piobaireachd (pronounced “pea-brock”) is the classical music of the great highland bagpipe. It is also less commonly referred to as Ceol Mor, meaning Great Music. This is an entirely different genre from the category of music known as Ceol Beag (or Little Music) that includes marches, slow airs and the various idioms of dance music (jigs, reels, strathspeys and hornpipes). Piobaireachd tunes themselves are often several hundred years old, dating to as far back as the 1400s. We can distinguish piobaireachd from the other forms of Celtic music as it is the only style traditionally played by one piper, solo, on the great highland bagpipe.

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Piobaireachd tunes tend to be much longer than light music tunes and feature a theme called the Ground or Urlar and several variations on it. These variations take the basic melody established in the ground and present it a variety of different rhythmic contexts with a number of different technical embellishments. Common variations include the use of the taorluath, crunluath and crunluath-a-mach movements — some of the most challenging and advanced elements of all piping.

Because of the strong historical connection, piobaireachd tunes are often associated with particular individuals, clans or well-known events. Some notable tune titles include: Too Long in this Condition, The Piper’s Warning to his Master, The Lament for the Children, Beloved Scotland and The Little Spree.

Many pipers consider Piobaireachd to be both the highest form of bagpipe music and also most satisfying and challenging to play. The world’s most prestigious piping competitions such as the Gold Medals at Inverness and Oban are won by pipers who compete by playing high-level Piobaireachd tunes.