Teach Yourself Bagpipes by Lindsay Davidson - Piobaireachd

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Canntaireachd is a system of notation and communication used before staff notation was applied to piobaireachd. In short, a vocable (little word) indicates what pitch and embellishment play, and bigger words are made up from these vocables, leading to a text that can convey what to play. Tradition (more or less...) tells us the rhythm to use for each word and hence we have a notation system.

There were two systems in use - Nether Lorn and MacRimmon. The MacRimmon system was recorded in New Zealand a hundred years ago but fell out of common use The Nether Lorn has remained in use. Partial discontinuities in tradition may have happened historically, with staff notation pushing canntaireachd out of use. There are theories about this which we need not go into here, but the result is that historical styles of playing may have differed quite substantially from what we do today, and certain aspects of this are reflected in canntaireachd.

Piobaireachd is traditionally written in three lines of text, with an internal organisation following one of a number of traditional schemes.  This basic text is called a 'Ground' (Theme) or 'Urlar' which is then put through a number of variations, again derived from the theme in a  traditional manner and using a formulaic approach.

It was traditional to teach piobaireachd through canntaireachd and masters and pupils would spend hours sitting together singing tunes to each other. The writer learned this way (despite being an awful singer).

Nowadays people learn with staff notation as well and canntaireachd is used to support the acquisition of lyrical flow,phrasing and to make sense of the breathing of a tune. Genuinely, if you sing in your head and include awareness of where you would breathe to sing the words, then the tune will come out sensibly.

To begin with this chart will be of limited meaning to you, but as you learn the techniques and start to play tunes, and start to want to sing piobaireachd with canntaireachd, it will be of vital importance. Please keep coming back here and learning a little more.

This particular page needs to be revised between every single step of your piobaireachd learning process. Learn the scale and gracenotes first.

The format for conveying information as to what each canntaireachd vocable means was standardised many years ago by the Piobaireachd Society in their series of publications and is reproduced here in the same format.
You can click on the names of the embellishments and variations for a page explaining what they are and how to play them.

Scale Chart

Scale plain

Scale with
high G grace

Scale with
E grace

Scale with
D grace

Low G




dam, bam

















a, da, ba




e, de



dhe, ve


High G

di, vi


High A



Written in accordance with scale chart above, e.g., himen hinen, hioen, and hinen, hioeo, hoeo, etc.
Ditto, e.g., hinda, hindo, hiodo, himto.
For the Leumluath to E from any note other that D the symbol is bare, e.g., hiobare, hobare, etc.
From D to E - harode (using B grace note), or habare (using D grace note).
To F - barhe.
To high G - bari,
To high A - dari or possibly bari.
The symbol for the Taorluath beat is darid, e.g., hodarid, hadarid. Taorluath to low G is darem, e.g., hiodarem.
Taorluath Breabach
the same with the addition of one note according to the scale chart.
Taorluath a Mach
is expressed hiotroeo (B), hodroeo (C), and hiotraea (D).
is himbabem or himbaem (low G), hindaen (A), hiotoeo (B), and hodoeo (C). Followed by melody note, e.g., hindaenda hindaendo, hiotoeodo, himbabemto. Low G tripling followed by low G is sometimes himbamembam.
The symbol for the Crunluath beat is -bandre, e.g., habandre, chebandre, etc.
Crunluath with low G instead o flow As is -bamdre, e.g., himbamdre. 
Crunluath Breabach
the same with the addition of two notes according to the scale chart.
Crunluath a Mach
is expressed hiotrodre (B), hodrodre (C), and hiotradre (D).
Crunluath Fosgailte
First two notes as per scale chart, followed by -dre (which represents the throw on E), e.g., hindodre, hintodre, etc.


The cadence E is little used in the Nether Lorn MSS., but when it appears it is shown by the prefix hi, followed by the melody note as if played with a G grace note instead of D, e.g., hihodin, but hienem.

Doublings and Throws

On D - tra
On high A - dili
On E from a note lower than E - dre
On E from a note higher than E - edre
On F from a note lower than F dare
On F from a note higher than F - vedare
On F from F itself - hedale
From E to high G - chedari or chehedari
Doubling from low G to high G - embari or himbari
Doubling from low A to high G - endari or hinbari
On low A - ban, bain
On B - tro
On C - dro
From D to D - adeda or ademda

Echoing Beats

On low A - hiharin
B to B - hihorodo
D to D - hiharara
E to E - cherede
F to F - herere
High G to high G - hiriri
Various Other Movements
Low A preceded by low G grace note - din, e.g., hihiodin
D to low A with low G, B, low G grace notes - harodin
C to low A with low G, B, low G grace notes - horodin
B preceded by low G, D, low G, C, low G grace notes - darodo
E to D followed by C, with F, D, and E grace notes - chelalho
Short B and C to low A preceded by low G grace note - hiodin, odin, and hodin

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Lindsay Davidson
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