Piobaireachd / classical music of the highland bagpipe Part-1/2

What is Piobaireachd?

The word “piobaireachd” means pipe playing or pipe music, but is now used to describe the classical music of the highland bagpipe. Ceol Mòr is another name that is used that means “Big Music”. Piobaireachd generally consists of a theme or ground and variations that vary in number and complexity. It is most commonly performed on the highland bagpipe, but is also played on the fiddle and harp as part of a more recent revival.

When did Piobaireachd first develop?

Most piobaireachds are assumed to have been written between the 16th and 18th centuries. Research into the ornamentation style of piobaireachd points to earlier origins in wire strung garlic harp music. The crunluath movements of the bagpipe are particularly similar to the rapid descending arpeggios of the harp. Caoineadh Rìoghail (The Royal Lament ca 1649) is a harp tune similar in structure to piobaireachd with a theme and variations. It is said to have been composed by the harper John Garbh MacLean, Laird of Coll, on the execution of Charles the First. As the tradition of scottish gaelic aristocratic patronage began to crumble due to political and cultural changes, the role of the harp went into a decline. The patronage of hereditary harpers was largely finished by the middle of the 17th century. The transfer from harp to bagpipes is assumed to have begun in the 16th century and with it the style of music that was to develop into what we call piobaireachd today.


  • Iain MacHarg

    Iain MacHarg is the director of the Vermont Institute of Celtic Arts, and a music professor at Norwich University. He holds the Senior Piping Certificate and the Teaching Certificate from the Institute of Piping, Scotland. He has been a familiar face at the highland games since very early in his life and his father, Michael MacHarg, is one of the premier bagpipe builders in the world. In addition to competing as a professional grade solo piper, he has founded four Highland Pipe Bands in Vermont (Catamount Grade 4 & 5, Norwich University, the Green Mountain Highlanders) and has played with several folk groups. Iain’s solo albums and books: Rooted in Tradition, Ceol Na Beinne, Celtic Christmas, and Feadan Mor, a collection of original tunes for the bagpipe are sold worldwide.

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