Nomenclature – The Power of the Rhetoric of Labels

by J David Hester, PhD

At the Alt Pibroch Club, we will be adopting the following nomenclature in our publications:

References to Sources

Primary Sources

Refers to all pre-1850 sources as cataloged and made available at the Musical Materials Site. They include materials from Joseph MacDonald, canntaireach of Colin Campbell, the anonymous collection discovered by Drs Hannay and MacAuslan, Donald MacDonald and Donald MacDonald Jr., Capt. McLeod of Gesto, Peter Reid, the McArthur-McGregor manuscripts, the several sources of Angus MacKay, and the vandalized settings of John MacKay.  Non-piping authors include David Young, James Oswald, Daniel Dow, Patrick MacDonald, Elizabeth Ross and Daniel Menzies.

Secondary Sources

Refers to sources that came between 1850 and 1920. These include C. S. Thomason, David Glen, William Ross and Donald MacPhee.  Most of the tunes in these collections are copies of copies, though some original tunes exist.

Modern Sources

Refer to Piobaireach Society, Kilberry collection and Binneas is Boreag.  These settings are idiomatic reflections of modern provenance, exhibiting both a very heavy editorial hand, and the performance of the 20th century.

Unfamiliar or Lesser-known Settings

A substitute for “alternative settings”, which suggests a standard from which other settings are deviant.

References to Movements

Full crunluaths or crunludhs; taorluaths or torludhs

A substitute for “redundant-A”, which is both an aesthetic judgement and an anachronistic dismissal of the original structure of the movement.  The primary sources reflect the dominance of the low-A in this movement

Modern crunluaths or crunludhs; taorluaths or torludhs

As performed today.  There is no written testimony to the existence of this style of movement until the 20th century.

Light crunluaths or crunludhs; toarluaths or torludhs 

As reflected in Joseph MacDonald and Hannay-MacAuslan. Only a single, initiating low-G grace note exists in this style

Full D-throws

As an alternative to “heavy D-throws”. These are a full low-G grip followed by a C grace note to D.  They tended to be favored by the MacDonald style.

Light D-throws

Found only in Hannay-MacAuslan and Donald Macdonald, this is a single low-G grace note followed by a C grace note to D.

Full grip

As an alternative to “grip”, to distinguish itself from the light grip.

Light grip

A low-G grip without the final G; in other words, a low-G grace note followed by a C grace note. Found primary as “light D-throws”, and as part of “light” taorluaths and crunluaths.

Held Cadence

Also called “appoggiatura”.  Predominant in modern playing.

Trickling Cadence

 Abbreviated “appogiatura”, where the middle note is held slightly longer than the notes in the cadence surrounding it.

Streaming Cadence

“MacDonald cadence”, where all notes (sometimes up to 5) are played through quickly and evenly before landing on the thematic note.


Called solely “echo beats” today, they trace their origins back to the keening of wailing women.  These were performed in a variety of styles, suggesting an original free-form approach to the rhythm.


A style of crahinin, and therefore a rhythmical element.  It is not to be played as a birl.

References to Tune Sections


A subtitute for “variation”; a label used by Campbell.  It is in keeping with the Gaelic (see below)


A thematically unified collection of motions; for example, crunluath, crunluath doubling, crunluath a mach would constitute a cycle.


Gaelic word for “motion”, with implications of “movement” and “moving forward”.  This is the Gaelic root of Campbell’s term ‘motion’.