Transcribing from Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book

For me, a useful practice when memorising a tune is to write it out. Often I do this from a recording of a performance, but it can also be useful to transcribe written canntaireachd. This is doubly useful because it will often uncover interesting melodic gems that aren’t often heard these days. For me it is easier to read staff notation than the written vocables.

Below is a rendering of the Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay from Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book. The canntaireachd is included with the staff notation as if it were lyrics. I have tried to reproduce the phrasing implied by the canntaireachd as accurately and systematically as possible, using slurs for compound vocables and bar-lines for phrases. This piece is irregular enough that it doesn’t seem very useful to worry that the duration of all notes in a bar/phrase add up to some constant value, and indeed the manuscript makes quite heavy use of punctuation to indicate phrasing which simply would not line up without either unnatural note values or constantly changing time signatures. So the time signature is just left out.

There are some very nice runs down from F to C in the ground where modern settings omit the D. The second line is quite different from what is usually heard as well. The doubling is problematic, in particular the second line. The manuscript contains an instruction to play something “Two times” but it is not clear what that is, the whole line, just the preceding phrase, there is precedent for both in the notation for this tune.

The typeset version is produced using ABC notation which is simple and convenient to write with any text editor and there is Free Software for generating reasonably good quality scores from it. The ABC source as well as a PDF made from it are linked below [add links to the attachments]. All errors and inaccuracies are, of course, my own.

To give a flavour of how this notation works, here is the first couple of bars for the staff notation above,

{ge4d}A>{G}A{G}A2 {ag}a>(f{g}e2) | ({g}f>e{g}f)(a(3fed{g}c2) |

It mainly consists of the notes themselves, with grace notes in curly braces and bars separated with the | character. Very simple to write, and simple for a computer program to read (of which more later).

The full ABC Notation source and the PDF of the score:


5 thoughts on “Transcribing from Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book

  1. 1) Mr Waites seems to have done a superb rendering/transcribing of this tune. it is easy to follow and to recheck or reappraise any point in the tune.

    2) What Geoff Jones said! I wonder how many are able to do this? 10 pipers? 50 pipers? It’s *just* a matter of practice and familiarity.

    3) I think it would be a good idea to have a discussion list or board or something – even Facebook. If we know costs and how many people to split it up between I am happy to help contribute financially.
    My own effort gets no interest :-(

    1. Thank you Allan, that’s kind of you to say.

      I agree about discussion. Myself, I’m not on Facebook, I deleted my account years ago when they started advertising funeral planning services when a relative took ill, too creepy.

      What I imagine would be more along the lines of a Wiki. Suppose each tune and topic had a page (somewhat like they do now) but material like text, references to recordings, transcriptions could be added. If you look at Wikipedia, each page also has a “discussion” companion page. That’s very useful because it keeps the discussion close to the subject at hand, and is easy to find and refer to later.

      What do you think of something like that? As I say, it’s not primarily a question of cost — I work at the University of Edinburgh and also run an ISP so server and network resources are not scarce. The limiting factor is mainly time.

  2. Geoff, you may well be right. Still, I find the process of writing it out useful for memorization. Also when playing before the tune is completely under my fingers, if I get lost, I can more quickly find where I am (or should be!) by glancing at the staff notation than the canntaireachd (even if typed out). So in my praxis it’s more efficient, but YMMV.

    I’m also not convinced that staff notation is a stricter construct in any meaningful sense. Perhaps if “rubato” is written explicitly then any musician will know that note lengths are just a rough guide and they can change them according to how they feel. It’s only if you try to play it to a metronome that you get into trouble.

    It’s only when I’ve got the piece properly memorized and do not need to refer to any written version that I find I can properly get the music out, so there’s not question of playing “from” a score really, except in the early stages of learning.

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