Notations of pibroch before 1854

This page provides an overview of the musical evidence in two lists, alphabetical and chronological. The notations by pipers and non-pipers (separated in the site navigation) are here combined. Altogether there are 24 sources by 17 individuals. These contain 843 settings of an Ùrlar or more and 71 short fragments – a total of 914 items of musical notation.

These are currently mapped to 313 pibrochs transcribed before 1841. Each has a unique Piobaireachd Society (PS) number. This catalogue overcomes the chaos of an oral tradition emerging out of invisibility: the same name may be attached to multiple pieces, and many pieces have multiple names.

Alphabetical list (by abbreviation)

A      The MacArthur-MacGregor MS (1820). Tunes are numbered 1–30.
AC   Alexander Campbell’s transcriptions (1815) of two pibrochs supplied by Gesto but not in G.
C0    Colin Campbell’s presentation copy (c. 1782) of one pibroch, corresponding to C1.19.
C1    Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book 1797, Vol. 1. Tunes are numbered 1–83.
C2    Colin Campbel’s Instrumental Book 1797, Vol. 2 (copied c. 1818). Tunes are numbered 1–86.
CK    Angus MacKay’s transcripts (c. 1854) of four pibrochs. Numbered 53–[56], corresponding to C2.13–16; small differences in notation show that these were copied from an earlier version of C2.
D1    Donald MacDonald’s book [1818-20]. Contains inter alia 23 pibrochs, un-numbered.
D2    Donald MacDonald’s MS (1826). Contains 50 pibrochs, un-numbered.
Dow   Daniel Dow’s Ancient Scots Music (c. 1775). Contains inter alia five pibrochs.
Dj    Donald MacDonald, junior’s MS (1826). Contains 41 pibrochs, un-numbered.
DM   Daniel Menzies [1818] The Bagpipe Preceptor. Contains inter alia two pibrochs.
E      The Elizabeth Ross MS (1812). Contains inter alia six pibrochs.
G     The Gesto Canntaireachd (1828). Tunes are numbered I–XX.
H      The anonymous ‘Hannay-MacAuslan’ MS (c. 1815). Contains ten pibrochs, un-numbered
J       Joseph MacDonald’s Compleat Theory (c. 1760). Contains inter alia three pibrochs and 23 excerpts.
JK    John MacKay’s MS (c. 1843–1848). Tunes are numbered 1–62, with one after no. 14 overlooked.
K1    Angus MacKay’s MS, Volume 1 (c. 1835–7). Tunes are numbered 1–114, with some irregularities.
K2-3  Angus MacKay’s MS, Volume 2 (c. 1838–40). Once two separate volumes, combined by the author.
KB    Angus MacKay’s book (1838). Tunes are numbered I–LXI, with an additional tune in the instructional pages.
KK   Angus MacKay’s ‘Kintarbert’ MS (c. 1841). Tunes are numbered 1–88, except that tune [37] is numbered 5.
KS   Angus MacKay’s ‘Seaforth’ MS (1854). Tunes are numbered 1–14.
O      James Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion (c. 1755–60). Contains inter alia four pibrochs.
P       Patrick MacDonald’s Highland Vocal Airs [1784]. Contains inter alia four pibrochs.
R       Peter Reid’s manuscript (1826). Contains 46 pibrochs, un-numbered.
SC    Angus MacKay’s ‘Specimens of Canntareachd’ (c. 1853). Numbered 1–48, these consist of the first few vocables of each tune, as sung by Angus MacKay’s father.

Chronological list

Hover your mouse over the Source abbreviation to see the full name.

Date Source No. of pibrochs
c. 1741 3
c. 1755 – c. 1760 4
c. 1760 3 + 23 excerpts
c. 1775 5
c. 1782 1
1784 4
1797 (C2 copied c. 1818, CK copied c. 1854)
C1C2, CK
1812 6
1815 – 1828 22
c. 1815 10
1818 2
1818 – 1820 23
1820 30
1826 43
1826 50
1826 (lost, but copied c. 1912) 40
1838 61
c. 1835–40 184
c. 1841 88
between 1838 and 1848 63
1854 14
c. 1854 48 excerpts

For facsimiles, shelf marks and more details, click on any abbreviation above. The physical locations of sources are abbreviated as follows:

EUL     Edinburgh University Library,
NAS     National Archives of Scotland,
NLS     National Library of Scotland,
SSS     School of Scottish Studies,

Highland pipers conventionally refer to pibrochs as ‘tunes’, translating the Gaelic word port (plural puirt). This usage is retained at, except where other tune types (reels, jigs, airs, etc.) co-exist with pibrochs – for example, in the chronological source list above. It would be unclear to say ‘tunes’ here because several of these sources contain hundreds of tunes but only a few pibrochs. We are also careful to avoid calling fiddle settings ‘pibrochs’ – this is a parallel tradition, one not necessarily derived from piping.

The concordance data underlying this website is available as an XML spreadsheet here. This spreadsheet is updated periodically to keep pace with the website which is updated more frequently. I have made significant revisions to ‘A Piobaireachd Index’ by Roderick Cannon, first published online in 2003 and currently available at My revisions are described in this article. The sources listed under ‘Notation by Non-pipers’ in the navigation above were excluded by Cannon; they are included here because they reflect to some degree what non-pipers heard and therefore throw light on early performance practice. Cannon’s abbreviations D0 and D1 have been revised to D1 and D2 in order to match the titles of his editions (Cannon and Sanger 2006, 2011); K0 has been revised to KB, as this source is commonly known as ‘Angus MacKay’s book’; and it should be noted that K2 and K3, once separate volumes, were bound together by Angus MacKay and have one shelfmark.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my collaborator and publisher, David Hester, who built this website and looks after its technical solutions and maintenance. Our work presenting these materials stands on the shoulders of previous explorers who reported new findings with meticulous care – notably Archibald Campbell, Roderick Cannon and Frans Buisman. We are also deeply grateful to the libraries, archives, owners and funders named in our Acknowledgements page, and the team of collaborators whose roles are described in my report on phase 1.

Barnaby Brown
First published 19 August 2013, last revised 16 May 2016