Friday, January 23, 2009


I have a couple of questions that have nagged me for a number of years now but never had the inclination to ask. This is particularly for either Angus or the good RSM sitting in the wings but I'm interested in opening a discussion either way as there may be more than one point of view, let's face it in piping there usually is, and I'm guessing a number of folks have wondered from time to time.

The first is, apart from tempo, what specifically distinguishes one 'style' of tune from another? By this, I mean when does a reel become a hornpipe or a strathspey, a jig or vice versa? Another side track from this is, why do we refer to 3/4 marches as "retreats" while the others are still "marches"? Is this from the instruments' use in battle as a form of communication to regiments?

Now I understand we play strathspeys for example, very exaggerated with regards to dots and cuts, and this gives them a particular feel to play (and sound to listen to obviously) but jigs, similarly have that clipped feel to them so what is it technically that differentiates those two? I have experienced reels and hornpipes that feel the same to play and to my relatively inexperienced ear, sound the same. I must admit that generally the hornpipe is a longer tune though. It can't be time signature because we have the same time signatures on all types of tunes. When does a 2/4 march become hornpipe (I've seen Black Bear written as both)? This is probably a numpty question but I don't think it's really often addressed as a subject and I don't recall ever having had it explained to me. Is this purely down to what the composer wants to call it or is there a general rule of thumb?

My next question is about the 3/4 vs. "the others" habit, tradition, whatever, many bands have of starting the 3/4 on the right foot?? This has always intrigued me but I've never questioned it, always figured there must be some reason or it wouldn't happen. While we're at it, why do we often not repeat measures in the 3/4?

I await the learned responses, cheers from a wee bit damp Townsville.

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