The Bagpipe Society

Aisling’s Bagpipe Tunes

Background to the project

During 2020 I barely played my bagpipes at all - I started the year with a cough which took weeks to shift, by which time lockdown, home schooling and a house full of people (I normally work partly from home, and my usual time to play has always been when the rest of the family is at school/work), plus a general feeling of lethargy meant that I got out of the habit. I don’t usually bother with New Year Resolutions, but at the end of the year I decided that I definitely wanted to play more during 2021 - however, I knew that a simple resolution to play more was not going to work, and I needed something more to motivate me.

The one time I had done much playing had been when I’d made a video for the 2020 online Blowout, when I had written a new tune for the occasion and recorded it in three parts. I decided to make a project based on this; it gave me a purpose for composing, the chance to play in harmony (even if it was with myself rather than with other musicians), and to use the different types of bagpipes I have. The focus was to be on getting me playing rather than on perfect performances, but I planned to share them with others, both to hold me accountable in some way and to help develop my technical skills in recording and video, which I was also having to do for my work.

I started the year full of good intentions, however when I then ended up having the children at home full time again, with the school timetable a lot more structured than the first lockdown, I pretty much forgot about it for the first few weeks. As the end of January approached I remembered my plan, and managed to write and record my first tune of the project over a weekend! I shared it on my personal Facebook profile, and was pleasantly surprised by the positive responses, particularly from those who I did not think would be particularly interested in bagpipe music. I was a little more organised in February, and although it was still a bit last minute, I gave myself a bit more time to practice - which was needed as it was a trickier tune.

International Bagpipe Day in March felt like a good excuse to put up an extra tune, and it also was when I decided to create a separate Facebook page - imaginatively called ‘Aisling’s Bagpipe Tunes’ - rather than just posting on my personal account. I have now posted a new tune a month up to June, as well as sharing a couple of other bagpipe related videos, using a variety of combinations of pipes. Since talking about the project at this year’s online Blowout I have also put the videos on YouTube for those who don’t use Facebook. I am looking forward to continuing for the rest of the year, and have a couple of ideas to vary the format and maybe even work with other people!

My approach to composing

Each month, I have had some kind of starting point; a combination of pipes or a general idea such as a particular time signature/key/feel etc. I knew I wanted to write some jigs as I don’t play many jigs on the pipes, and also a 3/2 hornpipe, and I wanted to write using different keys/modes. In April my daughter asked me to write a lively tune to commemorate a pigeon who had come to a sticky end in next-door’s garden.

Some tunes were written on the pipes, others in my head (often pre-sleep or while walking on the school run). I tend to record it on my phone after a bit, then notate it on the computer. There is often a bit of to and fro between these as the tune settles, editing to make it fall under the fingers better, or to add some interest if it is too repetitive.

Writing the harmonies is a similar process - I usually start by playing along to the rough recording. Sometimes I have just continued this approach and have made the final recording with harmonies never being formally written down. For others, such as the 3/2 hornpipes where I wanted two stand-alone tunes that fitted together, or when fitting in a third/fourth part, I did it in a more structured way on the computer, but always coming back to what feels right on the pipes.

I have a variety of different pipes (Sean Jones border pipes in G and Flemish pipes in D, and Julian Goodacre Leicestershire smallpipes with chanters in D, G and A, and drones in D and G) and from the start I wanted to use them in different combinations. In some keys there were several obvious options, but it has also been fun trying less obvious things - Up and Down is in D minor, but is accompanied by a Leicestershire smallpipe chanter in G major (no accidentals) with a D drone.

The tech side

Before all of this I have had very little experience in recording audio or video myself. I’m still no expert and don’t particularly enjoy it, but I know a lot more now than I did 18 months ago! The very first video that I made for the 2020

Blowout was recorded using the Acapella app, which worked well in many ways but cost money and didn’t work quite well enough and I wasn’t using it enough for me to justify that.

All of the other videos I have recorded using the iPad camera and put together in iMovie. Initially I used either just the iPad audio, or recorded audio separately on computer, but now I have a cable to connect my USB mic (a Blue Yeti) to the iPad, and I record the audio in the free Garageband app simultaneously with video, both on the iPad. This allows me to edit the audio track a bit to get the right balance, add a bit of reverb etc, before putting it into the video.

The future

I am really looking forward to playing these tunes with my piping friends, and I would also love it if other people want to play them - I am considering putting the full arrangements in a book, along with a few of my other tunes, at the end of the year. In the meantime, the dots for one of the tunes from the project is included here.

The videos can be found on Facebook at (or search Aisling’s bagpipe tunes) And on YouTube at (or search Aisling Holmes bagpipe)

Feathers the Pigeon was recorded using Flemish D pipes with harmonies on smallpipes in D and low G.