Skip to main content

BMus Traditional Music: Piping

Welcome to the Traditional Music Department at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. You can learn all you need to join our BMus Traditional Music: Piping programme here. 


This is the UK’s only Bachelor of Music curriculum dedicated to traditional and folk music, and to the music of the Scottish Highland Bagpipe. Aspiring performers on this course explore Scotland’s unique and dynamic musical traditions as a conceptual, critical and creative framework within which to achieve a historically informed yet distinctively personal voice as a piper and artist. This is interwoven with a solid basis in contemporary and eclectic performance practice. 

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and The National Piping Centre offer a specialist degree that allows pipers to study piping within the context of Scottish traditional music to the highest level. This unique course offers the chance for students to concentrate on the total study of piping in all forms, whilst also developing their performance skills under some of the best players in the world. Students receive instruction individually and in small groups and workshop settings. The degree includes substantial study of the history, repertoire, traditions, performance practice and organology of the bagpipes, producing expert performers with a deep understanding of their own, and other, traditions.  

The nature of the Highland bagpipe and its repertoire, defined by highly individual and highly complex parameters of performance and musical structure, demands a teaching approach which integrates the instrument with the rest of Scottish traditional music while simultaneously respecting its uniqueness. The piping degree is therefore carefully structured to give the most thorough grounding possible in vital specialisms such as solo piping, piobaireachd, light music, and piping in a folk ensemble context, whilst sharing the same structure and range of contextual curriculum as in the main Traditional Music department.  

The two programmes share an immense amount of common ground and the institutional emphasis is always on co-operation.

The important details

UK Applicant Deadline:
2 October 2023

International (including EU) Applicant Deadline:
1 December 2023

Institution Code:

Programme Code:

Audition Fee:

Application Fee:

Why Study Traditional Music: Piping at RCS?

We are uniquely placed in the UK to deliver the BMus (Hons) Traditional Music: Piping programme. We work alongside professional partners such as the National Piping Centre to ensure our students get the very best from their education. 

In addition to our position as educators and our reputation for having expert staff renowned in the field of Scottish traditional music, this programme offers additional benefits you won’t get studying anywhere else. 

One-to-One Lessons

As part of your studies, you will receive unparalleled one-to-one tuition. The 90-minute lessons focusing on your principal study will support your development in a collaborative and caring setting.


Folk Ensemble & Performance Class Sessions

You will develop your performance skills through the collaborative Folk Ensemble and Performance Class sessions. Folk Ensembles allow you to focus on contemporary folk and traditional repertoire musicianship in a group context. Additional weekly Performance Classes organised by instrument types ensure you will hone discipline-specific performance skills in a tutor- and peer-led context. 

Technique & Healthy Practice Workshops

You will have opportunities to participate in Technique and Healthy Practice workshops throughout your studies. These workshops allow for surveying your technical, postural, and anatomical aspects of idiomatic performance practices. You will learn how these aspects link explicitly to your physical and mental well-being, informing your artistic development.

Ceol Beag

You will study Ceol Beag of the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries, exploring in detail the repertoire and stylistic qualities that characterise the development of light music since the 18th19th centuries. 

The Piobaireachd Pit

Your curriculum will feature the Piobaireachd Pit supporting study, devoted to the development of repertoire, technique and interpretive skills in relation to ceol mor and piobaireachd.  

A group of pipers perform at Celtic Connections

The Annual Spring Piping Concert

You’ll take part in the annual Spring Piping Concert showcase, organised by the National Piping Centre and artistic directed by the honours-year piping students, with all pipers across all levels of the department.

Meet the Staff

John Mulhearn

Head of Piping Studies

Willie McCallum

Piping Degree Tutor

Ross Ainslie

Piping Degree Tutor

Frequent visiting tutors for piping have included Barnaby Brown, Iain MacInnes, Fred Morrison, Roderick D Cannon, Hugh Cheape, Mike Katz, Peter McAllister and many more.


The Royal Conservatoire’s Traditional Music department holds frequent masterclasses led by world-famous tradition-bearers, teachers and professional musicians from a broad range of backgrounds and expertise.

In addition to all the masterclass artists noted in BMus (Traditional Music) section of this website, artists specific to piping have recently included Roddy J MacLeod, Fraser Fifield, John Wilson, Rona Lightfoot, Fred Morrison and Erwan Keravec.


Traditional Music is based at the heart of the Royal Conservatoire, occupying its centrally-located Studio C recording, rehearsal and teaching area. Studio C is a large yet intimate space at the heart of the Renfrew Street campus, functioning as the living hub of Traditional Music activity at RCS (including band studies, group projects, masterclasses and informal sessions) and providing rehearsal, recording, PA and storage facilities. 

The National Piping Centre offers further purpose-designed practice space for Highland piping students.

Practice accommodation in our Renfrew Street campus has increased prodigiously in recent years, accommodating all types of musical activity, from solo to band, singing to piping.  

IT provision in the Whittaker Library has also increased in recent years to accommodate 16 PC workstations, (incorporating Sibelius 7), bringing the total open access student PC provision to 52 machines (and counting). This is further enhanced by our Digital Training Unit and Language Lab facilities. 

Students have access to over 70 relevant e-journals and 14 electronic databases and online archives, including Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, HOTBED, Oxford Music Online, IPA Source, JStor and Naxos. Our Whittaker Library continues to support Scottish Music students via a dedicated full-time Music Librarian and a full-time Performance Librarian. 

Just as the Traditional Music Department occupies the heart of RCS, so RCS occupies the heart of Glasgow, a UNESCO City of Music. Students can take advantage of our central location to avail themselves of the National Piping Centre, the Scottish Music Centre at City Halls, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and a teeming network of folk music sessions at pubs throughout the city. 

Graduate Destinations

The Traditional Music programme has an excellent track record of graduate employment or self-employment within six months of graduation — upward of 90%. The programme prepares students for a wide and varied range of careers in traditional music; not all related to performance. 

Our graduates have gone on to establish their own recording labels, agencies or other entrepreneurial ventures; to tour extensively around the world; to become noted composers, producers and broadcasters; to earn teaching qualifications to become classroom teachers; even to go on to further study in psychology and law. 

Alumni include: 

  • Finlay MacDonald (Director of the National Piping Centre; The Finlay MacDonald Band) 
  • Findlay Napier (Back of the Moon; Findlay Napier and the Bar-Room Mountaineers) 
  • Emily Smith 
  • Paul McKenna  
  • Ruairidh MacMillan  
  • Daniel Thorpe (The Daniel Thorpe Trio) 
  • Cameron Drummond (Highland Society of London Double Silver Medallist) 
  • Calum MacCrimmon (Man’s Ruin; Seudan; Breabach) 
  • Siobhan Miller  
  • Gillian Frame (Back of the Moon, Glasgow Fiddle Workshop) 
  • Simon McKerrell (Professor of Media and Music, Glasgow Caledonian University) 
  • Angus MacPhail (Skippinish) 
  • Jenna Reid 
  • Stuart Cassells (Red Hot Chilli Pipers) 
  • Kathleen MacInnes 
  • Deirdre Graham 
  • James Graham 
  • Jack Smedley, David Foley and Steven Blake (Rura) 
  • Robyn Stapleton (BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2014) 
  • Ainsley Hamill (Barluath) 
  • Gordon Bruce (Highland Society of London Double Silver Medallist) 
  • Grant McFarlane (CherryGrove) 
  • Iona Fyfe, Scots traditional singer 
  • Connor Sinclair, Gold medallist piper and whistle player (Gnoss) 
  • The Canny Band: Sam Mabbett, Calum Convoy, Michael Biggins (Trad Awards 2021) 

Programme Structure

In your first year, you will combine and enhance your technique and your grounding in traditional repertoire on the Highland bagpipe. You will develop as a critical and creative artist, able to connect and engage critically with your own experience as a piper.   

You will receive an introduction to music theory and website design, as you not only begin to construct your identity as a musician, but curate it for the world around you. This year also features a grounding for all students in Scots and Gaelic song, sources and folklore, so as to instil a shared foundation in the roots of Scottish music and its relationship to language and culture. 

Year 1 has a total of 120 credits across the modules below.  

Performance (Piping) 1: 60 Credits 

  • Principal Study lessons   
  • Supporting Classes 
  • Performance, Technique & Maintenance 
  • A Concise History of Piping  
  • Performing Ceòl Beag of the 20th Century  
  • The Piobaireachd Pit Level 1  
  • Folk Ensemble Level 1   
  • Sang Scuil | Sgoil nan Oran  
  • Rythmic Awareness  
  • Critical Programme Notes  

Concepts in Traditional Music: 10 Credits 

  • ePortfolio of Research Tasks 
  • Pecha Kucha Presentation 

Creative Skills in Traditional Music 1: 10 Credits 

  • Traditional Music Theory Exam 
  • Composition Folio of Tunes  

Scottish Traditional Repertoire 1: 10 Credits 

  • Performance 
  • Programme Notes  

Introduction to Professional Skills for Musicians: 10 Credits 

  • ePortfolio 

Music Leadership: 10 Credits 

  • Group Delivery of Activity and Supporting Reflection 

Creative Citizenship: 10 Credits 

  • Collaborative Creative Presentation 

In your second year, you will continue to nurture and extend your knowledge and skills as a solo and collaborative traditional musician. There will be a broad exploration of technique, repertoire and style relative to the bagpipe. 

You will extend your skills in group Scots and Gaelic singing and in programming, performing and calling a ceilidh. You will expand outwards as a musician-researcher, exploring historic and social contexts and concepts, and draw relationships between practice, perception and context.   

You will further nurture your composition and arrangement skills and expand your entrepreneurial skillset with reference to multiple audiences and community engagement, and begin to develop skills in performance preparedness and efficacy. 

You will do this whilst developing your pedagogical knowledge and your practical skills in teaching traditional music in a range of environments. 

Year 2 has a total of 120 credits across the modules below. 

Performance (Piping) 2: 60 Credits 

  • Principal Study Lessons  
  • Supporting Classes 
  • Performance, Technique & Maintenance 
  • Performing Ceòl Beag of the 19th Century  
  • The Piobaireachd Pit 2  
  • Folk Ensemble Level 2  
  • Sang Scuil | Sgoil nan Oran  
  • Ceilidh Skills   
  • Critical Programme Notes 

Traditional Music Research Portfolio: 10 Credits 

  • ePortfolio of Research Tasks 
  • Presentation 

Creative Skills in Traditional Music 2: 10 Credits 

  • Portfolio of Multi-Instrumental Compositions 
  • Continuous Observation 

Scottish Traditional Repertoire 2: 10 credits 

  • Performance  
  • Programme Notes 

Peak Performance Training: 10 credits 

  • Continuous Observation  
  • Portfolio of class tasks, rationale and development plan 

The Teaching Musician: 10 Credits 

  • Video Documentation and Supporting Materials 

Option module: 10 credits 

Year three will see you develop a solid musical persona through fluent knowledge and expertise informed by your piping and a consolidation of your critical artistry in research and reflection.  

There will be a continuing exploration of technique, repertoire and style relative to your (and others’) instrument or vocal tradition. 

You will address essential vocational issues in greater detail, such as self-assessed taxation, contract negotiation, creative arts funding and administration and the option of a formal work placement.  

There will continue to be elective opportunities within the department, the Royal Conservatoire and beyond; thereby continuing to nurture your own distinct artistic specialisms in traditional, folk, or broader arts contexts. 

Year 3 has a total of 120 credits across the modules below. 

Performance 3 (Piping): 60 Credits 

  • Principal Study Lessons 
  • Supporting Classes 
  • Performance, Technique and Maintenance 
  • Performing Ceòl Beag of the 21st Century 
  • The Piobaireachd Pit Level 3 
  • Folk Ensemble Level 3 
  • Critical Programme Notes 

Minor Research Project: 10 Credits 

  • ePortfolio of Project 
  • Presentation 

Scottish Traditional Repertoire 3: 10 credits 

  • Performance 
  • Programme notes 

The Freelance Musician: 10 Credits 

  • Portfolio 

Contextual elective: 10 credits  

Musicianship elective: 10 credits 

Option module: 10 Credits 

Year four – the Honours year – occasions a synthesis of your critical, technical and creative development as a piper.  

In addition to engaging in your own substantial project work, deeply rooted in tradition and innovation, you will continue to take advantage of the array of elective opportunities to be found in the department, the Royal Conservatoire and beyond, including an intensive internship with the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust.   

The Honours year is student-centred: working to achieve a distinct identity and musical voice within your own established parameters, culminating in a themed final public recital. 

Year 4 has a total of 120 credits across the modules below. 

Performance 4 (Piping): 60 Credits 

  • Principal Study Lessons 
  • Supporting Classes 
  • Performance, Technique and Maintenance 
  • Piping Concert arrangement and leadership 
  • Viva Examination 

Major Research Project: 20 credits  

  • EPortfolio of project 
  • Presentation  

Contextual, Musicianship and other optional modules: 40 Credits 

Year 1 Principal Study Exam Requirements 

Recital: Internal recital, 30 minutes in duration, consisting of a varied programme of traditional (e.g. non-copyright or no later than 1960s) repertoire developed over the course of the academic year and drawn from key collections/sources fundamental to your Principal Study discipline.  

Recital Auditions: Two in-lesson recitals (Last lesson of Term 1 and of Term 2) in which you should prepare a programme of 10-15 minutes duration, demonstrating evidence of progress in performing traditional repertoire from collections/sources fundamental to your Principal Study discipline. In your programme you should articulate how they are informing your own personal stylistic approach.  

Material demonstrated in these lessons may be performed formally on the occasion of the end of year Recital. 

Year 2 Principal Study Exam Requirements 

Recital: Internal recital, 30 minutes in duration, consisting of a varied programme of repertoire drawn from different regional, national, period or other styles/repertoires (or similar), drawn from appropriate sources (both traditional and contemporary), developed over the course of the academic year and open to observation by other students and staff.  

Recital Auditions: Two in-lesson recitals (Last lesson of Term 1 and of Term 2) in which you should prepare a programme of 10-15 minutes duration, demonstrating evidence of progress in performing different regional, national, period or other styles/repertoires fundamental to your Principal Study discipline, drawn from appropriate sources (both traditional and contemporary).  In your programme you should articulate how they inform your own personal stylistic approach.  

Material demonstrated in these lessons may be performed formally on the occasion of the end of year Recital.

Year 3 Principal Study Exam Requirements 

Recital: Public recital, 45 minutes in duration, that articulates a specific theme developed over the course of the academic year. Your theme may be soloist in nature or may involve collaboration with other singers or instrumentalists, accompaniment and (if appropriate) improvisation. Your programme may include, or indeed emphasise, your own compositions and arrangements so long as this is in alignment with your recital’s theme and your tutor’s approval.  

You may involve a maximum of two accompanists in your public recital.  

Recital Auditions: Two in-lesson recitals (Last lesson of Term 1 and of Term 2) in which you should prepare a programme of 15 minutes duration, demonstrating evidence of progress in performing project material being developed to date that contribute to the theme of the final public recital.  

Material demonstrated in these lessons may be performed formally on the occasion of the end of year Recital. 

Year 4 Principal Study Exam Requirements  

Recital: Public recital, 45 minutes in duration, that articulates your distinct idiomatic voice through a specific theme or project developed over the course of the academic year in collaboration with your tutor(s) and, if appropriate, your peers, making explicit your depth of learning in one or more specialisms. Your programme may focus on, for example, composition, arrangement, improvisation, historical period styles, contemporary cross-genre, exploration of particular canons of repertoire, innovative collaborations, etc (you are free to choose).  

You may involve a maximum of two accompanists in your public recital.  

Recital Auditions: Two in-lesson recitals (Last lesson of Term 1 and of Term 2) in which you should prepare a programme of 15 minutes duration, demonstrating evidence of progress in performing project material being developed to date that contribute to the theme of the final public recital.  

Material demonstrated in these lessons may be performed formally on the occasion of the end of year Recital.  

Viva examination (10%): A 20-minute viva examination to discuss your learning and forward planning

Entry Requirements

Academic Requirements

  • Scottish Highers — 3 passes (grade C or above)
  • A Levels — 2 passes
  • International Baccalaureate — minimum score of 24 with 3 subjects at Higher Level
  • Recognised equivalences (EU and International Entry Requirements) 

We welcome the Scottish Baccalaureate and will accept combinations of Highers and Advanced Highers. 

We offer a flexible approach to students taking Higher over more than one academic year and/or who achieve their qualifications in more than one sitting. 

Within the minimum academic entrance requirements listed above, the subjects recommended are: 

  • Music at Higher, Advanced Higher or Advanced level or equivalent 
  • English at Higher, Advanced Higher or Advanced level or equivalent 

English language requirements

The language of study is English. Applicants whose first language is not English will be required to provide evidence of proficiency in English. We accept the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Level 6.0 (with a minimum score of 5.5 in each component) is required of applicants to the School of Music. 

Music Requirements

A strong indication of potential is sought at the entrance audition for this programme. Successful applicants will normally be of a standard at least equivalent to Grade 8 with Distinction of the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music in their Principal Study. You can apply and audition without having obtained Grade 8 with distinction; however, as an indication only, applicants are normally expected to have reached this standard in their performance. 

Direct entry 

Applications for direct entry beyond Year 1 will be considered on a case-by-case basis and following the Royal Conservatoire’s Recognition of Prior (Experiential) Learning policy. If you wish to apply for direct entry, please mark the point of entry on the UCAS Conservatoires application as 2 or 3. 

Fees & Funding

Tuition fees

  • Scotland: £1,820 
  • RUK: £9,250 
  • International (including EU): £27,968 

Funding & Scholarships

You can find out about the funding and scholarships available for studying at RCS by visiting our dedicated page:

Funding & Scholarships

Cost of Living & Programme Costs

In addition to tuition fees, it is estimated that you will need between £11,200 and £15,300 per year to live in Glasgow, plus programme costs. Much will depend on your lifestyle and whether your course runs for three or four terms. 

Programmes within the School of Music have a range of associated costs related to the specific activities required and advised by the programme team. You can find an indication of these costs below: 

School of Music Programme Costs 

How to Apply

Apply via UCAS Conservatoires

Applications are made through the UCAS Conservatoires website. The UCAS Conservatoires application system is separate from the main UCAS undergraduate application system. If you wish to apply to conservatoires and universities within UCAS, you will need to register for both services.

You can read our guidance about using UCAS Conservatoires on our dedicated how-to-apply page.

We do not offer deferred entry. If you wish to commence in 2025, you must apply next year.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland institution code is R58. You will also require the following programme codes to apply: 251F

The closing date for on-time BMus Traditional Music: Piping applications for UK students is 2 October 2023 and for International students is 1 December 2023. If you submit your application after this date, we cannot guarantee that your application will be reviewed by the audition panel. If you do want to submit a late application, you must contact in the first instance to check we are accepting late applications 

Application/Audition fees

There is a UCAS Conservatoires application fee of £27.50. In addition to the application fee, each conservatoire charges an audition assessment administration fee. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland charges an audition assessment administration fee of £65 for this programme.

We recognise that auditioning and interviewing for conservatoires, drama and ballet schools can be costly. The audition assessment administration fee charge allows us to offer a thorough and positive experience to all applicants and we encourage you to get in touch to ask the panel questions and find out more about the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to see if it is the best place for you.

We are committed to ensuring fair access to a conservatoire education for students who have the talent and potential to benefit from it, regardless of their background. In support of this, audition fee waivers are offered to applicants whose financial hardship may be a barrier to auditioning. Please see the audition fee waiver document for more information.


We have a number of policies and statements which you should read when applying to study at the Royal Conservatoire.

Please select the links below to read each policy.


It is your responsibility to ask two separate referees to write references and ensure that these are sent to RCS.

The references must be written by two different people and we will not accept references from family, other relatives or close friends. You can submit your UCAS Conservatoires application form and send your references at a later date, but they must be received prior to your audition date.

UCAS Conservatoires provides reference forms for you to download and send to your referees for completion.

Selection Process

Applicants are selected first and foremost based on merit and potential. However, due attention is also paid to the range of Principal Studies accepted to ensure the optimum experience for each student and to sustain the critical mass required for curricular activities, such as the symphony orchestra and choral activities.  

Please note that the Conservatoire is obliged to offer one audition date per application. If you are unable to submit your application/audition recording by the deadline date above, you must email us immediately stating the reason. We have a specific period allocation to audition and all on-time applications will receive a decision before Christmas. If your audition recording is delayed, there is a risk that places will already have been taken and your application may not be considered in the first round of scholarship allocation.  

BMus Joint Principal Study (JPS) 

The Joint Principal Study pathway is intended to cater for the needs of individuals who are equally accomplished in two Principal Study disciplines (e.g. Flute and Composition, or Trumpet and Conducting, etc.) and who wish to maintain this intense level of dedication in their musical studies. Please note that Conducting is only available as a Joint Principal Study and Jazz Performance is only available in conjunction with Conducting or Composition.  

The selection process for applicants applying for Joint Principal Study is the same as that for other applicants; please prepare for two separate in-person auditions, or, for International applicants, please submit your audition recordings via Acceptd for each principal study. Applicants to the Joint Principal Study pathway who are successful in only one of their Principal Studies may be offered a place on the relevant ‘single-study’ pathway (i.e. Performance, Composition or Jazz).   

Audition Information

All auditions are planned to take place in person at our campus in Glasgow in November 2023.  Should you apply on time, you will be e-mailed directly with details of your audition date and time, and your UCAS Conservatoires track will be updated with this information.

International applicants are welcome to submit a recorded submission via Acceptd.

Recording Guidelines: 

  • When setting up for your video recording, your body (typically, from about the waist up) and instrument should be the focal point of the frame. The committee wants to be able to see not just your face but how well you navigate your instrument.
  • The video recording should be provided in ONE continuous shot without separate tracks for different musical pieces.
  • Please begin the recording by introducing yourself to the camera and stating what you will be performing. You can take a little time between pieces so long as your body must remain in the frame.
  • For any pieces that were written for your instrument and piano accompaniment, you are encouraged to perform with piano accompaniment (whether live or pre-recorded) if practical for you. Be assured, however, that if this is not possible for you, then you will not be disadvantaged in any way.

For more information on recording a video audition, Guitar Lecturer Matthew McCallister reveals his top tips on recording your music audition online:

Details of the repertoire requested for your in-person audition/recorded submission can be found below:

Performance of a programme of approximately 15 minutes on the principal study.

The programme should demonstrate your present level of achievement and your musical potential, and must normally be performed from memory and unaccompanied, except guitar, piano or percussion instruments (see below), or in cases of self-accompanying for one or two items (e.g. clarsach player accompanying own singing, or singers accompanying themselves on another instrument).

If in doubt, please contact us ahead of time. Applicants are asked to give brief spoken introductions to each item performed.

Highland Bagpipe:

Three contrasting sets:

  • March, Strathspey and Reel
  • One Pobaireachd (ground and 1st variation only)
  • A final set of the applicant’s choosing

More from the Traditional Music Department

Why RCS?

We are the only place in Europe where you can study all of the performing arts on the one campus. There is a distinctive creative energy at RCS and you’ll be made to feel part of our inclusive and diverse environment from the very beginning of your studies.

Our graduates are resourceful, highly employable and members of a dynamic community of artists who make a significant impact across the globe.

At RCS, students develop not just their art but their power to use it.

Find out more 

A ballerina wearing a teal dress jumps over the Kelpies monuments in Scotland during a grey day.

World Top Ten

We were voted one of the world’s Top Ten destinations to study the performing arts (QS Rankings) in 2024, the eighth time we have been placed in the top ten since the ranking was established in 2016.