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Traditional Music – Piping

Introduction

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 degree offers the chance for students to concentrate on the total study of piping in all forms, whilst also developing their performance under some of the best players in the world. Students receive instruction individually and in small groups and workshop settings. The course includes substantial study of the history, repertoire, contexts, traditions, performance practice and organology of the bagpipes, producing expert performers that have a deep understanding of their own, and other, traditions.

The connection between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the National Piping Centre lies at the very heart of the current drive to bring Scotland’s national music to its rightful place in the nation’s cultural life.

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. To that end, two separate degrees have been created – the BMus (Traditional Music) and the BMus (Traditional Music – Piping). The differences here are mainly ones of practicality: the piping degree is carefully structured to give the most thorough grounding possible in all aspects of the piping tradition, including vital specialisms – such as solo piping, pipe band skills, piobaireachd, light music, piping in a folk ensemble context and canntaireachd. However these two academic qualifications share an immense amount of common ground and the institutional emphasis is always on co-operation. This is based on the mutual recognition that a large part of the bagpipe’s future lies in working with other instruments, both from the wider Scottish tradition and beyond. The current results of our collaborations are exciting and thought-provoking in equal measure, and the feeling in the air is that we’re only at the beginning of this cultural and musical journey.

For any aspiring musician, the chance to immerse themselves in the study of their chosen instrument to learn from the masters is a thrilling prospect. That is what the BMus (Traditional Music – Piping) offer to pipers.

Introduction

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 degree offers the chance for students to concentrate on the total study of piping in all forms, whilst also developing their performance under some of the best players in the world. Students receive instruction individually and in small groups and workshop settings. The course includes substantial study of the history, repertoire, contexts, traditions, performance practice and organology of the bagpipes, producing expert performers that have a deep understanding of their own, and other, traditions.

The connection between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the National Piping Centre lies at the very heart of the current drive to bring Scotland’s national music to its rightful place in the nation’s cultural life.

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. To that end, two separate degrees have been created – the BMus (Traditional Music) and the BMus (Traditional Music – Piping). The differences here are mainly ones of practicality: the piping degree is carefully structured to give the most thorough grounding possible in all aspects of the piping tradition, including vital specialisms – such as solo piping, pipe band skills, piobaireachd, light music, piping in a folk ensemble context and canntaireachd. However these two academic qualifications share an immense amount of common ground and the institutional emphasis is always on co-operation. This is based on the mutual recognition that a large part of the bagpipe’s future lies in working with other instruments, both from the wider Scottish tradition and beyond. The current results of our collaborations are exciting and thought-provoking in equal measure, and the feeling in the air is that we’re only at the beginning of this cultural and musical journey.

For any aspiring musician, the chance to immerse themselves in the study of their chosen instrument to learn from the masters is a thrilling prospect. That is what the BMus (Traditional Music – Piping) offer to pipers.

Programme structure

Year 1

In your first year, you will consolidate and enhance your performance technique, repertoire and personal style in your principal study instrument, interwoven with development as a critical and creative artist, able to connect and engage critically with your own experience as a piper. An introduction to digital literacy and website design features, as you not only begin to construct your identity as a musician, but interpret it to the world. At the same time, broaden your collaborative musical experience in both a discipline-specific and cross-disciplinary bedrock of practical supporting studies, including group singing, folk ensembles, music theory, studio recording and the consolidation of your skills in programming, performing and calling a ceilidh.

Year 2

In second year, you will continue to nurture and extend your knowledge and practical skills as a soloist and collaborative traditional musician through a broadening exploration of technique, repertoire and style relative to your instrument or vocal tradition. You will expand outwards, exploring historic and social contexts and concepts, and draw relationships between practice, perception and context. You will further nurture your soloist and collaborative composition, arrangement and performance skills and expand your entrepreneurial skillset with reference to licencing issues, intellectual property, marketing, digital music distribution and the option of organising your own tour. You will also begin to tap into the wider array of elective opportunities to be found in the department, the Royal Conservatoire and beyond.

Year 3

Year three will see you develop a solid musical persona through fluent knowledge and expertise informed by your principal study and a consolidation of your critical artistry in research and reflection. You will do this whilst developing your skills in teaching traditional music in a range of environments. 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, in addition to an ongoing array of elective opportunities to be found in the department, the Royal Conservatoire and beyond; thereby continuing to nurture your own distinct artistic specialisms.

Year 4

Year four – the Honours year – occasions a synthesis of your critical, technical and creative development as a traditional musician or piper. In addition to engaging in your own substantial project work, deeply rooted in both tradition and innovation, toward an independent and original contribution to the field, you will continue to take advantage of the array of elective opportunities to be found in the department, the Royal Conservatoire and beyond. 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.

Staff and masterclasses

Our staff are professional performers, composers, and scholars of traditional music with active careers. They understand the challenges that you’ll face in your own career, and can provide help and advice as you progress. As well as working with our expert staff, you’ll get the opportunity to learn from visiting artists and academics from all over the world.

Head of Traditional Music
Joshua Dickson

Principal of the National Piping Centre
Roderick J MacLeod

Head of Piping Studies
Finlay MacDonald

Other Teaching Staff
Stuart Samson
Finlay Johnston
Margaret Dunn
David Wilton
Claire Linas
Alistair McLaren

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.

Creative and Contextual Studies
Margaret Bennett
Calum Ross
Talitha MacKenzie
Hamish Napier
Rachel Drury
Lori Watson
Findlay Napier
Sheila McCutcheon
Ian Muir

Visiting Professor
Fred Freeman

Masterclasses
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 and Fred Morrison.

Why choose us?

We are uniquely placed in the UK to deliver the BMus (Hons) Traditional Music – Piping programme, working alongside the National Piping Centre to really 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 with formidable reputations in the traditional music field, this programme offers additional benefits you won’t get studying anywhere else:

Unparalleled one-to-one tuition

Students receive 90-minute principal study lessons and additional 30-minute lessons are available by audition on a related instrument or second study of choice, such as border pipes. This adds up to more one to one study time with your tutor than any other UK conservatoire.

Pipe Band

This Supporting Study is compulsory for all pipers and where you will work on developing common repertoire and good bandsmanship in relation to tuning, arranging, medley composition and the roles and skills involved in effective pipe band organisation, rehearsal and performance. It is chiefly intended as a laboratory for innovation in pipe band repertoire and performance practice. Normally one or two sets are performed at all major departmental performances.

The Piobaireachd Pit

This Supporting Study is devoted to the development of repertoire, technique and interpretive skills in relation to ceòl mór, or piobaireachd. A wide range of sources, periods, techniques and styles are explored through performance in all four levels of study, from the works of Donald MacDonald to David Glen to Campbell of Kilberry to Allan MacDonald, Glenuig.

Performing Ceol Beag

These classes explore in detail the repertoire and stylistic qualities that characterize the development of ceòl beag since the late 18th century right up to the present day, featuring the compositions of piping’s most influential artists, from Hugh MacKay to Willie Lawrie to Donald MacLeod to Gordon Duncan.

Canntaireachd

This Supporting Study is devoted to developing students’ knowledge and application of the traditional syllabic notation of Highland bagpipe repertoire, its chief printed sources and its mnemonic or interpretive functions through performance. This is primarily in the context of ceòl mór but includes application to ceòl beag where further significant performance, interpretive or mnemonic issues can be explored.

How to apply

Students travel from across the world to study Traditional Music at the RCS School of Music. Wherever you are in the world, if you feel you have the necessary talent, dedication and ambition, we encourage you to apply.

Applications for the Traditional Music – Piping programme should be made through the UCAS Conservatoires website. There is a UCAS application fee of £24 (which is in addition to the audition fee) which allows you up to six choices of programme of study.

Before applying we recommend that you read the Guide for Applicants which provides information regarding entry requirements, and the full application and audition process. Please download the Guide for Applicants – BMus here.

Late applications may be considered, find out more on our Apply for Music page.

Preparing for an interview

The audition/interview panel will take account of all aspects of the applicant’s profile i.e.:

  • performance at audition/interview
  • commitment to the particular programme
  • potential to benefit from the programme
  • academic qualifications
  • personal statement
  • performance qualifications
  • performance/practical experience
  • references
  • contextualised data

Applicants are selected first and foremost on the basis of merit and potential. However, due attention is also paid to the range of Principal Studies accepted in order 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.

Entry 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

Subject recommended

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

Other standards

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 Schools of Music in their Principal Study.

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

Entrance to the Royal Conservatoire is based on talent, potential and ability, therefore consideration will be given to relevant experience which is deemed to compensate for any traditional education. We accept a wide range of qualification, including international qualifications. If you wish to check the suitability of your qualification/experience, please contact us (admissions@rcs.ac.uk).

English language

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).

Other equivalent English Language qualifications may be considered, please contact us for more information. (admissions@rcs.ac.uk)

  • IELTS – 6.0 with a minimum score of 5.5 in each component

Audition requirements

Audition requirements can be found in the BMus Guide for Applicants on the following website.

Fees & scholarships

Tuition fees for academic year 2016-17

  • Scottish/EU Students – £1,820
  • Rest of UK (RUK) Students – £9,000
  • International (Non EU) – £15,135

Scottish/EU students

The Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) will pay tuition fees for all eligible full-time Scottish-based and other non-UK undergraduate EU students, who are studying in Scotland at degree level for the first time. Students should apply to SAAS for payment of tuition fees even if they are not applying for any other means of support. Eligible students can also apply for student loans through SAAS . For further advice and to check eligibility contact SAAS directly on 0300 555 0505 or visit their website .

Rest of UK students

Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland studying in Scotland will be eligible for the same funding/loan package that they would benefit from if they attended an institution in their home country. For further advice please visit student finance England , student finance Wales , or student finance Northern Ireland as appropriate.

International students

Students from outside the EU typically fund higher education by a variety of resources, depending on the home country. More specific information on funding options relevant to specific countries can be found here .

Scholarships

Any potential student who auditions for a place at the Royal Conservatoire will automatically be considered for a scholarship. They are awarded on a combination of talent, potential and financial need. More information about Scholarships is available here

Sources of external funding

For more information about alternative funding sources, including external scholarships and bursaries, please visit here.

The Royal Conservatoire’s International and Student Experience team are available to advise and assist applicants and current students in respect of queries about funding your studies. Please email or telephone +44 (0)141 270 8281/ +44 (0)141 270 8223 for further information.

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 entrepeneurial ventures; to tour extensively around the world; to become noted composers, producers and broadcasters; and to earn teaching qualifications to become classroom teachers; even to go on to further study in psychology and law.

Some noted alumni of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Department of Traditional Music include:

  • Finlay MacDonald (Head of Piping Studies at the National Piping Centre; The Finlay MacDonald Band)
  • Cameron Drummond (Highland Society of London Double Silver Medallist; Strathallan School)
  • Calum MacCrimmon (Man’s Ruin; Seudan; Breabach)
  • Simon McKerrell (Lecturer, Newcastle University)
  • Stuart Cassells (Red Hot Chilli Pipers)
  • Steven Blake (Rura)
  • Gordon Bruce (Highland Society of London Double Silver Medallist)


Recent alumni news

Congratulations to David Sheddon on graduating in 2015 with a First Class Honours degree; to the Mischa MacPherson Trio (including piper Conal McDonagh) for winning BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award 2014 and to 2011 graduate Claire Hastings for winning BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2015.