The Fiddler strathspey

By Donald MacLeod

There are 8 recordings of this tune.

The Fiddler has been added to 1 tune set.

The Fiddler has been added to 30 tunebooks.

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Six settings

X: 1
T: The Fiddler
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Amin
|:a/|{ef}e<c {gcd}c>B {gBd}B<{e}A {GAG}A>a|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f<a|
{ef}e<c {gcd}c>B {gBd}B<{e}A {GAG}A>e|{g}f/g/a {ef}e>a {cd}c<{e}B {GdG}B3/2:|
a/|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f<a|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<a {ef}e<c {gcd}c<f|
{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f<a|{ef}e<a {cd}c<a {cd}c<{e}B {GdG}B>f|
{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f<a|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<a {cd}c<e {gcd}c<e|
{g}f/g/a {ef}e<a {Gdc}d<a {cd}c<e|{g}f/g/a {ef}e<a {cd}c<{e}B {GdG}B3/2||
X: 2
T: The Fiddler
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Amaj
|:a/|{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c3/2B/ {gBd}B/{e}A3/2 {GAG}A3/2a/|{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/e3/2 {gfg}f2 {g}f/a3/2|
{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c3/2B/ {gBd}B/{e}A3/2 {GAG}A3/2e/|{g}f/g/a {ef}e3/2a/ {cd}c/{e}B3/2 {GdG}B3/2:|
a/|{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/e3/2 {gfg}f2 {g}f/a3/2|{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/a3/2 {ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/f3/2|
{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/e3/2 {gfg}f2 {g}f/a3/2|{ef}e3/2a/ {cd}c/a3/2 {cd}c/{e}B3/2 {GdG}B3/2f/|
{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/e3/2 {gfg}f2 {g}f/a3/2|{ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/a3/2 {ef}e/c3/2 {gcd}c/e3/2|
{g}f/g/a {ef}e3/2a/ {Gdc}d/a3/2 {cd}c3/2e/|{g}f/g/a {ef}e3/2a/ {cd}c/{e}B3/2 {GdG}B3/2||
X: 3
T: The Fiddler
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Amix
a|e<cc>B B<AA>a|e<cc>e f2 f>a|e<cc>B B<AA>e|f/g/a e>a c<B B:|
a|e<cc>e f2 f>a|e<cc>a e<cc>f|e<cc>e f2 f>a|e<ac<a c<BB>f|
e<cc>e f2 f>a|e<cc>a e<cc>f|f/g/a e>a d<ac<a|f/g/a e>a c<B B||
X: 4
T: The Fiddler
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Amix
|:a/|{ef}e<c {gcd}c>B {gBd}B<{e}A {GAG}A>a|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f<a|
{ef}e<c {gcd}c>B {gBd}B<{e}A {GAG}A>e|{g}f/g/a {ef}e>a {cd}c<{e}B {GdG}B3/2:|
a/|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f<a|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<a {ef}e<c {gcd}c<a|
{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f>e|{g}f/g/a {ef}e>a {cd}c<{e}B {GdG}B3/2 a/|
{ef}e<c {gcd}c<e {gfg}f2 {g}f<a|{ef}e<c {gcd}c<a {ef}e<c {gcd}c>e|
{g}f/g/a {ef}e>a {Gdc}d>a {cd}c>e|{g}f/g/a {ef}e>a {cd}c<{e}B {GdG}B3/2||
X: 5
T: The Fiddler
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
|:d/|A<F F>E E<D D>d|A<F F<A B2 B<d|
A<F F>E E<D D>A|B/c/d A>d F<E E3/2:|
d/|A<F F<A B2 B<d|A<F F<d A<F F<d|
A<F F<A B2 B>A|B/c/d A>d F<E E3/2 d/|
A<F F<A B2 B<d|A<F F<d A<F F>A|
B/c/d A>d G>d F>A|B/c/d A>d F<E E3/2||
X: 6
T: The Fiddler
R: strathspey
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Amix
|:a/|e<c c>B B<A A>a|e<c c<e f2 f<a|
e<c c>B B<A A>e|f/g/a e>a c<B B3/2:|
a/|e<c c<e f2 f<a|e<c c<a e<c c<a|
e<c c<e f2 f>e|f/g/a e>a c<B B3/2 a/|
e<c c<e f2 f<a|e<c c<a e<c c>e|
f/g/a e>a d>a c>e|f/g/a e>a c<B B3/2||

Twenty-five comments

The Fiddler strathspey

This tune can be found on Mike Katz’s solo album ‘A Month of Sundays’ (2007) where it’s played with fellow Battlefield Band member Alistair White.

The Fiddler Strathspey

Second setting as played by Tannahill Weavers on Cullen Bay

Listen to the midi. It looks to me as if both of the people who posted this have “cut & pasted” the tune from a bagpipe website.
The main objection is that the tune is not in A minor, - any “c” notes and“f“ notes are sharp, something which neither of the 2 people who have posted this seem to be aware of. While the “grace” notes are essential to bagpipe settings, when you include them here it just complicates things unnecessarily. The composer is P.M. Donald MacLeod, who not for the first time here, gets no credit for his music.

Posted by .

The Fiddler Strathspey

To be Devil’s Advocate here, Kenny, I think the submitters will be pipers, and for many pipers, keys don’t mean the same as they would to you and me. (I’m trying to excuse that mistake, but in fact it is pretty important to get the key right, especially in a pipe tune!)

However, I’m with you on the grace notes - no use to anyone but pipers, and I would prefer non-instrument-specific settings (I include fiddle bowing marks here as well). What gets my goat is that jakethepeg’s setting is identical to the first setting, apart from three places where the snaps are reversed. I’m sorry, Jake, but I don’t think it’s worth posting a setting SO close to another.

The Fiddler Strathspey

I have added a setting by the Scots fiddler Archie McAllister of Kintyre from his 2007 album ‘Fiddler’s Rock’ ( It was written, as Kenny says above, by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, one of the greatest composers of pipe music. It’s not a million miles from the pipe settings given here already, but it should be of more use to non-pipers who wish to hear the tune.

Grace Notes and The Scale of Smallpipes in Key of A

It is a pipe tune, for the pipes, so why not write it as it was supposed to be? The grace notes are important to make the tune sound correct (just not nice in the awful rendering of the midi file which you don’t have to listen to). I took the score exactly as played on Cullen Bay (which i think sounds a lot nicer) and entered it into the Bagpipe Software - ‘Celticpipes’ and extracted the abc for other’s benefit. It took a long time to do - and i didn’t just cut/paste! Perhaps someone can tell me what scale has only an F# and C# ? It’s not A major, not F#minor nor A minor and it isn’t mixolydian either. Perhaps Kenny can suggest the correct key to choose when entering a pipe tune into this system - rather than just offering criticism! The small pipes in key of A don’t play a G# so what scale do they play in? When posting a tune you are restricted to choosing a key from the dropdown. I chose what i thought was the nearest fit. Perhaps i should have chosen A major and added a note that all G#s are actually G naturals?? or to be really precise = G and a bit, but not G#.

“ Perhaps someone can tell me what scale has only an F# and C# ?“

B natural minor, for one. Funnily enough, this tune homes in on the B note.

B natural minor, for one

So is it fair to say that the small pipes “in A” are really playing a B minor scale, G,A,B,C#,D,E,F#,G,A but can play tunes in keys of G Maj, A Maj , D maj, and E Min and B Min as long as certain notes are missing or you switch to Border pipes and throw in some accidentals - I’m now completely out of my depth.
So what key is “The Fiddler” really in as played by A smallpipes?

“Perhaps i should have chosen A major and added a note that all G#s are actually G naturals?? or to be really precise = G and a bit, but not G#”. That would have worked. There you are - you’ve learned something. Congratulations.

Posted by .

The Fiddler strathspey

Jake said, “Perhaps someone can tell me what scale has only an F# and C#”

On the Scottish bagpipe, there would be basically three answers: D major, B minor and A mixolydian.

“So is it fair to say that the small pipes “in A” are really playing a B minor scale…”

No, they’re playing a pipe scale, and in my opinion by trying to explain what’s happening on the pipe in modern Western musical terms is in some way fraught with problems. However, it’s often the best way for some of us to understand. By emphasising different combinations of notes the bagpipe can play tunes in the key of G, A minor, A major, A mixolydian, B minor, D major, E minor, and probably some others I can’t think of. In the case of “The Fiddler”, you would say it’s in A mixolydian; if it didn’t have the G natural, you could then say it’s in the key of A (by notating the tune in A major - with a G sharp - you have rendered yourself unable to play it!). Essentially, it’s in a pipe scale, and pipers don’t need to know anything else unless, like the situation here, they’re communicating with people who play other instruments.

“It is a pipe tune, for the pipes, so why not write it as it was supposed to be?”

Because you’re communicating with people who play other instruments. This is not a bagpipe-only forum, so I suggest it’s not appropriate to post music aimed at the bagpipe only. Some people enhance the tunes they submit here with fiddle bowing marks, but that would mean nothing to you, and might be a distraction. Same same.

When writing Highland pipe tunes in ABC, you can put either “HP” or “Hp” in the K: field.
Depending on the stave conversion software, this can affect the key signature differently:

You can’t use it on this site, however.

Looking at this tune in greater depth, it varies in conceptual “home key” to the extent that I wouldn’t place it in Amix or Bm. There are several pipe tunes like this. The opening bars - indeed most of the bars in each measure give the feeling of Amix, but the cadences of both measures suggest Bm.
Like Nigel says, putting pipe music into Western musical terms is problematic. It’s why I prefer “HP” or “Hp”, emphasising a scale rather than a key.

I would agree to an extent about the importance of the gracing - even to a fiddler. This is because it gives an idea of the spirit of the tune. As a fiddler, I can get a better idea as where to grace it to (poorly) emulate the pipes. However, I would not submit this as a first setting on this site, as it does nothing but make the tune appear too complicated. Better to use the basic structure - perhaps with triplets in places, and submit a pipe version with gracing as a subsequent setting. I do prefer the old method of keeping this second setting within the comments, but that’s just my preference.

As a piper one of the reasons I play folk music is to get well away from the prescribed gracing and dictats of formal highland pipe music. I’d rather add my own as I hear it when playing folk if I wanted competition standard highland pipe pieces I’d not be looking for them on this forum.

Well, each to their own, Steve. Nobody is suggesting “competition standard”, but you’d be hard pushed to find any GHB pieces of music without the gracing. This doesn’t mean they are all intended as competition pieces.

There are loads of pipe tunes on this site and most don’t have any gracing, it does mean that the midi files play a lot clearer if nothing else. In the dedicated collections of the music sure it’s there bells and whistles. Like I say for me folk is about getting away from the dictated gracing of the standard and competition settings and playing more freely adding the ornamentation I want and feel fits. I might even change it as I repeat a part or the tune too, hell I might even miss it out altogether! That’s the thing for me, yep I can appreciate a well placed crunluath mach and batter a few tachums into a reel or 3 but away from the circle and the boards of competition a lot of this stuff is not really adding much and can often chop up the tune in a way that musicians not familiar with pipe settings find difficult to figure. I appreciate it’s a lot of work doing the abc though, I just don’t think it relevant on this site for the most part.

Yes, but you are a piper. The point I was trying to make is that pipe tunes on here can get lost in the set up. An example being “Flett From Flotta” which is a 4/4 march. It’s on here as a reel.
Long ago, in a festival in Sutherland, I was quite taken aback when the local ceilidh band anounced this tune as “a strathspey from Shetland called Flett From Flotta”, and proceeded to play the tune as a schottische, void of all character (the band are well known, and one particular member is a well known mandolin player, but I’m saying no more regarding their identity). Apart from the fact that Flotta is an Orkney island (and “Big John Flett” was as Orcadian as they come), and it was composed by a piper from Lewis (the same person who composed the tune submitted here), the tune is very much a march (though Ceol linked to a clip of Fergie MacDonald playing as a schottishe - he can get away with it). I don’t know where the band picked up the tune from, or where they got the information (not here, this was well over 30 years ago), but it was an example of how tunes can lose all identity and character.
Likewise, I have submitted two 2/4 pipe hornpipes on here, and had to convert them to 4/4 to submit them as hornpipes rather than polkas. I then submitted them as 2/4 pipe hornpipes in the comments. For me, the pipe gracing is a clue to the character when playing the tunes on a fiddle (a piper might place them naturally) . Listen to West Highland fiddling and you can hear that the fingers stopping the strings can give the tune its lift. Fiddlers who are unaware of the style, and playing from skeleton transcriptions could be led to use the bow alone to impart this lift. Not that they could play the pipe gracing, but they could be adapted.
So while the graced versions on this site might be of little value to a piper, they can give an idea to a fiddle player - who has open eyes. They are not only useful to a piper.
All said, I don’t think it is a good idea to submit graced versions as first settings. For those who want to put in the time and effort and submit a graced version, there is at least one person here who can appreciate that it has its worth.

Fair play Weeji I guess that perhaps after all these years maybe I am spotting the clues in the music that might pass others by. It’s a shame when these great tunes get massacred though and Flett is a cracker. I heard a souped up version on Pipeline on some such a while ago but it was gone before I could find who, where and what have you about it. I didn’t know the tune was relatively modern, this version sounded to me at the time like quite an “old” setting although now I know that obviously wasn’t the case. It was one of those typical real roots settings that you hear from a player who has obviously just been completely immersed in it for donkeys. Real top draw stuff.

“Hp” in the K: field.

Thanks weejie for the link - I’ll look and learn. The trouble is - doesn’t HP put the tune back into Bb ? The software I use can convert HP to smallpipes in A or any other key (not always very well) and although GHP music is written as if in A we all know it isn’t. Perhaps “” grandmasters could simply add a new option to the drop-down (GHP) or something - then I wouldn’t cause such a storm when I can’t select the correct key - which isn’t possible! I’m not here to offend just to put up great tunes that don’t seem to be here.

The Fiddler strathspey

Jake said, “…when I can’t select the correct key - which isn’t possible!”

I’m not sure what you mean by that, but here’s a system you could use:

1) Look at the last note in the tune.
If it’s a B, give the key as B minor.
If it’s an A, give the key as A mixolydian.
If it’s a D, give the key as D major.
If it’s an E give the key as E dorian.
If you’re in any doubt at all, give the key as A mixolydian.

2) That’s it.

Keep posting tunes, but my advice would be to submit basic settings, and let people add decorations, embellishments, grace notes, etc, according to which instrument they play. If a storm has been caused it’s because we like you, and we want to see the tunes you love, only posted in ways our poor non-piper brains can understand.

“the trouble is - doesn’t HP put the tune back into Bb ?”

It puts it in nominal A mix - depending on the conversion programme.
AbcNavigator just gives it two sharps. Other programmes might show no sharps.
“Hp” shows two sharps in AbcNavigator, and two sharps and a G natural in some other programmes.

How all programmes play back, I’m not sure. The ones I use play back at written pitch. Some may raise the A up to Bb.

The Fiddler, X:5

Again, my transcription from the playing of Mike Katz, but this time it’s for Irish trad players (without grace notes) and in D.

The Fiddler, X:6

Again, my transcription from the playing of Mike Katz, but this time it’s for Irish trad players (without grace notes) and in A.

Re: The Fiddler

Oddly enough the versions above which include the Highland pipe ornaments are incorrect in one important aspect.

One of the most distinctive things about this tune, the tune’s centre-piece one could say, is the way the composer (Donald MacLeod) uses a piobaireachd ornament in a very effective way. It’s critical to the sound of the tune and I would think that anyone playing the tune on fiddle flute etc would benefit from at least knowing about it. They might want to give their playing of the tune a flavour closer to the original by putting in something analogous to the pipe ornament.

Katz is playing the tune as written, with the ornament I’m talking about.

The ornament appears when the tune goes from E to F# in the first part in bar 2, and in the second part in bars 1, 3, and 5.

It’s a piobaireachd ornament called dare (“da-re”) which is a fancy way of going from E to F#:

x xxo xxxo
x xoo xxxo
x xxo xxxo
x oxo xxxo
x xxo xxxo
x xoo xxxo

That is, F and High G gracenotes on E, before lifting to F.

On Irish flute and whistle it would be

xxx xxo
xxx xoo
xxx xxo
xxx oxo
xxx xxo
xxx xoo

That is, F and G cuts on E before lifting to F.

though of course you can go from A to B on flute or whistle using the same fingering as Highland pipers do.

The versions above that include the Highland pipe ornaments have changed the dare to an F doubling, which has an entirely different effect.

Re: The Fiddler

One note, The Fiddler doesn’t appear in any of the six volumes of the Donald MacLeod Collection, rather it’s in the John MacFadyen Collection Volume 1. It’s a great collection with many nice traditional tunes (including a large number of Gaelic airs) as well as tunes by several top composers.

The Fiddler is very popular nowadays with Pipe Bands, in part no doubt due to the flashy piobaireachd ornament which sets this strathspey apart from the crowd. (Donald MacLeod wrote an even more popular strathspey with even more piobaireachd ornaments, Susan MacLeod.)

Here’s The Fiddler, at 4:02, followed by the lovely reel Short-Coated Mary

Oh, when I say Katz is playing the tune as written I’m referring to the published original in the John MacFadyen collection, not the versions posted above which have substituted an F doubling for the Dare that appears in the original.

Re: The Fiddler

Thanks very much, Richard, for that information. And sorry for not transcribing it accurately. I’m trying this ornament the way you put it there but I’m finding it extremely difficult. And, also, I haven’t been able to understand what piobaireachd really is/means. I wish I could find an easy explanation about it. And, also, I can’t find anything about this da-re ornament anywhere. Any more info?