Got Pipe Music?

I’ve been out of the bagpiping loop for awhile. Like most pipers, I’ve slowly accumulated a mass of tunes on paper – loose sheets from other pipers, tune books, etc. As I have been starting to get back into the swing of playing, I’ve been amazed at how much more is available and in the variety of formats.

I’ve been playing for a number of years, starting with the Great Highland bagpipes but shifting to a pair of small pipes when I had kids with early bedtimes! The small pipes are tuned to the same key as the GHB and so the fingerings and tunes work on either instrument. Since I’d moved off cane drone reeds on my great pipes, I now use almost entirely plastic reeds (excluding my chanter).

I’ve known about the Viper Piper site for a few years and odds and ends of music resources. But it wasn’t until I was getting the set tunes for a new band I hope to play with, that I learned about the “Bagpipe Music Writer” format and tunes. Back in the day, there were some pipers using TEX to take bagpipe tunes and put them in an electronic format. There have been midi files for ages as well – something I don’t care for – but the bagpipe music writer format files (BWW) are something else entirely.

The software is available from Robert Macneil Music Works (Bagpipe Music Writer Gold) but when I was first finding out about it, I also learned about Doug Wickstrom’s site with the Bagpipe Reader. It is free, unlike BMW Gold, but the rub is that there is some history between the two programs. I expect that I’m so late to this party, that this is old news to most pipers.

A quick search for “bww files” on Google brings up a number of interesting sites and lots of traditional tunes that one might have needed the Scots Guards volumes for in the past. Sites like the Perth Highland Pipe Band, which has tunes in midi, PDF, and zipped BWW formats, or Gerald Griffith’s pages with links to GIFs of the sheet music. I was amazed by the tunes available from Breizh Partitions, which has links to tunes in 9 formats (including BWW, PDF, and graphics) but range across Scottish, Irish, Breton, and other pipes.

For the novice piper, there is an amazing variety of tunes available. As any piper will know, the setting will vary depending on the band with whom you play, but for someone who wants to download a tune they’ve heard on a CD, there seems to be numerous options for finding a copy. I remember contacting a South African piper to get a copy of the South African national anthem for the pipes. It’s nice to have that one-to-one contact, but if you’re just looking for a new tune to try out, there’s never been a better time for it.