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Those who attended the 1992 Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society competition in 1992 will have heard Lindsay playing one of his own compositions. His "First Sonata For Small Pipes" was published in COMMON STOCK December 1992. Here he describes some of the technicalities of composing such music.

To date I have composed five sonatas for the Scottish Smallpipes, which is what this article is about. I have chosen to adopt a three movement structure (as opposed to four movements) for   these sonatas, the form of each movement being as follows - sonata form, theme and variations and sonata rondo. The exception is the second sonata, which uses a binary form.

The principle elements of a composition are:

  • Themes
  • Tonality
  • Rhythm
  • Development
  • Repetition
  • Proportion

Constructing large form movements is about organising these elements. A quick word about each element:

  • Themes - these are built up from two bar phrases because any advancement must come from a tradition - which in this case requires a two bar question + a two bar answer. The next step along the reform road is to develop themes so that they do not require to be 2 + 2,

sonata piece 1 10ad3

  • Tonality - possibly the most important factor in smallpipe composition because it is the most limited factor and therefore requires most planning and thought. The practical       limitations of the instrument force the composer to make alterations to the traditional sonata principal - trial and error taught me that in the first sonata (see below for more on sonata form). Tonality governs thematic repetition, particularly in the last movement.
  • Rhythm - the next step in exploration. 1 have written one very mediocre study concern-ing rhythm, the whole point of which was to explore rhythmic development as equal in   importance to melodic development. Rhythm is very important in marking out and balancing phrases. Harmonic rhythm is also important - I have generally chosen to keep it regular.
  • Development - the entire middle section in a sonata form movement is called the development. On the smallpipes we have a smaller harmonic (tonal) range to explore than on instruments capable of total chromaticism, therefore development has to be by variation (the third sonata develops by fragmentation, that is by breaking up the themes and restating the parts on different degrees of the scale). In the sonatas, only one general system of development has been employed in each. However, in something of a larger scale, with more   instruments, such as a concerto (I’m working on it) the possibilities are considerably greater. Development can contain a great deal of "expressive" power. It can also be used to show off the player. In ceol mor, development is systematic and to a certain extent almost mathematical. In smallpipe music, the technical style must be different because the balance between top and bottom hands (and the overall sound) is different. Highland pipe technique, as opposed to the fingering system, is badly suited to the smallpipes therefore a different style must emerge. A mordent, run or trill may be more suitable than a crunluath.
  • Repetition - this is how a ’form’ is built up and identified. There are also points at which a repeat must take place (according to tradition).
  • Proportion - not something which I lose sleep about. The sonatas are all on a small scale so it is possible to sense proportion rather than need to calculate it. In other instrumental works, not being discussed now, I do consider it more, especially in ceol mor and the new "middling type” of highland pipe music.




  • Transition I found to be a bad idea (after trial and error)
  • The repeat is frequently ignored on other instruments (sonata form developed from binary form A B).
  • The second subject (second group) in the first sonatas is in the subdominant - it is not really correct to think or talk about keys on the pipes - we should think about modes, which is a slight contradiction because sonata form is not a modal form. In the later sonatas in the ionian mode (the scale starting on D on the pipes) the second subject (group) is in the mode a fourth lower which corresponds with the dominant key - it would be acceptable to speak of keys in such cases.
  • The second subject should be contrasted with the first subject. In the first sonata, the   second subject was in 6/8 time but that did not work well so it had to change to 2/4. 5 Three basic devices to develop have been used in the sonatas (number 3 excepted):           a) Arabesque - filling in with scales etc
    • Jumping in intervals e.g. thirds
    • Using pedal notes such as low ’A’ and high ’A’.
  • From 5a - in future, I intend to exploit the natural (pentatonic) harmony of the instrument more. To that end I have worked out rather interesting technical studies for my own personal use. I have already applied this harmonic system to piano accompaniments to songs and in my various incomplete orchestral works.
  • Again, no transition in the recapitulation
  • No coda - that would unbalance the movement. Again, something larger could take a coda.


Traditionally theme and variations. There is nothing very exciting about this idea and its links with smallpipes. 1 will say more in the analysis of Sonata Number 1.


The simplified theory as used for other instruments is as follows


sonata piece 2 d79d0

1 A is always in the tonic key (original mode)                                                                              

2 C is a contrast or development

3 For smallpipes the transitions have been omitted.

To weld the two traditions together, I have made each section equal to one ’part’ (in piping terms) in the relevant modes (keys). 1 intend to review and redesign the form of the third movement and in future I will probably use a fourth movement.