GCSE Music Area of Study 4 - Capercaillie: 'Skye Waulking Song' from the album Nadurra

Edexcel GCSE Music Area of Study 4: World Music

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  • Created by: Mel
  • Created on: 05-05-12 21:38

Folk Music

Folk music is music of the people. It is generally music performed and owned by the lower classes of a society expressing something about their way of life, how they used to live or about a local mythology. 

It is passed on by the oral tradition and is rarely notated.

Folk music is often played at informal occasions (jam sessions, pubs, social gatherings). It is not important to be a trained musician to enjoy folk music - anyone can join in to the best of their ability. 

There is folk music in every region of every country, reflecting the traditions, life and myths of that particular corner of the world. Folk songs with political lyrics such as Bob Dylan's were known as protest songs. 

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Folk Instruments

  • Accordion 
  • Bagpipes 
  • Banjo 
  • Bodhrán - Irish drum struck with hand or double-ended stick ('tipper' or 'bones')
  • Bouzouki - Greek string instrument, generally with four groups of two strings turned in unison or octaves 
  • Concertina-Similar to an accordion, but smaller 
  • Double bass 
  • Fiddle - Name given for a violin played in a folk music context 
  • Guitar 
  • Harmonica 
  • Hurdy Gurdy - Similar shape to a violin, played by wheel rotating in contact with strings. Pitch changed by set of keys rather than direct contact with fingers 
  • Mandolin 
  • Piano 
  • Tin/penny whistle 
  • Uilleann pipes - similar to bagpipes but using bellows operated by elbow rather than blowing. Produce sweeter and quieter sound than bagpipes
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Folk Instruments (cont.)

Concertina                                                          Uilleann Pipes


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Folk Instruments (cont.)

Hurdy Gurdy                                      Bodhrán


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Folk Instruments (cont.)

Electric instruments such as the electric bass, keyboard and electric guitar have been used in folk music as long as they have in popular music. However, purists felt that the music should always be played on acoustic instruments - folk music is also called 'traditional music', and electric instruments are not traditional or part of folk heritage, so some people felt that the use of electric instruments in folk music was a betrayal of their values. 

With the introduction of electric instruments into folk music, there is often a cross-over of stylistic influences as well, such as the introduction of elements from pop or rock (riffs, rock rhythms etc).

When another music is integrated with folk music, it is called a fusion of musical styles.

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Fusion is a mingling or blending together of more than one musical style or culture to create a new 'fused' sound - does not have to include music. This could be with fusion of Indian music with Western popular music (Bhangra), jazz with classical music etc. 

Capercaillie are an example of a band that fuse Celtic folk music with instruments and production values of Western popular music.

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Waulking Songs

Waulking is an ancient process used for making tweed fabric more flexible and windproof. 

A waulking song refers to a song used to make this process into a more sociable occasion. To keep everyone in time, the work was accompanied by waulking song. 

There would be one person leading with lyrics based on a well-known story, some aspect of village life or general gossip, and the others would join in after each line with some nonsense syllables

It was considered unlucky to repeat a whole verse, so the songs often had many verses with each line repeated once to form a verse, giving the lead singer time to think of the next line

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  • Formed in Oban High School, in West Highlands of Scotland in early 1980s by Donald Shaw (accordion and keyboards) and his friends 
  • Name 'Capercaillie' is taken from Scottish grouse (native bird)  that was at one point nearing extinction 
  • They are often singing in Scots Gaelic dialect
  • First spotted as a potential recording act while performing in the Mull Music Festival in Tobermory in 1983 
  • Singer Karen Matheson (winner of a national Gaelic singing competition) joined in 1984 when they recorded their debut album, Cascade
  • Fiddle player Charlie McKerron joined in 1985 and Manus Lunny (guitar and Irish bouzouki) in 1988
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Background to Nadurra

Nadurra was released in September 2000 featuring Capercaillie's highly acclaimed touring line-up: 

  • Donald Shaw: accordion, piano, synth 
  • Michael McGoldrick: flutes, flutes, whistle, uilleann pipes 
  • Karen Matheson: vocals 
  • Ewen Vernal: acoustic and electric bass 
  • Charlie McKerron: fiddle 
  • Manus Lunny: bouzouki, guitar, bodhrán
  • James MacKintosh: drums, percussion 

This line-up was acclaimed as 'the marriage made in heaven' because of their individual virtuosity on their own instruments, and also because of the way they gelled together so well in an ensemble, seeming to create a sound greater than the sum of the parts. 

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Capercaillie: 'Skye Waulking Song' - Story and Lyr

'Chuir m'athair mise dhan taigh charraideach' (My father sent me to the house of sorrow) is an exerpt taken from the lament 'Seathan, Mac Righ Eirann' (Seathan, Son of the King of Ireland), taken from a large collection of Gaelic folksongs assembled by the folklorist Alexander Carmichael. 

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Capercaillie: 'Skye Waulking Song' - Story and Lyr

Hi ri huraibhi o ho (nonsense syllables)

Chuir m'athair mise dhan taigh charraideach (My father sent me to the house of sorrow)

'N oidhche sin a rinn e bhanais dhomh (That night he held my wedding for me)

Gur truagh a Righ nach b'e m'fhalairidh (What a pity, O King, that it wasn't my funeral party)

Man do bhrist mo làmh an t-aran dhomh (Before my hand broke the bread for me)

Man d'rinn mo sgian biadh a ghearradh dhomh (Before my knife cut the food for me)

Sheathain chridhe nan sùl socair (Beloved Seathan of the calm eyes) 

Tha do bhàta 'nochd 's na portaibh (Your boat tonight is in port,)

Och, ma tha, chan eil i socair (Oh, if it is, it won't be calm)

O nach robh thu, ghaoil, na toiseach. (Oh that you weren't, my love, in her bow.)

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Capercaillie: 'Skye Waulking Song' - Structure

  • Intro 
  • Verse 1 
  • Break 
  • Verse 2 
  • Verse 3 
  • Verse 4 
  • Verse 5 
  • Verse 6 
  • Instrumental 
  • Verse 7 
  • Verse 8 
  • Outro
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Capercaillie: 'Skye Waulking Song'


  • Begins with sustained keyboard chord hinting at the key of E minor
  • End of Intro - chord sequence has been established as Em-G 
  • Verse 4 - Chord sequence changes to C-G-Em-G adding harmonic interest
  • Verse 8 - Chord sequence returns to C-G-Em-G 
  • Outro - Chord sequence alternates between C and G


  • Compound time signature
  • Intro - Ambiguous time signature - feels like it might be 6/8 or 12/8 but shaker and hi-hat play every two beats giving more of a triple time feel 
  • Verse 2 - 12/8 time signature 


  • Pentatonic vocal line 
  • Instrumental - Uilleann pipes solo along with fiddle in a heterophonic texture
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Important Points

  • Harmony in folk music is less important than melody and rhythm 
  • Harmony is very simple throughout the song (only four chords in the whole song), but the changes in chord sequence, while infrequent, are very noticeable when they happen, highlighting a change of section and mood 
  • Melodic lines are played in folk music - instruments improvise around melody simultaneously, sometimes playing a very similar melody in slightly different ways (creating heterophonic texture) and sometimes weaving a complex, improvised counterpoint around melody and scale (G major) 
  • Vocal part is sung using the scale of E minor pentatonic (or G major pentatonic) throughout
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Samuel Richardson


An amazing, detailed set of notes that covers nearly everything! I love the pictures of the instruments and the great background included on the band. 

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