OT: 15 June 1907 – Charles Bannatyne “The Bagpipe Chanter Scale”

The Oban Times, 15 June, 1907

The Bagpipe Chanter Scale


10 June, 1907

Sir,–Allow me to add a few words in explanation of my last letter, dated May 3rd. The apparently haphazard way in which I treat the harmonic ratios has for its purpose the emphasising of the fact that the true chanter scale is founded on the harmonic fourth, B flat, which stands in relation to C as 7 to 8. It is the ascendancy of these harmonics that gives the chanter its timbre. Last week I gave the real MacCrimmon scale on the basis of A 452; let me now give it on the basis of A 445 vibrations. As we find a 7 to 8 interval between G and A at the top of the scale, the G below must be made in the same ratio to A below. With this one exception, I will not alter any of the figures given by General Thomason for this, the Dunvegan, chanter:–

G A B C D E F G ¹ A ¹
390 445* 421 518 595 664 758 779 8089
(395 General Thomason’s G.)        

[* In the following week’s letter Bannatyne corrects the above A=445 to A=455.  See next article.  AA]

Now let me give a few of the intervals measured from low G. G to C is an augmented fourth, ratio 45-32nds; G to D is an augmented fifth, and so on, all augmented up to the octave. Measured from A, A to D is a fourth, to D a fifth, to F and acute sixth, and, here is the crux, A to high G is a true harmonic seventh, ratio 7-4ths, then comes the octave; C to F is an augmented fourth, and C to G is a diminished fifth. This is the ancient chanter scale, a most beautiful and delicately balanced scale, which only needed the shortening of chanter by the vandal who repaired it, to upset its balance, by increasing the rapidity of its vibrations in the lower part. Fortunately, the remnants of the 8-7th intervals between E and F, F and G, remained to tell what the true scale had been. There is no chanter among all those examined by General Thomason with a scale equal to this. The harmonic fourth, fah, is the keynote of nature, the note heard in the sighing of the winds, the rustling of the leaves, and the singing of the waters.

The balance of this scale is delightful, and how the MacCrimmons tuned the augmented intervals so closely without extraneous aid I cannot understand. To give anyone who cares a true idea of this cunning scale, which seems to combine all modes, I will mention the notes on the piano, which make no difference between sharps and flats, and so the mind will not be confused by the mention of the diminished and augmented intervals. To get near the present pitch, I will begin on the third black note above middle C, and call this G. Play G, A, B black notes, C white note, next black notes D and E, white note F, finally, black notes G and A, from below upwards. That, sir, is the true chanter scale.

Last week I mentioned the scale of Pythagoras as having been completed “500 years before the completion of the Christian era,” which obviously should be “500 years prior to the beginning of the Christian era,”–I am, etc.,

Charles Bannatyne, M.B.