OT: 11 May 1929 – J.C. “The Bottom (G-A) Interval of the Chanter”

The Oban Times, 11 May, 1929

The Bottom (G-A) Interval of the Chanter
Its Bearing on the Construction of the Chanter Gamut

 Sir,–Mr. W. D. Anderson, in the “The Oban Times” lately, inquires if the interval between the bottom notes of the chanter (that is G and A in staff notation, but any others might be put in a chanter) is the “small” tone 10/9, as it is between G and A where these occur in the major diatonic scale of C (see tables of scales and “intervals” in any book.)

The answer is “No.” The above interval in chanter is a full or “great” tone of 9/8. This can be proved by the ear, as is often done by pipers who alternately sound “low” G and A (here a local Doh-Ray).

Lately I have tested it by an improvised monochord with a string length of 360 millimetres of second string of violin. I find the interval 9/8 and not 10/9 to be in agreement with the chanter. Mr. Anderson’s suggestion of an 8/7 interval (the seventh harmonic in scale of A) I find much to flat.

The chanter notes are founded on this great (G-A) tone interval. They were got by taking doh, mi, soh for the lowest note (here G in staff) getting G, B, D, and and again doh, me, soh from the next note (here A), giving A C# E, while F# is got as the fifth (soh) from B, while high A and G, (the latter an unsteady note) are the octaves of the lower notes. A careful study of the above series of notes shows that we get the following intervals as a result:

G 9/8    A 10/9    B 9/8    C 16/15    D 9/8    E 10/9    F # 16/15    G 9/8    A

which actually coincides with the major diatonic scale intervals if we start with D the middle chanter note from below upwards, and follow high A by B in the lower hand.

The fact that the interval 16/15 lies between C# and D further proves this, as we have D as the upper note of the ascending octave where the interval is D2 over C # 1 7/8 equals 16/15. The same has been arrived at by actually measuring the intervals and they agree with the results of the above production of chanter notes obtained from tuning up from the lower to “great tone interval” notes, G and A, in alternate triads (doh, mi, soh). Further examination shows that the above arrangement is accurately equal to or identical with what is known in staff language as Key of D, the doh, that is D, here being the middle note of the chanter.

The above arrangement, which is common in the chanter “family,” yields the so-called “parallel” scales of G and A, where in former C is sharp and must be avoided and where E is not quite true, and in the latter where G has flat seventh and where the interval A B is only 10/9 (small tone) and not 9/8 great tone as it ought to be. The attempt by some to make the chanter a Key A instrument will end in confusion as it makes the G A interval too small, viz., 10/9 or even 16/15.

To make, therefore, a “bagpipe” scale or gamut, whether on the violin, a chanter, or to put chanter “notes” on a flageolet, only requires attention to the above which has been preached for many years by Mr. Calum MacPharlain, and is shown with tables of scales in Jno. McNeil’s [i.e. John MacNeill] article in Manson’s Book on the Bagpipe. [See Manson’s book, p. 369.] Like others, I have wasted a lot of time and experiment trying to collate the Greek scales with the chanter gamut by starting from the lowest note, e.g., Pythagorean, whose second interval is a great tone 9/8, not a small tone 10/9 as in the chanter between A in B. This false start is the cause of some musicians being confused. Of course on the piano, which is meant for “equal temperament,” the scale of D is the same as A with flat seventh and as G if C #is aborted in the latter.

In the above connection it is not necessary to bring into the argument anything about vibrations as measured on sirens or monochord, the only requisite being as with the old makers of pipes, a good ear and the great tone between the two bottom notes, as the foundation of the pipe gamut, singing G and A here as doh, ray.

Of course pipe music is another thing. It is performed on an instrument which suits it musically in some cases, and others not, and where a chromatic scale would be serviceable.

For reference–Great tone, 9/8; small tone, 10/9; semi-tone, 16/15. I am, etc.,

J. C.