1. Introduction

The musical culture of the Celtic towns began in the castros, oval or circular hill-forts with one or more concentric stone walls, preceded generally by a ditch, and situated at the top of a hill or a mountain. The so-called airas of the castros are thought to have been the sites of festive types of dances and gatherings. The melody "Danza da aira do castro" (Dance of the aira of the castro), from the book Músicas do Caurel (Music from O Caurel), by Xosé Lois Foxo (Figure 1), is a good example (1998).

The castros culture, a phenomenon of the second half of the Iron Age, appears in different zones around the Iberian Peninsula, but the north-western castro culture exhibits characteristics that clearly differentiate it from the rest of the peninsular castro zones. The citanias of Portugal were a type of late Iron Age fortified enclosure similar to the castros but larger in size.

The heart of the castro distribution zone was in what is Galicia today, extending east towards the Navia River and south towards the Duero River, including the Portuguese regions of the Minho and Tras-os-Montes Rivers. One of the main challenges for archaeologists is dating the castros culture, since the late Iron Age dating does not apply equally to all zones at the same time and excavations and analyses were not all conducted with the necessary scientific rigor until relatively recently. Radiocarbon dating has provided dates between 520 BC and 570 AD for this culture complex, and excavations have confirmed the presence of settlement before the cultural introduction of iron and the Celtic culture elements associated with the new technology. While some indigenous cultures did not survive the Roman conquest, others seem to have continued for many centuries under Roman dominion while retaining their own traditions. Among these traditions were a distinctive form of musical expression and a characteristic set of instruments.

Figure 1. The author photographed among the foundations of a Galician castro.
Figure 1. The author photographed among the foundations of a Galician castro.

2. The Bagpipe as a Symbol of Brotherhood among Celtic Regions

The bagpipe is doubtless one of the most ancient instruments in use today. We have references to the bagpipe from the Old Testament up to the present day, with many bagpipe forms found in the various Celtic regions, in different cultures and different eras. The historic and literary references to bagpipes in all of the Celtic countries bear witness to the universality of the bagpipe since the Middle Ages.

The primitive bagpipe, as it appears in the miniatures of the Cantigas of King Alfonso X "el Sabio", did not have drone pipes (odrecillo), which first appear with polyphonic music. The miniature that corresponds to the Cantiga 350, in which we see a large bagpipe with drone pipes towards the back of the bagpiper, is a good example (Figure 2). Although still primitive in form, the modern bagpipe has not escaped the laws of evolution; the illustrations of Latin manuscripts (Angers Psalter, mid-eighth century) and ancient sculptures and carvings that represent bagpipes clearly show that these instruments are different from those used today. One example of this mutability is the Highland bagpipe, a Scottish bagpipe that until the nineteenth century had two drone pipes (nowadays there are three), although it has retained a scale different from the proper pitch.

Figure 2. Miniature from the Codex of popular folk songs of Alfonso X El Sabio.
Figure 2. Miniature from the Codex of popular folk songs of Alfonso X "El Sabio".

The Galician bagpipe or gaita has been subject to continuous change through time. The adoption of the proper pitch scale occurred relatively late, toward the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. The mutations of the gaita are morphological as well as technical based on the interpretative sources available to us. Thus, we know that beginning in the twentieth century the bagpipe used strike notes, or strikes, as almost the primary method of repeating notes, while today there is a tendency to apply the grace notes system or even to incorporate other interpretative forms of the Celtic cultures related to Galicia.

Also significant are the changes in the morphology of the bagpipe over time, from the odrecillo or little bagpipe, shown in the Cantigas of Alfonso X "el Sabio" in the thirteenth century, through all the extremely varied sculptural iconography in Romanesque and Gothic contexts of that era, consisting solely of blowpipe, bag and chanter, up to the sophisticated instrument formed by blowpipe, bag, chanter and three drone pipes still used today.

We must emphasize the fact that the bagpipe did not always develop in a positive way. The introduction of rubber bags and drone pipe falls are good examples. Diverse carvings from the eighteenth century show bagpipers with highly ornate bagpipes with one or several bass drones. Later, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, drone pipes appear on the shoulder and a small drone pipe can be seen on the front part of the instrument. Some bagpipes of this period have mechanical fans. Subsequently, in the later twentieth century, a bagpipe was introduced in Galicia with a drone pipe parallel to the ground, with or without a small drone pipe. Most recently, thanks to the labors of artisan specialists, experimental improvements have focused on trying to gain more perfect tone, tuning, and so on.

In this article we will focus on the martial bagpipe with three drone pipes on the shoulder, a bagpipe with an aesthetic and appearance common to others found in the arc formed by the different countries of the Celtic world. This is the bagpipe used today in the Celtic type of Galician bagpipe band (Figure 3).

Figure 3.  Royal Galician Bagpipe Band Ourense Deputation at Pambre Castle (A Coruña).
Figure 3. Royal Galician Bagpipe Band Ourense Deputation at Pambre Castle (A Coruña).

3. The Origin of the Galician Bagpipe

Figure 4. Reconstruction of the Or flute, or Launeddas, used in Greece and southern Italy.
Figure 4. Reconstruction of the Or flute, or Launeddas, used in Greece and southern Italy.

Much could be written about the origin of the Galician bagpipe or gaita Galega, though it would be more or less hypothetical because its use leads back to ancient times and cultures that are hard to analyse. On the most basic level the bagpipe is a melodic tube to which a piece of skin has been joined (fol), inspired by the ancient technique of continuous insufflation, or circular respiration, to manage a continuous sound, a method also used in playing the launeddas (Figure 4), one of the most ancient polyphonic instruments of the Mediterranean region.

During the third millennium BC, the flute was one of the most common instruments in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. The very first evidence we have for the existence of a bagpipe is in Greece ca. 400 BC, in the form of a bagpipe with the fol made out of dog skin. It is interesting to note that a dog skin fol is still used on the islands of Malta. The bagpipe is known as askaulos in Greek. The double flute aulos turns into askaulos when a fol made of skin, or ask, is attached as an air repository to ease the piper's fatigue. The Romans referred to the bagpipe as tibia utricularis. The common Latin word for many centuries was chorus.

The medieval term cornamusa (bagpipe), a generic term for the bagpipes, is universally accepted as deriving from the Latin cornu-us (horn) and musa-ae (muse), a derivation that first appears in the thirteenth century literature. The term does not appear in dictionaries to describe an instrument that has an air deposit, the fol, until the sixteenth century. The bagpipe is still used in the Hellenic world today (Figure 4). The most primitive bagpipe form, made up only of the bag, blowpipe and the chanter, spread all round the area that was under Hellenic influence. In some parts of Europe the drone is not used.

According to the Roman historian Suetonius, writing in the first and second centuries AD, the bagpipe appears on a coin dating back to the Emperor Nero's time, who was known to have been able to play the instrument. After Suetonius and his contemporaries, we have no references to the bagpipe until six centuries later, possibly due to the antipathy of the church towards musical instruments. In this context we must underline the saying of Saint Juan Crisóstomo: "Where the flute players are, Jesus is not" (de Santiago 1964). For such early priests, musical instruments were identified with profane practices. Fortunately, these attitudes began to weaken over time, and bagpipe-related iconography reappears at the end of the tenth century, particularly in religious contexts, where it eventually achieved great prestige as a liturgical instrument.

Arab writers refer to a pipe with a bag in the thirteenth century. During this time there are many references to the bagpipe in western Europe as well, where a great variety of types of bagpipes were in use with a harmonic complement formed by one or more drones. The bagpipe became more popular outside Europe around the same period of time. At the end of the twelfth century, the concept of the "pipe bag" became popular all over Europe, especially among shepherds. Galicia in the Early Middle Ages was Europe's most important piping center and through the Camino de Santiago (Pilgrimage Route to Santiago) the influence of the bagpipe spread to many other European countries.

4. Iconography

Iconography is an important source in our research into the bagpipe in the past. From the second half of the thirteenth century on, representations of crowned bagpipers, especially on the main façades of European cathedrals, deserve special attention in any study of the history of the instrument. We commend the sculptural precision and the detailed realism of the sculptors of this era, which is unfortunately not the case for other representations in later centuries.

Beginning in the fourteenth century, many wood carvings of bagpipes and bagpipers, specifically the misericordia carved on choir furniture, often present luxurious images. The richest European piping iconography, both sacred and secular, can be found in Galicia in palaces and religious sites.

Paintings also show us representations of bagpipers. The collection of miniatures in the codex of the popular folk songs of Alfonso X "El Sabio", particularly Songs 27, 28 and 32, include beautiful representations of bagpipers. Each figure shows us a different type of bagpipe, with carved stocks, giving the instrument great artistic value (Figure 5). Significantly, the bag cover of one of the bagpipers that appears in one of these miniatures is decorated with coloured squares. This has led experts to suggest a certain affinity between the gaita and the Scottish plaid. There is no doubt that the thirteenth century was a golden age for the bagpipe, and had major repercussions in the European musical environment. This is well illustrated by the thirteenth century volume Fueros del Reino de Aragón (Figure 6).

Figure 5. Miniature from the Codex of popular folk songs of Alfonso X El Sabio   Figure 6. Miniature from the thirteenth century volume Fueros del Reino de Aragón
Figure 5. Miniature from the Codex of popular folk songs of Alfonso X "El Sabio".   Figure 6. Miniature from the thirteenth century volume Fueros del Reino de Aragón.

In particular, Christmas iconography, with the bagpiper in the background, has been a constant for the past four centuries. The Portuguese School of Barristas in the seventeenth century is a very important reference when it comes to studying bagpipers' instruments and clothes in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula.

Therefore, the history of the bagpipe in Galicia must be built with the help of the extremely rich iconographic source material, which is why we plan to produce a publication in the future that will gather iconographic material throughout the northeastern Peninsula and along the routes to Santiago de Compostela.

5. Classification of the Bagpipes in Western Europe

  1. The French country bagpipe, with an almost conical chanter and a cylindrical drone. This category includes the Iberian bagpipes outside Galicia.
  2. Typical western bagpipes with a conical chanter and one or more drones, normally with independent outlets from the bag, found in Celtic and Atlantic areas: Galicia, Asturias, the British Islands and Brittany.
  3. The Irish bagpipe, also known as the Irish Union pipe or the uillean pipe, has an almost conical chanter as well as a group of drones that extend from a common body.
  4. The old Baroque mussette has a cylindrical chanter and a group of drones with double cane reeds extending from the same body. This category includes the Northumbrian small pipe, with the difference that it uses a simple cane drone reed.

6. Classification of Bagpipes in Eastern Europe

Shepherds were traditionally bagpipers in these countries. Normally, the pipes had a cylindrical or almost cylindrical chanter with a single reed instead of a double reed.

  1. Bagpipes with a double chanter do not have a drone; the sound originates from two small single reeds, usually played without a bag. These pipes are found along the Adriatic coast from Istría to Montenegro and the interior, including Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  2. Bagpipes with a double chanter and drone in which each chanter is enlarged by a sole are found from Slovenia, northern Serbia and southern Banat up to southern Poland and northern Ukraine.
  3. Bagpipes with a simple chanter and drone (Western type) have a massive sole both on the drone and the chanter. These can be found in Bohemia, Moravia, Poland and White Russia.
  4. Bagpipes with a simple chanter (Southern type). We include here the Bulgarian bagpipes, without a sole or with a rudimentary version. These are found throughout Macedonia, Bulgaria and in the lowland zones of eastern Romania.
  5. Bagpipes with a simple chanter and drone (Northern type) are found in Sweden and Estonia, and have a certain affinity with the Western bagpipes.

7. Etymology of the Word Gaita

This is one of the few words preserved in the Galician language that does not have a Latin root. Etymologically it comes from Gothic, specifically the Swabian gaits, meaning cabuxa (goat). Since the fol (bag) of the bagpipe was traditionally made out of goatskin, it is not strange that its name was derived from that material. It is likely that the Goths and the Swabians of the northern Peninsula retained in their memory the ancient word from their national language. By phonetic evolution it is logical that the feminine word gaits, with sonant phonetic properties, developed into the Romance language form gaita, also feminine and phonologically vocalized, thereby adapting itself to the phonetic habits of the inhabitants of the northeastern Peninsula.

Although an apocryphal letter from Saint Jerome to Darden, possibly dating from the tenth century, describes the bagpipe as a chorus, the most common terms used from the thirteenth century on are gayta or cornamusa. In modern times we can verify the use of the word gaita based on its variants in the Slavic countries, alternating this term with others from the cultural regions where the instrument is found.

We cannot establish a specific time period for the introduction of the gaita in Galicia, but we can be sure that its tradition there is very ancient, being transmitted most commonly from father to son as a hereditary profession. The gaita resisted the strong influences and idioms that, throughout the centuries, challenged its existence. Today we can assert that it is the most studied instrument in Galicia, and its permanence is assured as long as the social support it currently enjoys continues.

8. Historical Review

Producing even a brief chronicle of the gaiteiros (bagpipers) in Galicia is no easy task. The sources of information from past periods are limited, and many have been lost throughout the years. Centuries ago there were gaiteiros whose fame was transmitted from generation to generation. Though most of their names may have been forgotten, their memory and work remain in each and every town and village of Galicia as a timeless testimony of past cultural traditions. There is no parish in Galicia that has not had, in living memory, a gaiteiro (bagpiper). This is the reason why we have to say that the personages referred to below are just one indication of the continuing life and social significance of the bagpipe in Galicia.

The Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula had a high appreciation for the gaita. Fernando III el Santo (1201-1252) supported and protected the troubadours and minstrels in his kingdom. In this context we can establish a relationship between Alfonso X el Sabio (1221-1284) and the medieval tradition of Allariz, which the king visited during his childhood and where thirty gaiteiros (Galician bagpipers) would gather to play during the annual celebration of the Festa do Boi. This can be seen as setting a precedent for the later Galician bagpipe bands. To elaborate further on the idea of the instrument's vitality in royal society, we reproduce a verse of Alfonso XI (1311-1350) below:

La gaita que es sutil (The fine bagpipe is
con que todos placer han. everybody's delight)

9. Union and Guild Galician Bagpipers

There are references to gaiteiros in numerous old documents, some of which are discussed below, especially those that illustrate the role of the gaiteiros in these societies. For example, in 1374 the Galician bagpiper Johan Gonçalvez acted as a witness to a property sale contract for the Abbey of Monfero. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Galician bagpiper was a professional musician, often hired for life; for example, in Ourense in 1458, the gaiteiro Gomes Mouro was hired for life before a public notary.

The governor of Tuy on December 13, 1418 refers to Constança Gayteyra moller que foi de Martin Gayteyro morador que foi ena vila de Ponte Lima do Reino de Portugal (The bagpiper Constança, wife of the bagpiper Martin, resident in the village of Ponte Lima of the Kingdom of Portugal). The same governor, on June 7, 1497 refers to the gaiteiro Rodrigo Eans.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, gaiteiros and tamborileiros (tenor drum players) in the patron saint and sacramental ceremonies were hired by public contract. In 1579, Juan de Recarei (tamborileiro), was hired by the Saint Nicolas Guild of Noia to play with the guild's titular gaiteiro for the rest of his days. In 1579 and 1597, the council of O Caramiñal hired Juan de Tourís (gaiteiro) and Juan de Tourís "el Viejo" (tamborileiro) to play at the Corpus ceremonies.

In 1587, Juan Pérez, gaiteiro of Ribadulla, was hired for three years by the Council of Villa O Caramiñal to play at the Corpus fairs. In 1597, Antonio Gonzalez de Loiro (tamborileiro) was hired for life to play in the guild's ceremonies and dances during Corpus Cristi and Pascua de Flores, as well as to assist in the dance rehearsals in Ourense.

In 1618, Pedro das Casas (named tamborileiro of Vilanova dos Infantes) was hired to play at the guild's dance on Corpus Cristi and at the dance rehearsals in Villa Bentraces (Ourense). In 1628, the Guild of Saint Michael gave a similar contract to Bartolomé González of Sobrado do Vispo. On October 20, 1658, at Saint Miguel de Tabagón, boys and girls got together to dance in a procession to the sound of the Galician bagpipes to celebrate the return of the Santísimo's statue that had been carried away by a Portuguese soldier during the recently concluded war with that country. There was a similar situation on May 8, 1661, when the tamborileiro Pedro González from Santa Cristina de Vilariño was hired. In 1609, Bartolomé Germade (a famous gaiteiro) was hired at Portonovo to play at important celebrations throughout the year. In 1627, the gaiteiro Juan García agreed that he and the gaiteiro Domingo Cobas (Cacheiras), a guild brother, would play free at the guild's ceremonies. In 1631, Juan Conde (gaiteiro of Vilaboa) was hired along with the tamborileiro to play before and during the day of the Corpus at Bouzas's village, receiving in exchange 34 reales as well as food and drink. In 1725, in a protocol document from O Carballiño in the Provincial Historical Files of Ourense, Alexandre Álvarez was referred to as músico de gayta Gallega (Galician bagpipe musician). There are interesting references to the salaries of the gaiteiros as well. On December 17, 1458 a yearlong contract was signed before a notary for the amount of eighteen maravedíes between the gaiteiro Gomes Mouro and the council of Ourense to play at the San Martiño fairs for the rest of his life. Also, in 1700 a gaiteiro received eleven reales for his performance at the festivity of Nuestra Señora de Tebra (Tomiño). At Santa María de Chaín (Gondomar), in 1711, a gaiteiro received six reales. In 1726, at Santiago de Malvas (Tuy), a gaiteiro received eight reales.

The profession of gaiteiro during this period enjoyed high social prestige, as demonstrated in the historical documents. There were, however, regional variations within Galicia regarding the manner in which the gaiteiro was contracted. For example, at Ribadeo, an open committee chose the gaiteiro on the first day of the year, and the contract could be transferred from father to son, creating long dynasties of gaiteiros in this area.

10. The Gaita as a Symbol of Galicia

Since 1700, the gaita has changed from a simple accompaniment for ritual dances to an instrument accompanying secular dances, as can bee seen in the rich pictorial manifestations after this time, which depict loose and noisy dances of a playful nature.

During the dark centuries of Galician culture, the shepherd-gaiteiro appears playing to the infant Jesus, with the Maestros de Capilla (Chapel Masters) of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries producing wonderful Christmas carols inspired by the gaiteiros' music. A good example of this is Melchor López, master at the Cathedral of Compostela (1759-1822), conveyer of the wonderful melody "A Nosa Gaita". Moreover, we must emphasize the grand contribution of the Maestros de Capilla of the Catedral de Mondoñedo (Chapel Masters of the Cathedral from Mondoñedo), the birthplace of Pascual Veiga, who was the most outstanding Galician composer of the nineteenth century.

During the long "stone night" of the Galician culture from the fifteenth century until the nineteenth century's Rexurdimento (revival) in Galicia, the gaita survived thanks to its popular appeal. In France, by contrast, the Musette de Cour was mainly appreciated at the French Court. In 1738, Hortteterre would write the first didactic treatise on how to play this instrument. In fact, the bagpipe bellows were created for the first time at the French Court in order to prevent female musicians from distorting their faces by blowing into the instrument. In a fable from Samaniego (1745-1801) there is a reference to the Galician bagpipe, which means that the gaita was already established as a typical Galician instrument by that time.

In the early 1800s, coinciding with the Rexurdimento (revival) of Galician culture, Galician popular poets and singers such as Pastor Díaz, Xoán Manoel Pintos, Rosalía de Castro, Curros Enríquez, Cabanillas, among others, dedicated poems and made many references to the figure of the gaiteiro, with the Galician bagpipe and the Galician flag both used as symbols of the Galician cultural revival. In the nineteenth century, the gaita was not only the muse and main theme of the earliest manifestations of Galician literature, but in the popular tradition many gaiteiros were mythologized as well. To travel to America was the dream of all famous gaiteiros towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, and many managed to get there, including the gaiteiro of Ventosela, D. Perfecto Feijóo with his choir "Aires da Terra"; the gaiteiros of Soutelo de Montes, and many others. The same dream came true for the famous gaiteiro of Liberdón (Asturias). All of them were very successful in America, where they played in the best theatres.

Compositions for the Gaita

The gaiteiril (Galician piping) repertoire today consists of an enormous collection of melodies that are a clear reflection of the Galician bagpipe's life in the past and present. There have been many Galician bagpipe composers since the eighteenth century. The gaiteiros themselves wrote many of their own melodies, but there were excellent musicians who dedicated themselves to writing fabulous bagpipe compositions as well. From the time of Manuel Rey (1867), composer of the well-studied Muñeira de Monterrei, to the present day, many composers have written songs for the Galician bagpipe. Moreover, we must emphasize the important contribution of the song book tradition in preserving the gaiteiro's repertoire, within which the following must be highlighted: J. Inzenga's Song Book (1888), The Galician Song Book of Jesus y Gay and Eduardo M. Torner (1973), the popular Song Book of Daniel Rodríguez González (1963), the Musical Song Book of Galicia by C. Sampedro (1942), as well as many private collections and Galician bagpipe methods.

Since the second half of the nineteenth century, well known Galician musicians composed and gathered an important collection of musical pieces to be played on the gaita, particularly musicians such as Marcial de Adalid (1826-1881), Canuto Berea (1836-1891), Xohán Montes (1840-1899), Pascual Veiga (1842-1906), Ricardo Courtier (1865-1922), Gustavo Freire (1885-1948), among others.


Important monographs include A Gaita Gallega (a review of research on the gaita) by V. Cobas Pazos (1955), followed by the Método completo de Gaita by Rodrigo A. de Santiago (1964), which can be considered the first systematically presented manual on method for the Galician bagpipe, including an extensive treatise on the history of the Galician bagpipe as well as technical, theoretical and musical examples using the rescale for writing music for the gaita. Moreover, other more recent publications have contributed significantly to the didactics of the Galician bagpipe, such as Leccións de Gaita by Enrique Otero (1978), O que di a Gaita by Xosé Casal (1981) and A Gaita no eido da Música by Xaime Estévez (1987). Likewise, we must emphasize the publication Aires da Terra by José Luis Calle (1993), in which there is a recompilation of an important selection of musical themes for the gaita initially collected by D. Perfecto Feijóo and preserved in the Museum of Pontevedra, as well as the collection of sheet music Doce polainas enteiras.

After the foundation of the choir Aires da Terra in 1883 by the gaiteiro Perfecto Feijóo, subsequent choirs followed the Feijóo model in being established by gaiteiros: Manuel Lorenzo Barxa (1878-1959) established the "Real Coro Toxos e Froles" of Ferrol; Virxilio Fernández (1893-1978) established the "Coral de Ruada" of Ourense, among many others. Therefore, it is clear that gaiteiros have played the primary role in the transmission of Galician music over the generations.

Because of their close cultural affinity with Galicia, we also must make a reference to several interesting publications on learning how to play the Asturian bagpipe, including Método de Gaita by Xuacu Amieva (1998), La Gaita Asturiana, método para su aprendizaje, El libro de la Gaita by Manolo Quirós (1993) and Método de Gaita Asturiana by José Fernández "Guti" (2002).

Galician Bagpipers

Throughout Galicia the names of many gaiteiros came to symbolize their hometowns, a topic that deserves a monograph in its own right. There are some personages for whom we are lucky enough to have significant records, including details of their musical contribution to the world of the gaita. Both famous and less well-known gaiteiros were responsible for keeping the sacred fire of Galician culture alive; thus, we must mention some of those who are especially known for transmitting important melodies that enrich our present day repertoire (Figure 7).

Figure 7. The <em>Muiñeira</em> by Dionisio Fierros (1827-1894)
Figure 7. The Muiñeira by Dionisio Fierros (1827-1894).

A special mention, for his meritorious achievements, must be made of the famous gaiteiro of Penalta, Manuel Castro González (1832) who was referred to by the secretary of the Registry Office of Celanova as being "The Gaiteiro-Master"; Sr. Manuel de Poio of Pontevedra; the famous "Choqueiros de Arnoia" of Ourense and Cangas (Pontevedra); as well as many others. It is necessary, in this context, to refer to the famous gaiteiro of Lugo, not as a specific personage but as a popular expression that reflects the gaiteiros' proliferation and significance in this province.

11. Description of the Gaita

The Morphology of the Galician Bagpipe

Since the second half of the thirteenth century there is clear evidence of the morphological evolution of the gaita in the northeastern peninsula. The first sculptural representations of the instrument show the gaita without a drone, that is, it consisted of only the fol (bag), the punteiro (chanter), and the soprete (mouthpiece). This appears to be the origin of the concept of the Galician bagpipe, with few variations.

At the same time as the development of polyphony, seen also in other instruments, the drones were added to the Galician bagpipe as an important harmonic source. In the second half of the thirteenth century and the fourteenth century, the Galician bagpipe would appear both with and without a drone, though the use of the drone gradually predominated over the centuries, initially trumpet-shaped and later in the shape of a long-stemmed glass.

Although the typical Galician bagpipe of the northeastern Iberian Peninsula only had one drone, occasionally we find a second drone used beside the principal one. Some gaiteiros of the second half of the nineteenth century used the soprano drone to support the chanter, placed next to it. Later, well into the twentieth century, a tenor drone was placed at the front of the instrument that was small compared to the second drone found in the Galician bagpipe in previous centuries.

Nowadays there are several different versions of the instrument:

  1. The common-traditional gaita: this consists of the bag, the chanter, the bass drone and the mouthpiece (Figure 8).
  2. The gaita with tenor drone: a small tenor drone is added to the front of the parts listed above (Figure 9).
  3. The gaita with tenor and soprano drones: a small soprano drone is added at the front of the instrument.
  4. The Galician band or martial bagpipe: this includes a bass, a tenor and a soprano drone that rests on the gaiteiro's shoulder, in addition to the other original parts of the common-traditional Galician bagpipe. This type of gaita is usually tuned in B flat (Figure 10).
  5. The gaita with bellows: this type has the same parts as the common Galician bagpipe, but with the drone pipes resting over the shoulder. The bellow is added as a pump (Figure 11).
Figure 8.  The common-traditional <em>gaita</em>
Figure 8. The common-traditional gaita.

Figure 9.  The <em>gaita</em> with ronqueta and frontal chillón
Figure 9. The gaita with ronqueta and frontal chillón.

Figure 10.  The band or martial <em>gaita</em>
Figure 10. The band or martial gaita.

Figure 11.  The <em>gaita</em> with bellows used by the Real Banda
Figure 11. The gaita with bellows used by the "Real Banda".

Parts of the Gaita

  1. Punteiro (chanter);
  2. Fol (bag);
  3. Ronco or Roncón (bass drone); a) Copa (top section); b) Segunda (middle section); c) Prima (lower section);
  4. Ronqueta (tenor drone);
  5. Chillón, Chión or Pión (soprano drone);
  6. Soprete (mouthpiece);
  7. Farrapos (fringe);
  8. Buxas (stocks); and
  9. Borlas (tassels).
Figure 12.  The <em>Punteiro</em> (Chanter)
Figure 12. The Punteiro (Chanter)

The Punteiro (Chanter)(Figure 12)

The three sonority holes

The right hand thumb is not numbered, because it does not cover any hole; it is used to keep the chanter steady. Neither do we number the little finger of the left hand, because it is not used either. We use the number eight for the back hole used by the left hand thumb. The three sonority holes give the chanter its full tone richness.

Right hand Left hand
1. Little finger 5. Ring finger
2. Ring finger 6. Middle finger
3. Middle finger 7. Index finger
4. Index finger 8. Thumb

About the Punteiro

This is an elemental part of the gaita; with the punteiro we achieve the different melodic sounds of the instrument. It is a conical tube, with different dimensions according to its tonality: longer for low tonalities and shorter for high tonalities.

It has eight melodic holes used for playing the different notes, as well as the three sounds. The top part, which is inserted into the bagpipe's stock, is called espigo. This is made from fine woods, such as high quality boxwood, trumpetwood, rosewood, lignum vitae (wood of life), ebony, etc. Ivory has also sometimes been used, and nowadays the use of synthetic materials is becoming more widespread.

Care and Protection of the Punteiro

This is one of the most delicate parts of the gaita, so constant care and treatment must be carried out regularly, as follows:

  1. Do not let the punteiro absorb water.
  2. Avoid exposure to high temperatures, such as direct sunlight.
  3. When it is necessary to remove the punteiro from the bagpipe, it should be held at the top, the thickest part near the stock of the bagpipe, to avoid breaking it. When removing it, turning the punteiro to the right, so as not to break the cork or the espigo's thread. If it cannot be removed using this method, then proceed as follows: while firmly holding the thick part at the top, oscillate again and again until the punteiro comes out. If it still cannot be removed, then leave it to dry before trying again.

Keys on the Punteiro

To acquire more notes, many gaiteiros added keys to the chanter, although this was not considered entirely desirable because it made the gaita sound unnatural. This negative response is reflected in the following comment made by the gaiteiro of Choumín de Céltigos when describing the gaiteiro of Ventosela, who used keys on his chanter:

Ventosela, Ventosela (Ventosela, Ventosela
moita chavería na canaveira) many keys on the canaveira)
Figure 13. The reed
Figure 13. The reed.

The Palleta (Chanter Reed)(Figure 13)

The reed consists of two cane blades joined to a metal tube called a caurel. When air passes through these blades they vibrate, producing the sound that is modulated by the fingers on the chanter. The parts of the reed are as follows: 1) the cane blades; 2) the yoke; 3) the string winding; and 4) the metal tube.

The yoke is at the top of the tube, at the bottom of the cane blades, and controls the blade's opening range. When tightened in the middle the blades will close and open toward their edges. The great secret for a rich, full and easy tone depends on the way the two reed blades touch each other. Their edges should touch perfectly. If the edges touch too much, there is no clean vibration, even if there is a good separation between the blades. We cannot overemphasize the importance of the reed in producing the full richness of the tone, the sonority and the tuning of the punteiro.

The reed's dimensions change according to the punteiro's tuning: larger reeds for low tonalities and smaller for high tonalities. The reed's most important quality is its stability, which depends on the type of cane used, on the way it has been made, and on the way it has been treated. For a reed to be stable it is very important for the cane to be as thick as possible but not too hard, so that it can be handled easily. It must be collected on the last moon of January. A good reed, out of the punteiro, will have an aphonic and powerful sound. The height and proportion of the punteiro's notes depend on the sound produced by the reed.

Enemies of the Palleta

  1. Rubbing.
  2. Too much humidity.
  3. Changes from wet to dry.
  4. Leaving it out of the bagpipe for too long.
  5. High temperatures.
  6. Temperature changes.

Care and Protection of the Palleta

  1. Always keep the reed at the same level of humidity.
  2. When it becomes too wet, blow strongly through the tube.
  3. Be extremely careful when inserting and removing the reed from the wooden top of the bagpipe, taking care not to rub the blades.
  4. Avoid excessive humidity.
  5. Although former gaiteiros recommended wetting the reed, even with hard liquor, we consider it harmful to wet it directly. Do not wet the reed with the mouth, as is often seen. If the reed is wet, the tuning immediately changes and the blades will separate at the edges and will never go back to their original position. However, a minimum state of humidity is recommended for the optimal vibration of the blade.

Why the Palleta Might not Produce Sound

  1. Broken blades *
  2. Blades separated at the corners
  3. Blades separated near the yoke
  4. Blades too far apart
  5. Closed blades
  6. Bits inside the reed
* When the reed has been dented, or even if it just appears to be dented, it loses power, which makes it harder to produce sound. The blades must be completely closed at the sides from the corner to the joint; otherwise the reed will hardly make a sound. This can be checked by blowing down the reed while protecting the sides with the lips or introducing the reed completely into the mouth; the difference will be noticeable. Initially this will stop the side loss and the reed will produce sound more easily, but if you do not touch the blades it will be harder to produce sound. Similarly, if it is harder to play with the wooden top on the chanter than when blowing directly between the lips, the palleta is losing air at the sides.

The Buxas (Stocks)

The buxas (stocks) are the tubes that join the bag to the various sound and blowing elements of the instrument. The word buxas comes from boj or boxwood, which was the traditional material used to make bagpipes in Galicia.

As their mission is to transport the air as directly as possible into the instrument, it is essential that the buxas are kept completely clean and clear, which is why we do not want them to narrow towards the bag. This obstructs the strength of the air flowing onto the reed, which damages the sound. The various buxas connecting different elements of the gaita are as follows:

  1. The punteiro buxa
  2. The soprete buxa
  3. The ronco buxa
  4. The ronqueta and the chillón buxas
Figure 14. The piper Henrique Ambite shows a <em>fol</em> made out of goat skin
Figure 14. The piper Henrique Ambite shows a fol made out of goat skin.

The Fol (Bag)(Figure 14)

This is the essential distinguishing characteristic of the gaita as an instrument. We can say that it is the soul of the bagpipe and the main mystery of all the gaiteiro's secrets.

From a semantic point of view also it is the bag, or gaits, that gives the instrument its shape and distinguishes it as such. Moreover, it makes no sense that an instrument that does not have a bag should be called a bagpipe. The great secret of a good gaiteiro is to be able to get the precise and proper pitch out of the bag. This is well demonstrated when different gaiteiros play the same bagpipe. In addition to influencing the general sound of the bagpipe, the proper pitch depends directly on the precise tuning of the notes and pedals of drone, tenor drone and soprano drone, especially the altered notes, which will be discussed further below.

The role of the bag must be considered as important as that of the fingers, because these alone modulate and administer the air flowing into the instrument. Moreover, it is necessary to have enough pressure in the bag to obtain as many vibrations as possible, producing the distinctive sonority of the bagpipe. We place great emphasis in our classes on the need for gaiteiros to listen to themselves playing the Galician bagpipe in order to truly appreciate the delicate task of being a gaiteiro. It is necessary to have a well-developed musical sensitivity.

Materials Used for Making the Fol

Traditionally in Galicia the fol was made out of goatskin, and if this was not available, sheepskin, kidskin or even dog skin were used. Toward the end of the twentieth century rubber was commonly employed, which turned out not to be such a good idea; later, the sewed skin came into fashion, which saved the tradition of the kidskin fol.

Nowadays, goretex is the material used most often for the fol because it maintains an equal balance of humidity in its interior. The fol continues to be made out of sewed skin and kidskin, however. As has been mentioned already, the stability, tuning and conservation of the reed's adaptation of the gaita depends on the fol. It is very important to install a tube from the soprete (mouthpiece) down to the bottom of the fol to stop breath moisture from reaching the palleta (reed) directly, which would change its tuning. If this tube is not installed, the drones must be tuned constantly due to the changes in the palleta. Numerous experiments aimed at keeping humidity away from the fol have been carried out with good results.

Mending a Leather Fol

Kidskin or sheepskin can be used, but the first is fresher and longer lasting.

Sun drying or seasoning the skin
  1. Enrique Ambite's slaked lime method:

    This method consists of mixing the calcium oxide with ten liters of water. Insert the skin in the mixture and leave it to soak for four or five days, then fill the skin with straw and leave it to dry.

    It would be desirable to leave the skin exposed to the north wind until it is hard. Let it dry for a month. It can be used as soon as there is no longer any moisture in it. To preserve the skin, grease it with linseed oil or horse fat and be sure to let it dry after being played.
  2. Enrique Ambite's bran and milk method:

    Submerge the skin in a container with two liters, or more, of the milk and bran mixture, cover, and let it soak for at least four days. Wash carefully and then dry as described above.

    If you are using kidskin, the animal must be no more than six or seven months old; if sheepskin is used, it is recommended that the animal be over a year old.

    The cover must adapt to the fol perfectly, making sure it is a little smaller to keep its dimensions under control.

    Use the same procedure to season the skins or the patches used for the drums.
  3. Xosé Seivane's sun drying method:

    Skin a six or seven month old kid by removing the hide from the back legs and pulling it towards the front legs.

    About four fingers of skin will be left on each leg. At the head, the skin must be cut under the ears, which will be used for the punteiro. Make a soft mass from a liter of milk and bran.

    Add a little salt to the mixture, as if preparing a dinner, being careful not to mix in any flesh; spread the mixture over the skin. Leave the fol in dung for six days to loosen the hair, which can then be removed by scratching it with a stick. Submerge the skin in another container filled with salted water for 24 hours.

    After stitching the legs and belly closed, kept it blown up for fifteen days, until it is brown. The jacket or cover must be covered inside. The fol must not be washed with water, or it will tear when inflated.
Preparing the anti-condenser and pore filler

Heat 150 ml of water (a glassful); when the temperature rises to about 60º, mix in 100 g of ground fish-tail (spine), stirring constantly until it has dissolved completely. At the same time, in another pot, heat 1 Kg of glycerine (glycerol) C3 HS O3 – molecular weight 92.09 at 60º, stirring constantly. When the fish-tail mixture has dissolved completely it must be poured into the pot with the glycerine, stirring the mixture until it is fluid.

Salicylic acid

As the fish-tail is mixed in, half a teaspoon of salicylic acid or a small amount of another fungicide with additives against bacteria, yeasts, mold, etc. that might flourish inside the fol must be added to the glycerine. For the gaitas with a mechanical bellows (barquín), there is no need to add a fungicide.

Applying the mixture to the fol

First seal the buxas (stocks) tightly with corks, leaving the opening for the soprete (mouthpiece) open into which the liquid will be poured into the fol through a funnel once it is at about 60º. About 200 ml of the mixture (a full glass) should be enough to coat the inside of the fol. After pouring the liquid into the fol, the soprete is attached to inflate it strongly, and then the fol is quickly shaken until the interior is completely coated with the liquid.

Immediately, before the liquid gets cold, carefully remove the cork from the buxa where the punteiro will eventually be placed, in order to pour off the residual liquid, which can be kept for further applications. It is very important that the liquid be drained well and that the insides of the buxas are cleaned. The gaiteiro who uses this type of fol (normally sewed leather) must keep a sharp eye on its condition, making sure that it does not leak. To test the fol for leaks, air is introduced into it continuously until it cannot take any more. If the fol continues to take in air, this means that air is leaking out somewhere and it is necessary to apply more liquid. Natural honey can be used to cover the inside of the fol by heating in the same way and at the same temperature as described for the fish-tail/glycerine mixture, adding a little water to make it a little more fluid.

The tube inside the fol

As previously indicated above, the mixture used to cover the inside of the fol keeps out moisture by sealing the pores of the skin. Neverless, because of the cane's moisture sensitivity, to ensure that the gaita is kept in tune it is necessary to insert a tube from the soprete's buxa down to the bottom of the fol; thus, both the palletas (chanter reeds) and pallóns (drone reeds) can be kept tuned with hardly any variation. This is, without a doubt, a great relief for the gaiteiro who often finds unexpected changes in the gaita's tuning.

Greasing of the woods of the gaita

It is surprising how easily the gaita loses sonority or even loudness or tone quality. This happens mainly with those made of porous wood, which therefore must be greased with linseed or almond oil. The inside of the punteiro must be brushed well, then covered and left to dry before use. Obviously, this procedure will not be necessary for a punteiro made of glass or any other non-porous material, although this type pf punteiro is not very common among Galician artisans. The owner of the gaita must find out whether the instrument has been coated with oil or not, because if it has, the process must be repeated at least once a year.

The Ronco or Roncón (Bass Drone)

The ronco is a principal part of the gaita. Its sound is two octaves lower than the punteiro, thus it is just like a sauce for the melody played on the punteiro, producing a sweet and polyphonic sound. The ronco is a long wooden tube made up of three sections:

  1. The prima, the lower section, which is the nearest to the fol and in which the pallón (drone reed) is inserted.
  2. The segunda, the middle section, which is the central part of the ronco.
  3. The copa, the top section, which is the back part of the ronco.

The ronco is adorned with farrapos or flecos (fringe) traditionally made of silk or of different color wools. Between one and three borlas or pingóns (tassels), may make up the ornamental elements of the gaita.

The Ronqueta (Tenor Drone)

It is said that the ronqueta has the same morphological properties as the ronco, apart from having only two sections: the prima and copa. The pallón is inserted into the lower section, the prima is inserted in the same way as in the ronco. The sound is one octave lower than the punteiro. It is also decorated with farrapos: flecos or a borla (a fringe or tassels).

The Chillón, Chión or Pión (Soprano Drone)

A chillón has two sections: the prima and copa. As with the ronco and the ronqueta it can have a small pallón (drone reed), although a palleta (chanter reed), as on a punteiro, also can be used. If a chillón is used with a pallón, its sound is in the same octave as the punteiro. If it is used with a palleta, its sound will be a fifth above the punteiro.

The Soprete (Blowpipe)

As the name indicates, the soprete is used to blow air into the fol. If it is made out of wood, it is necessary to attach a piece of resistant material around it, to protect it from the friction against the teeth. The end that is inserted inside the buxa (stock), has a zapón or tapafolgos that stops the air, stored in the fol, from escaping.

The Pallón (Drone Reed) (Figure 15)

The pallón is the piece that generates the sound of the drones. A traditional pallón made out of cane or a pallón with a metal or plastic blade consists of the following parts:

  1. A case or shell
  2. A metal or plastic blade
  3. The blade's wound string
  4. The top
The <em>Pallón</em> (Drone Reed)
Figure 15. The Pallón (Drone Reed).

The cane pallón

This is the pallón traditionally used by gaiteiros. It is made from a thin piece of cane. Both the cob pallón and the wooden pallón with a plastic blade are still used today.

The cane pallón is very sensitive to moisture, which can not only affect the quality of the sound but may result in complete loss of sound, so it must be very well looked after. One way to avoid such problems is to rub the pallón between the hands in a rotating way; a hair or fine cotton thread can be put under the blade to help the vibration. To balance the blade, a drop of wax can be poured on it; this will make it more stable.

Although the cane pallón is being replaced by other, more reliable materials today, the traditional pallón has a differential tone which makes it more suitable for gaita soloists and Galician bagpipe groups.

The drone reed with a metal blade

The metal blade helps to resolve the sound balance problem of the drones. Conscious of the problems the gaiteiros have with the unsteadiness of the sound of the ronco, and after many hours of experimentation inspired by the old drone reeds with a thick blade made of a metal bullet cap, I managed to add my little contribution, which in this case took the form of the pallón with a metal blade.

This is a tube that is normally made of plastic, but any other material that is not sensitive to moisture can be used. The flat surface on which the blade will go must be perfectly polished but not levelled, with a slight inclination towards the lid, so that the blade is kept away from the slot, with no need to force it, and to enable the ideal separation from the lid.

The secret of its high sonority and stability lies in the thickness of the blade. Important to note here is that the most highly recommended metal alloy up to now has been stainless steel with silver. The thickness of the blade at its end is approximately 0.06 mm.

The metal blade is not influenced by humidity, which ensures a certain security for a stable tuning of the ronco, ronqueta and chillón. If it is perfectly made, it should last the gaita's and the gaiteiro's lifetime. Another important property of the pallón with a metal blade is that it needs very little air to function properly.

The Gaiteiro's Tools

Knowing how to prepare and maintain the gaita is one of the gaiteiro's most important tasks. In this sense, it can be said that most gaiteiros have more knowledge of how to play their instrument than how to tune it. To get to know the gaita is an art. It takes a considerable amount of experience to tune the palletas and pallóns properly. A well-prepared gaita helps an average gaiteiro, but if the gaita is not properly tuned, the quality of the gaiteiro's performance is lessened.

For the gaiteiro, it is of great interest, and very useful, to know how to make the palletas and pallóns. A gaita expert needs a specially designed box with separate compartments for the palletas, pallóns, blades, and tapafolgos, as well as for different tools such as a sharp pocket knife, cotton, a piece of hard wood resistant to cuts, so that it can be used to blunt the palletas, and tweezers, which are extremely useful to equalize the space between the two blades of the palleta.

12. Tonalities

The Gaita Category

Transposed and Non-Transposed

The Galician bagpipe category, as with other categories of wind instruments, consists of various types with different size tubes. The same hole produces a different pitch in each type of gaita, from the ronco (bass drone), to the ronqueta (tenor drone) and the chillón (soprano drone).

For practical interpretational reasons, it is convenient to keep the same note name for each hole of the punteiro (chanter) on all the gaitas whatever their different tunings and tonalities. Therefore, the gaita in D is the only tonality that is not considered transposed, because the names of the notes generally correspond to the real sound established in the musical references. Therefore, among the gaita categories the remaining tonalities are considered transposed.

Tuning Tone

The tuning tone corresponds to the real sound of the gaita when the D note is played; therefore, when such note is played, and it sounds in C, it is said that the gaita is tuned in C (always using the piano as a reference); if the sound is Bb according to the piano, it is understood that the gaita is tuned in Bb, etc.

Written Tone

The written tone is represented in the musical notation. Although other scales can be used to write gaita music, the D scale is usually chosen because it was the first to be used (Ricardo Courtier, Os Trinta de Trives [1890]; Perfecto Feijóo [1900] and Rodrigo de Santiago [1964]).

Effect Tone

The effect tone is the tone that actually sounds when the written notes are played.

Written and effect tone of the different tunings or tonalities of the gaitas

Note that the sequence of tones and semitones is the same between the degrees of each tonality. The tonality of each gaita is provided by the D position; the leading note C sharp is considered an additional position, because it is a semitone away. Consequently, the tonality of each gaita is the true sound obtained at the D position.

Equivalence between the two writing systems "C" and "D"

Tonalities that can be obtained from different gaitas

D M. =2 sharp G M. =1 sharp C M. (no alt.) F M. =1 flat
B m. E m. A m. D m.
C M. = (no alt.) F M. = 1 flat B flat M. = 2 flat E flat M. = 3 flat
A m. D m. G m. C m.
B M. = 5 Sharp E M. = 4 sharp A M. = 3 sharp D M. = 2 sharp
G sharp m. C sharp m. F sharp m. B m.
B flat M. = 2 flat E flat M. = flat A flat M. = flat D flat M. = flat
G m. C m. F m. B flat m.
A M. = 3 sharp D M. = 2 sharp G M. = 1 sharp C M. = (no alt.)
F sharp m. B m. E m. A m.
A flat M. = 4 flat D flat M. = 5 flat G flat M. = 6 flat C flat M. = 7 flat
F m. B flat m. E flat m. A flat m.
G M. = 1 sharp C M. = (no alt.) F M. = 1 flat B flat M. = 2 flat
E m. A m. D m. G m.
F M. = 1 flat B flat M. = 2 flat E flat M. = 3 flat A flat M. = 4 flat
D m. G m. C m. F m.
E flat M. = 3 flat A flat M. = 4 flat D flat M. = 5 flat G flat M. = 6 flat
Cm. F m. B flat m. E flat m.

13. Generalities

The Metronome

The metronome is a device that oscillates like a pendulum, so that each beat corresponds to a fraction of the meter. It is very useful, particularly for musical novices, because it helps with measuring and maintaining tempo.

The Metronome's indicators

  1. The musical symbol that should correspond to the pendulum's oscillation.
  2. The number that expresses the speed the oscillations should have.
  3. The equal sign between the two.
Allegro   Allegro
Harmony: Harmony is the technical aspect of music dedicated to what is referred to as the simultaneity of sounds.
Chord: A chord is a group of notes that are played together.
Rhythmic pattern: In the same way that words are grouped in syllables, we group the musical symbols into elemental rhythmic patterns that already have sense by themselves. One of the most illustrative traditional rhythmic patterns of gaita music can be found in one of the muiñeira:
Intone or height: The intone is the depth or height of the sounds.
Tátara   = Tátara
Timbre or quality of tone: The timbre is the quality of the sound.
Tempero or skill: The tempero is the manual ability required to obtain adequate pressure of the fol.
Figure 16. Avelino Cachafeiro, piper of Soutelo de Montes (1898-1972)
Figure 16. Avelino Cachafeiro, piper of Soutelo de Montes (1898-1972).

The Stance of the Gaiteiro

The gaita, even more than most other instruments, lends itself to adopting multiple shapes when played. Although the way the gaita is positioned by the gaiteiro does not influence the sound, it certainly plays an important role in the gaiteiro's image. Most of the negative habits are picked up early, including puffin out the cheeks, putting the soprete (mouthpiece) on the side of the mouth, bending the head down or to the side (in this case one must make sure that the length of the soprete is appropriate), bending the punteiro (chanter) excessively to either side, or poor position of the fol (bag) under the arm. The instrument must be carried in a comfortable and natural way, hence, we suggest practising in front of a mirror.

The gaiteiro should keep his, or her, head high with an expression of nobility and dignity natural to the gaiteiro's profession. The impression made by the gaiteiro depends mainly on the way the fol is placed, which plays a decisive role in the distribution of the sound tubes of the instrument. The ronco (bass drone) of the gaita should never be completely parallel to the ground, although this is the way it has recently appeared in general as a consequence of the format of the gaita. The angle of the ronco with respect to the player's shoulder depends on the gaiteiro's taste, although it should not exceed 10º deviation from vertical.

Galician pipebands

The gaita in a band appears in a more differentiated context than when played by a solo gaiteiro or in a smaller group. The gaiteiro in a band must achieve a pose that is consistent with the other band members, inspired by the disciplined image of a military unit. Therefore, any individual movements are considered inappropriate. All movements should be well coordinated to produce a harmonic image of the band. The marching step of a band requires a special technique as well.

The feet must be placed firmly and at the right moment. Step twice to the 2/4 and 6/8 beats, three times for the 3/4 beat and four times for the 4/4 beat.

When marching, the movements must be completely natural. A Galician pipeband should never march in a military way, but in an easy way, simulating a normal walk.

The beat of the march should be around 80 or 90 steps per minute. A gaiteiro should not walk in a jerking or rigid way, bend the knees, or stamp on the floor. It is especially important to find a natural and comfortable stepping technique.

How to blow properly: The diaphragm technique

First of all, the lungs must be ready to receive the maximum amount of air. For this the chest must be straight and the shoulders back. The second important step is to breathe in using the diaphragm instead of the chest muscles. Our chest muscles are much weaker than the other body muscles, so the stomach muscles should be used to introduce the air into the fol. It is very important to acquire the correct habit for feeding air into wind instruments, especially for those with high air pressure.

If the gaiteiro has acquired the correct habits, the stomach should exhibit a noticeable back and forth motion during breathing. To achieve the blowing technique using the diaphragm, the great secret is to constantly maintain the chest high and squeeze out the air with the abdomen. There are different ways of achieving this. The first is to fill the lungs completely and blow out all the air as fast as possible through the mouth, without dropping the shoulders, while putting a hand on the waist to feel the muscle contraction. Another exercise used to achieve such a technique is to breathe strongly through the mouth using only the stomach muscles. Another way to learn this breathing technique is to put the ribs close up to the wall, with the shoulders high, breathing very fast using only the stomach like the panting of a dog. For this exercise normally two complete breaths per second are needed.

These exercises must be practiced every day, privately and undisturbed. As an example, it can be said that the breathing technique using the diaphragm is the same as emptying a tube of toothpaste: squeezing from the bottom so it comes out at the top. It is understood that this blowing technique is very important, especially for the gaiteiros who use powerful and therefore stiff gaitas.

Tuning the gaita

Tuning is certainly one of the most important tasks when it comes to playing this instrument, and is one of the tasks every gaiteiro must master. Unfortunately, there are no rules determining the process of correctly tuning the gaita apart from having a well-trained ear. In our classes we always insist on the importance of tuning the gaita, since without a precisely tuned gaita all the gaiteiro's playing will have no worth whatsoever.

Nowadays, there are tuners that help a great deal in achieving the correct tuning of the gaita, especially of the instrument's drone pipes, the ronco, ronqueta and chillón; but such devices do not exempt the gaiteiro from ear training. The gaiteiro must pay constant attention to the sound of the instrument, concentrating especially on tuning their own gaita as well as on its sound in relation to the other gaitas in the band. Proper pitch is the starting point for precise tuning.

Tuning the drone pipes

The drone pipes are the three characteristic low-pitched voices of the Galician bagpipe: ronco, ronqueta and chillón. The sound of the three drone pipes is constant. The sound of the ronco or bass drone pipes is two octaves below the punteiro (D-position of the first octave). The sound of the ronqueta or tenor drone pipe is one octave below the punteiro, and the sound of the chillón or soprano drone pipe is at the height of the tonic position of the punteiro.

Note that neither the tenor nor the soprano drone pipes are part of the typical Galician bagpipe or found in the traditional gaita in its original form. Tenor and soprano drone pipes were therefore not accepted in the gaita competitions in the late nineteenth century, which is why the height of its sound was not clearly defined. Both the ronqueta and the chillón, in principle, were used to sound a fifth over the tonic of the punteiro, using the chillón with palleta. This drags, in many cases, because of the lack of fit between these and the ronco. However, we have the option today, based on the acoustic laws of physics and logically on the sound results, of making the three drone pipes dimensionally proportional to the height of sound that they should emit.

When all three drone pipes are used together, it is advisable for the palleta of the punteiro (chanter reed) to be hard; otherwise, a slight pressure on the fol produces a higher oscillation of the palleta.

How to tune the drone pipes of the gaita with the punteiro

First of all, the notes on the punteiro must sound at the right height and proportionally among themselves. The tuning of the Galician punteiro does not coincide a hundred percent with the scale at the proper pitch, but it is meant to correspond to the drone pipes of the instrument. Concretely, the major third of the punteiro's scale (F sharp) will be a little lower compared with the scale at the proper pitch; all this, as indicated, for better internal tuning of the instrument itself. The tuning of the drone pipes of the gaita should be checked especially in the degrees of major consonance, concretely at the D-positions of both of the octaves, A and F sharp. A good ear will seek the proportion among the rest of the notes with the punteiro that, even without consonance, will produce a proportional tuning of the gaita.

If the drone pipes are put closer together or the pallóns (drone reeds) are inserted further into the espigos the sound will be higher; doing the opposite, will produce a lower sound. In conclusion of this most important paragraph about the tuning of the gaita, it must be said that a well-tuned Galician bagpipe, with the three drone pipes in perfect harmony, handled by a master gaiteiro , is one of the most evocative instruments of civilization.

How to check if we have to close (join) or open (separate) the ronco

Naturally, it is not easy for beginners to tune in the ronco (bass drone), ronqueta (tenor drone), chillón (soprano drone) and punteiro (chanter). To make this task easier we should proceed in the following way:

First make the drone pipes sound separately with the punteiro in A position. Listening to both sounds, slide the middle finger of the left hand very slowly upwards, gradually opening the superior hole. If the conjunction (tuning) is obtained, the ronco will be higher than the punteiro, so the pieces of the drone pipe will need to be separated or opened accordingly. If by doing this we do not manage to obtain the conjunction of sounds, we must proceed to do the opposite, thus: slide the ring finger of the left hand down to cover the inferior hole on the punteiro. If the approximation of sounds is managed in this way, it should be understood that the ronco is low in relation to the punteiro, so we shall proceed to add, proportionally, the pieces of the drone pipe until the desired point is achieved. The same process shall be carried out to find the correct tuning in the D position.

If by this process we do not manage to get the correct tuning, it is possible that the pallón is not the right one, or that the tonality of the punteiro does not correspond to that of the drone pipe. It is important to make sure that the pieces of the drone pipe are not too far apart, or are losing air; in which case, the tendency will be to over tune. The best practice is to follow the gaiteiro's constant curiosity for experimenting and studying the characteristics of the gaita.

Tuning of the punteiro (chanter)

As already indicated, it is no use trying to tune in the ronco if the notes on the punteiro are not played perfectly intoned. There is no better way of knowing the proportion of the notes of the punteiro than when it is tuned in with the ronco. If the punteiro is tuned in with the ronco in D, then it shall tune in with the rest of the notes in which we shall test the tuning of the gaita, otherwise, it will be indicating the incorrect tuning of its notes.

The notes on the punteiro may sound out of tune for many reasons:

  1. It has been badly made.
  2. The blades of the palleta are too far apart.
  3. The palleta projects too far out of the espigo of the punteiro.
  4. The palleta is broken, rotten or soaked.
  5. Irregular tempero due to weak air pressure in the palleta.
  6. The blades of the palleta have been too highly polished.
  7. There is not enough air pressure.

Group tuning of the gaitas

The first rule to be established for proper tuning in a bagpipe group is to regulate the tempero of the fol (bag) while listening to the sound of all the gaitas together. If the gaita is low compared to the rest, the pressure in the fol must increase, but decrease if the opposite is true.

To tune the punteiros (chanters) among themselves, we must proceed to introduce or pull out the palletas (reeds) little by little in the espigo of the punteiro. The further you insert the palleta, the higher the sound of the punteiro, and the further you pull it out, the lower the sound. In this delicate labour experience plays a very important role and, obviously, a good ear is needed.

Notes for maintaining proper tuning of a group

  1. The gaita is very sensitive to temperature changes or oscillations in the environmental humidity so the tuning can change in only a few minutes.
  2. If the palleta is new or too dry, its tone will change when it becomes damp. If it is exposed to air for some time it will become deformed and will only regain its original position with difficulty. If using a leather fol (bag), it is advisable to rehearse every day to keep the palleta stable.
  3. To ensure that the palleta does not get too damp the gaiteiro must monitor it constantly to prevent its becoming wet while blowing.
  4. The tempero is the secret of all good gaiteiros. It is considered to be of great artistic merit to start with the pedals of the gaita together (ronco, ronqueta and chillón) before starting to sound the punteiro, as long as the sound of the punteiro is the same from the beginning and is in the same intonation, staying steady during the melody. This way of tuning was common among early performers of the gaita, and represented a prelude promising a performance of high aesthetic value. If this method is not used, it is best to start with the drones and chanters at the same time.
  5. To help keep the gaita in tune, never dampen the palleta. This is the main reason we consider it to be a great error to wet the palleta for it to play more softly. Dampness is the worst enemy for keeping the gaita in tune. To check the punteiro's tuning it must be introduced into the gaita while avoiding blowing directly on the palleta. The punteiro of the gaita should not be used for practice unless it is connected to the fol or the gaita will not be stable and the palletas will not last long.
  6. Maintaining the precise distance between the blades of the palleta is the key to the proportion between notes.
  7. When the D of the second octave is too high, the blades of the palleta must be polished close to the yoke; if it is too low, they must be trimmed with care.

14. Percussion Instruments in Galician Folk Music

Percussion in gaita music

Figure 17.  The hands used as percussion instruments
Figure 17. The hands used as percussion instruments.

The mission of percussion instruments is to keep the beat of the melody, embellishing the rhythm and making the song memorable. Because the gaita maintains its sound at a constant intensity, the percussion instruments have the important role of laying emphasis on the melodic passages.

The percussive instrumental assemblage consists of a great variety of instruments that were traditionally used in accompanying popular Galician music, but these instruments are not always used to play the rhythm. One of the most curious rhythmic accompaniments is the one produced with the hands. This accompaniment consists in slapping the back of one hand with the fingers of the other hand, alternating middle finger and thumb (Figure 17).

The Terrañolas

This percussive instrument consists of two little thin wooden blocks which, when placed between the fingers, sound when the hand is shaken, thus producing the rhythm. The name comes from the first type used, which was made from pieces of tile or flat stones. Nowadays, they are usually made of fine wood.

The terrañolas or tixoletas eventually seem to have been replaced by the castañuelas, which are also used in certain Galician dances. In some regions, the terrañolas are also called castañuelas (Figure 18). In Galicia, joined wooden spoons are also used as a percussive instrument (Figure 19).

Figure 18. The <em>Terrañolas</em>   Figure 19.  Wooden spoons
Figure 18. The Terrañolas.   Figure 19. Wooden spoons.

The Pandeiro

Figure 20. The four handed <em>Pandeiro</em>
Figure 20. The four handed Pandeiro.

The pandeiro has a square wooden frame, which comes in different sizes. The frame is completely covered with goatskin. Some pandeiros are carved along the sides on the inside, where the little bells are fitted. The bells can also be set in lines inside, which are joined by a gut-string. To make it sound, it must be hit with a closed hand or with the soft part of the fingertips, while it hangs upon the chest.

The four-handed pandeiro must be played by two people, placed at the height of the stomach and in front of the players. It is much bigger than the common pandeiro (Figure 20).

This four-handed pandeiro was discovered in the pallozas do Piornedo, where the instrument seems to have had a magical use in averting storms. Originally, it seems, it was reserved for women, being used mainly for pandeiro chants. It was also used by the guides of blind musicians to accompany their melodies and songs, as well as by itinerant musicians who played the violin and the hurdy-gurdy. Nowadays, it is the preferred instrument to accompany the pandeirada and popular folksongs.

The Redobrante (Figure 21)

The redobrante is considered one of the most essential Galician percussive instruments for gaita music. In many old recordings, the gaiteiro is accompanied by a tamborileiro or drummer. The traditional redobrante (high drum) has leather patches and uses strings to tighten these. It is essential that the sound of the redobrante and the ronco of the gaita are well matched. Traditionally, the redobrante used to be held by the wrist in a way that is still used by worthy tamborileiros.

Nowadays, another type of redobrante, a snare drum under high tension, is used to accompany pipebands along with the tenor drums and the bass drum. High-tension percussion should not be used when accompanying small Galician bagpipe groups, solo gaiteiros or folk-dance groups, however.

Figure 21.  The <em>Redobrante</em>   Figure 22.  The <em>Bombo</em>
Figure 21. The Redobrante. Figure 22. The Bombo.

The Bombo (Figure 22)

Figure 23.  The <em>Charrasco</em>
Figure 23. The Charrasco.

The bombo (bass drum) was introduced into gaita music at more or less at the same time as the Galician bagpipe groups with clarinet or requinto. The group "Gaiteiro de Ventosela" (1847-1912) can be considered pioneers of this style, consisting of a gaita, a clarinet, a redobrante and a bombo. In the past, typical percussion formations used big redobrantes and bombos, which were played with two beaters, as in the case of the traditional treboadas. In certain regions this type of instrument was also called miragriño.

The Charrasco (Figure 23)

The charrasco is another percussive instrument recently introduced for accompanying the Galician bagpipe. It sounds similar to the pandeireta. It consists mainly of a long wooden stick, at the end of which are attached some lines of ferreñas (little tin plates) which sound when a string attached to the wooden stick and the frame where the ferreñas hang is hit by another stick. To produce its particular sound, the stick must be beaten alternately on the floor and by the stick.

The Cunchas (Figure 24)

Figure 24. The <em>Cunchas</em>
Figure 24. The Cunchas.

The cunchas or vieiras (scallop shells) have a privileged rank among the percussive instruments of popular Galician folk music. There is no need for many rules to be able to master and play them; all that is needed is a lot of practice. Place one in each hand, back to back, to obtain sharp sounds by rubbing the tips together; to obtain low sounds, rub the ends together. Another way to obtain different sound effects is to open and close your hands while rubbing the scallop shells together.

The Pandeireta (Figure 25)

The pandeireta consists of a wooden ring covered with sheepskin with ferreñas or ferriñas (little tin plates) hanging around the edges. The holes for the ferreñas can be situated in alternating or parallel rows. This instrument was played almost exclusively by women. Traditional groups of pandeireteiras were used to entertain at ruadas, faideiros or popular fiestas. Nowadays, many groups of pandeireteiras prefer to maintain this tradition.

Figure 25. The Pandeireta   Figure 26. Pandeireteiras de Mens (Barcelona, 19.05.1984)
Figure 25. The Pandeireta. Figure 26. Pandeireteiras de Mens (Barcelona, 19.05.1984).

The photo of the "Pandeireteiras de Mens" illustrates the traditional manner of playing the pandeireta, which is always struck with a closed fist (Figure 26).

According to Maestro Polo, the pandeireta is held in the right hand, moving as if on an imaginary axis. The base of the axis is the right hand's pulse, which moves the pandeireta while it is held. The left hand is used as a reference point, moving only the fingers. The repenique (movement of the left hand around or across the patch, that makes the instrument vibrate, giving a particular sound) is produced with all the fingers of the hand when convenient.

The Pandeira (Figure 27)

Figure 27.  The <em>Pandeira</em>
Figure 27. The Pandeira.

The origin of the pandeira derives from the peneiras (sieves) used to separate flour from bran. Similar to the pandeireta, it consists of a wooden ring covered with sheepskin. The only difference between the pandeireta and the pandeira is that the latter does not have ferreñas (little thin tin plates) attached to it.

Traditionally, the pandeira was made by the peneireiros or by the musicians themselves; fortunately, nowadays there are professionals dedicated to such tasks.

Because it is considerably bigger than the pandeireta, it was also called the "round pandeiro". It was played only by the popular pandeireteiras, while singing and accompanying the dance.

15. Galician Music Genres

Genres or denominatives make up the different varieties of distinctive rhythms found in Galician music. Galician villagers found a unique way of expressing their music, creating music to celebrate the seasons and the labor of the human populations throughout the year. Therefore, there are many different kinds of popular Galician folk songs and melodies that were influenced by everyday labor in the fields, on the roads, in the fiadeiro and elsewhere.

In popular colloquial terminology, a designation does not always coincide with a certain type of melody or distinctive rhythm; for example, the maneo is not a particular musical genre, it is a designation that can be applied to any rhythm.


The term Alborada brings to mind two well-differentiated concepts. On one hand, the image of the traditional pasarrúas (parades) that the gaiteiros perform during the popular festivals early in the morning, also known as "andala alborada" (to walk the dawn). Gaiteiros are well received in every household and are invited in by the housewife or owner of the home. On the other hand the Alborada is a musical genre written in a 2/4 beat that apparently derives from a chant to the sun, common among the ancient Celts. The most important musical pieces written for the gaita are the alboradas, with a representative example included here. One of the best known is the "Alborada de Veiga", the musical piece for which Pascual Veiga won first prize at the Juegos Florales de Pontevedra in 1880. In fact, the piece was composed of fragments of traditional, popular alboradas of the gaiteiril (Galician piping) tradition, as well as a passage of the carol "Un fato de labradores" by the conductor of the Mondoñedo cathedral, Anxo Santavaya (1782-1803). This alborada is known to many people as the musical symbol of Galicia, something that certainly honours the image of the gaiteiro as the mainstay and leader of the Galician music through the centuries.

I also must make a reference to the "Alborada de Rosalía de Castro", which we assume was composed by Murguía in 1863. It is known that Rosalía encountered difficulties in trying to arrange lyrics to the music for this piece, particularly because the alboradas were not sung, but were toccatas for the gaita. According to Perfecto Feijóo, this alborada was picked up by Rosalía, the gaiteiro of Iria Flavia, Clemente Eiras. In contrast, "Casto Sampedro" offers a different version that also comes from the gaiteiro so named. We believe that many more versions exist, considering the difficulties of the traditional method of conveying the melodies only by ear.

Example: Alborada de Rosalia de Castro (mp3, 2.5mb download from the Internet)


It can be said that the muiñeira is the most common musical genre of Galician folk music, with a characteristic 6/8 beat. It has been a defining element of Galician music throughout the centuries. Although the first evidence for it that I know of is a Christmas carol from 1786 by Melchor López, the conductor of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, I am sure that its history can be traced back to the development of the gaita in Galicia.

The difference between the muiñeira "Vella" and the muiñeira "Nova" can be outlined as follows. The muiñeira vella is always sung; it was also called the pandeiretada, because it was normally accompanied by a pandeireta. A pandeiretada is any melody that is accompanied by a pandeireta. The muiñeira vella, like the pandeirada, has no tempo restraints typical of academic music. The muiñeira nova, on the other hand, as it is known today, originated in a more cultured milieu, with all the peculiarities of traditional Galician folk music. The typical muiñeira has an instrumental nature, and is normally played with an opening introduction.

Due to the successful introduction of the muiñeira in Galician music, different variations of it can be found in the various regions of Galicia, such as the Ribeirana, the Golpe, the Carballesa, the Redonda and the Contrapaso. These all vary in different ways, but mainly in terms of choreographic type and rhythmic movement rather than in terms of musical structure.

The muiñeira can be composed of two or more parts; the older ones typically have two parts, while the newer ones or those that can be attributed to a specific author normally have more than two.

The couplet, or copla, reproduced below illustrates the characteristic features of the women's dance:

A moza que é bailadora, The young lady that is a dancer,
a moza que baila ben, the young lady that dances well,
canto máis baixo mira, the lower down she looks,
máis amores ten. more lovers she has

Example: Muiñeiras da Valiña da Osa e Veiga de Forcas (mp3, 2.8mb download from the Internet)


Although the pandeirada has similarities to the muiñeira, there are important differences in the rhythmic accompaniment. Its proper beat is 5/4. Its name is derived from the instruments with which its rhythm is played: the pandeiro and the pandeireta. It is also called canto de pandeiro. There are not many purely instrumental pandeiradas, because it is more common for them to be sung, very like the muiñeira vella.

Because of the archaic nature of many of the pandeiradas still preserved today, with a persistent underlying rhythmic structure facilitating the dancers' improvisation, it can be supposed that the pandeirada is one of the most ancient styles of traditional Galician folk music, and probably the origin of the muiñeira. Although the melody normally has a binary beat, the rhythm of the accompaniment has a ternary beat.


The music of the carballesa appears to have been generally composed to serve as dance music. It is normally played more vividly than the muiñeira. It is written in a 2/4 or 6/8 beat. There is not much musical literature on this variant of the muiñeira.

Pasodobre Galego

Although the origin of the Pasodobre Galego is not precisely Galician, there are many rich pasodoble pieces for the gaita. Considering that the gaiteiro was the main entertainer of the Galician romerías, it is logical that his repertoire had to contain all the toccatas needed for such performances. The Pasodobre Galego has a 2/4 beat, retaining all the features characteristic of the typical Spanish pasadoble.


Even though the polka comes from Poland, it is played all over Europe. Its period of greatest expansion began in 1830. Lately it is has been booming in Galician music, though traditionally this genre was not often used by gaiteiros. Its characteristic beat is 2/4. The mazurka follows a similar trajectory; it also comes from Poland, it has a ternary beat and an analogous position in the gaiteiro's repertoire as the polka. Nowadays, due to the great cross-fertilization resulting from the so-called Celtic music genre, gaiteiros are introducing into their repertoire jigs, reels and other genres common to other Celtic countries. Another genre used for slow-dances and adopted by gaiteiros is the rumba, a dance that originated in Cuba and became popular around 1930. It has a 2/4 beat.

Jota Galega

Despite the fact that the tradition of the jota is shared with many regions around the Iberian Peninsula, it has deep roots in Galicia. Even though it is very similar to the jota Aragonesa, or Jota from Aragón, it is played more slowly. From the point of view of the dance, it is not danced as energetically as the jota from Aragón. The beat is always ternary. There are a great variety of jotas in the gaiteiro repertoire.

The fandango can be considered as a minor variation of the Galician jota. The fandango is played considerably more slowly than the jota. This dance is considered an extremely noble dance.

Pasacorredoras/Marchas (Parades/Marches)

As the name indicates, the pasacorredoiras and marches are the typical toccatas played while walking. Their characteristic beat is 2/4. There are many pasacorredoiras and marches in the Galician bagpipe repertoire.

Example: Marcha de Penalonga (mp3, 3.1mb download from the Internet)


The foliada is a variant of the jota, with a 3/4 beat. As already mentioned, in colloquial popular language the foliada can be any type of musical piece played during festivals. There is a lot of production in foliada style of songs accompanied by gaita. The foliada was the favourite genre of Galician choirs, which had a varied repertoire of foliadas of great tradition and popular flavour.>

Processional Marches

Figure 28. Titular piper and drummer, typical musicians at the Cathedral of Compostela.
Figure 28. Titular piper and drummer, typical musicians at the Cathedral of Compostela.

The grandeur and magnificence of the processional march remains an evocative reflection of the glorious past of the gaita and the gaiteiro. The partnership between a gaiteiro and a redobrante (high-drum), with a life-time contract signed by the Council of the Kingdom, the regional Councils, Guilds or other individuals with status, is undoubtedly an excellent example of the great nexus between the gaita and the processional-liturgical context (Figure 28).

The traditional processional Galician march is especially well suited to the gaita. Of special note in the substantial repertoire are the "Marcha do Corpus de Pontevedra" (March of the Corpus of Pontevedra) and the "Himno do Antergo Reino de Galicia" (Hymn of the Ancient Kingdom of Galicia), also known as the "Marcha dos Pelegríns" (Pilgrim's March). I should emphasize that all of these have a majestic and slow beat.


The alalá is considered to be most elemental and primitive chant in Galicia. Its melodic essence seems to have a religious spirit, but its real origin and provenance have not been determined. Normally it is simply sung, without any type of instrumental accompaniment, and with a free beat. The finest alalás can be found in the Galician highlands. In popular speech, this term does not exist, hence it is believed to be an academic type of denomination.

Example: Alalá do Caurel / a Aguillada (mp3, 2.4mb download from the Internet)

Cantos de Berce or Arrolo (Lullabies)

As the name indicates, the Cantos de Berce or Arrolo (cradle songs) are associated with the cradle. Their beat changes from one to another; they can even have a free beat and no lyrics, being hummed rather than sung.


The enchoiadas are, like the regueifas, based on a poetical quarrel between two young men or between a young couple, and they are typical at gatherings at filandóns and other similar events. They keep the structure of the regueifa, starting the copla with part of the previous one.

Os Canteiros

Needless to say, quarrying stone as an occupation has great importance in Galicia, with many wonderful songs referring to such labor. The lyrics are written in quarrymen's slang, also called verbo dos Arxinas.

Verbo xido, mina júrria
Queitervas por areona
Que che hei de aldrabar os zurros
E máis mornarche a morrona.


The espadeladas could be heard while hackling (espadelar) flax. This labor used to start at dusk and could last all night. It was typical to do such work in rotation, with the neighbours coming to help the family who was working. I must point out that it was very common to sing while working if permitted, or when carrying out social labors, like the tasca (beating) of the flax, without the existence of any particular accompanying musical genre.

Cantigas de Arrieiro

Galician music contains a diverse repertoire of Cantigas de Arrieiro (popular muleteer folk songs), which closely resemble the alalás or ballads.

Cantigas de Seitura

These popular harvest folk songs are related to the most significant labor associated with Galician country life, harvesting crops. These songs are slow, free style, with a modulated type of melody. It was typical in some regions of Galicia, such as the Sierra de Queixa, to hire a seitura (harvest) singer to make the work of the harvesters a little more pleasant.

Example: Cantar da Seitura de Manzaneda (mp3, 4.4mb download from the Internet)

Cantar de Reis and Panxoliñas (Christmas Carols)

Another important element of Galician musical heritage are the Cantares de Reis and Panxoliñas de Nadal, or Christmas carols. The first group of these is dedicated to the three Wise Men (or Three Kings) while the second group is dedicated to the birth of Christ. The gaita appears as a melodic reference in many Galician Christmas carols. The Reis (Kings) were sung in all Galician villages.


The romance was the favorite genre of the blind singers. They used to sing them accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy or the violin, and sometimes accompanied by the pandeireta that was played by their guide. Stories, crimes and misfortunes were the favorite topics for the romances. Others were intended to motivate the listeners to give alms.

Blind men would stand at the entrances of churches, attend fairs and travel from door to door. Most of the romances do not have a distinct music of their own, since that varied by the district where the music was sung. The music has a strong archaic flavor. A good example is a romance collected by Concha Luis Seoane from O Cañizo (Ourense) and published in Volume I of Cantares da Terra das Frieiras (2003).

Example: Romances tradicionais (mp3, 5.3mb download from the Internet)


Another traditional cultural practice specific to Galicia is the singing of regueifas, a type of wheat bagel that was already common by the fifteenth century. When a wedding was celebrated, it was typical for the young men to gather around the couple's door, to improvise coplas and claim regueifa as a reward (Figure 29). On certain occasions the best and most original regueifeiro (the person who sang or performed the regueifa) was chosen by the audience, with the owner of the regueifa distributing it among all the regueifeiros or the people present. This traditional, festive singing at weddings was called brindo in the districts of Caurel and Cebreiro, and is analysed in more detail in our publications of the Músicas do Caurel (Music from Caurel) (Foxo 1998). Sometimes the regueifa was disputed in the dance, which is the origin of the regueifa dance or molete.

Figure 29. Historic photo of Regueifa or wedding bread dance
Figure 29. Historic photo of Regueifa or "wedding bread" dance.


The origin and the antiquity of the manifestations of the maios, or May Day songs, have been the focus of many discussions by anthropologists and historians who have sought their origins in the Palaeolithic era or have identified them as having Celtic roots. Their non-Christian nature seems indisputable, partly due to the fact that the church very early insisted on eradicating all manifestation of the maios and the Carnival.

One of the traditional ceremonies during the maios was to run across the fields spreading the sparks that fell from the fachos (torches), so as to keep the witches away, with the purpose of ensuring a good and plentiful crop. The popular lyrics have an important literal content, in the form of satirical copla in the context of the maios:

Lume ao pan, Fire to the bread,
lume ao pan: fire to the bread:
cada espiga o seu toledán each spike to its toledán (7.5 Kg grain)


The copla is a poem formed of three or four verses of different metrics, without a fixed rhythm. This simple structure was, for a long time, the most common genre in popular Galician folk singing. The copla was sung spontaneously in the fiadeiros or in any foliada. The lyric can be adapted to any music, using a muiñeira or any other rhythm.


The aturuxo is an autochthonous yell. It is screamed out on the way back home from the festivities or to encourage the dancers; it is normally loud, sharp and long lasting. The art of aturuxar is a skill that is considered of great artistic value.

16. Similarities among the Traditional Melodies of Galicia, Brittany, Scotland, and Ireland

Over time a collection of melodies has been preserved that are similar among the different Celtic cultures and represent evidence of musical cohesion. We have selected six melodies that are especially good examples of this musical unity and evidence for ongoing interaction.


The tune "Marcha do entrenzado de Allariz" is strongly linked to the medieval tradition of Allariz, (Ourense) where, since the Middles Ages thirty gaiteiros have gathered to play in the celebration "Festa do Boi" while walking the streets of this village.

At the same time, in the highlands of Scotland a melody known as the "Atholl Highlanders" exists that strongly brings to mind the "Marcha do Entrelazado de Allariz". This provokes the following question: How is it possible for two melodies practically identical in structure and in their melodic scope to have been preserved at such a distance from one another? We offer both pieces here as interpreted by a Galician bagpipe tuned in Bb.

Any listener or musicologist can appreciate this miracle of the auditory tradition of both regions, musical siblings that provide us with treasure of incalculable worth as testimony of the value of studying the links between the Celtic cultures through the centuries.

A comparative analysis results in the following observations: both themes have a practically identical scope typical of an instrument with equal resources. What seems odd is that most melodic intervals in both fragments are successions in thirds elaborated as arpeggios of triads with a scope not superior to a fifth, specially those that start with the first grade of the scale o tonic note. Continuing from these perfectly defined cells, phrases are set up to resolve on the tonic note.

Examples: Music Clip Marcha do entrenzado de Allariz (mp3) Atholl Highlanders (mp3)

The similarity between the two melodies is evident, both from the melodic point of view and from the rhythmic configuration of the melody where the rhythmic cell is composed by an 8th note with dot followed by a 32nd note and an 8th note forms the rhythmic ostinatto, characteristic of musical pieces associated with the Galician and Scottish cultural temper.


Next we proceed to compare two melodies, one from Galicia and the other from Brittany.

Breton Waltz

In this case the melodic similarity is even more evident because the melodic phrases coincide almost 100%, not only because of the cadences of the half-phrases, but also because of the configuration of the rhythmic cells in 8th notes, the scope of both and the similar harmonic structure, finishing both periods on the tonic note. Here the musical idea of both pieces is curiously similar.

Examples: Music Clip Ruada (mp3) Bals Breton (mp3)


Continuing with the parallelisms among melodies from Celtic countries, we compare the Irish piece called "Courtney's Favourite" and the following Galician melody from Ribeira.


This piece was obtained from the Feijoo files compiled by J.L.Calle (1993). We can compare the beginning of these two melodies. The rhythmic cells coincide in melodic intention and scope. In these examples there is an initial jump of a 5th followed by a 6th and finishing this motif with a 7th in one case and in a 6th in the other, making the melodic similarity and the rhythmic configurations evident by the identical succession of the three superior notes. The rest of the pieces are organised in relation to these motifs.

Examples: Music Clip Courtney's Favourite (mp3) Ribeirana Clip (mp3)

17. Conclusions

In view of the comparisons presented above, it seems that the traditional music of Galicia and adjacent regions of Spain and Portugal shows clear similarities with that of other Celtic countries and regions such as Scotland, Brittany and Ireland. The persistence throughout the centuries of the bagpipe as an extremely popular instrument could also indicate the existence of an archaic and common background for all the countries involved.


The author wishes to thank Manuel Garrido for his help in musical analysis and Maria Concepción Pérez Mills for the English translation.


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