Learn a wonderful traditional Scottish hornpipe with Tristan Seume’s exclusive video!
Written in the late 19th century by Scottish composer and violinist, James Scott Skinner, this hornpipe explores the full range of the acoustic guitar, and should provide a great challenge for anyone wishing to expand their traditional tune repertoire. This tune is played in typical hornpipe style with a dotted or swung feel, and with its wide arpeggios and quirky accidentals, stands out as a highlight in the Scottish folk tune book.
The melody was originally written in D major. However, we’ve transposed it down a tone to C, in order to allow a little breathing space at the neck’s dusty end for those high notes. If you’d like to play it in D, however, simply place a capo at the 2nd fret and prepare for a little stretching throughout the tune’s ‘B’ section.
First, let’s take a look at the altered tuning – CGDGCD. At first glance, it may look rather unusual but on closer inspection, we see similarities to the ever-popular DADGAD, which gives a Dsus4 chord with the following intervals; root, 5th, root, 4th, 5th, root. Looking at CGDGCD tuning, imagine for a moment that our low C string is removed, and you are left with a Gsus4 chord. The intervals? Root, 5th, Root, 4th, 5th. Therefore, it shares DADGAD’s interval structure (albeit in G, not D), but moved across by one string. The bonus is the extra C in the bass: The tuning readily lends itself to the key of C as well as G, making it very versatile, particularly for traditional pieces.
One of the joys of this tuning is the whole tone between the top two strings, allowing parts of scales to be easily played in cascading runs. An example of this is in the triplet lick in bar 4. You should aim to allow multiple strings to ring together here for full effect.
To play the bass line of this piece, you will need to fret the lowest string using your thumb over the top of the neck at times. Specifically, with the exception of bars 14 and 34, the thumb should be used every time the 2nd fret of the sixth string is needed.
The ‘B’ section of this tune pointedly demonstrates the fact that Skinner considered himself very much the ‘violinist’ and not merely a ‘fiddler’, and the full range of the instrument is needed to play the large arpeggios here. I won’t lie to you – this section is something of a finger-twister and, what with the altered tuning, the fretboard patterns will probably feel decidedly unfamiliar. It’s very much a case of ‘no pain, no gain’, however, because this really is a cracking section of the melody and well worth the effort. At certain points, I’ve arranged open strings between chord changes, such as in the middle of bar 17 and also bar 21, to buy a split second to move the fretting hand into position for the following chord shape.
Finally, I must stress that accuracy comes from perseverance at slow tempos – remain honest with yourself about the cleanliness of your playing before speeding up, and the results will be all the more rewarding.
Tristan Seume explores the CGDGCD tuning