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AoS 4 explores music which takes influences from different cultures across the world. The first piece is from close to home, a song by the group Capercaille, Skye Waulking Song, from the 2000 album, Nadurra.

10. Skye Waulking Song - Capercaillie (GCSE Music Edexcel)

Very basic facts on...'Skye Waulking Song' ('Chuir M'athair Mise Dhan Taigh Charraideach') - by CapercaillieFrom 'Nàdurra'Set Work 10 for GCSE Music EdexcelF...

If you’re listening in school and can’t use YouTube, try the Grooveshark widget below:

Skye Waulking Song by Capercaillie on Grooveshark

Capercaille – their musical style

Capercaille are a Scottish folk rock band. Their music mixes elements and instruments from both these musical styles to form a fusion of them.

By reading the profiles of each group member, it will give you an idea of the range of instruments the band play.


  1. Find out more about the band by exploring their website. How did the band form? How many albums have they released?
  2. Have a listen to other songs from the album, Nadurra by clicking here. This should take you to Grooveshark. If not, open the Grooveshark page, and type in Nadurra in the search box, you’ll find it! Skye Waulking Song

What is this song about?
The word ‘waulking’ mean ‘working’ and this song would have been sung traditionally by women producing cloth. The song is a lament, taken from a Victorian collection of Scottish verses, sung by the wife of Seathan. Seathan was the son of the king of Ireland, and his life story is told in the lines of the song.

This song is very repetitive, so understanding the basic sound and parameters of the music is important:

Basic musical features

  • E minor mode
  • 12/8 time signature
  • Mixture of traditional folk instruments with Western pop instruments, and recording techniques
  • Pentatonic scale for the vocal line
  • Simple chord sequence
  • Use of heterophonic texture

As mentioned above, there are two distinct categories of instruments, which you will be expected to know in the listening exam:

Trad folk: violin (fiddle), accordion, uillean pipes (like the bagpipes), vocals (sung in Gaelic), string bass (pizzicato), bouzouki (Greek acoustic guitar)

Western: Wurlitzer piano (earlier keyboard), drum kit, synth (with tremolo effect)

Make sure you can spot which is which, and know which category they both fall into.

Harmony and Tonality
E minor mode is the key, and the harmony is almost all diatonic, can be split into three distinct uses in the song:

  • Bar 1-24: Em – G alternating every bar
  • Bar 25-44: C – G – Em – G, one chord per bar
  • Bar 45-end: a little more variety – Am9 – Em9 – Em G before reverting to the previous pattern, and fading out using C – G alternating.

There is one basic vocal phrase, which is repeated over and over, with subtle variations, lasting four bars. The melodic scale is entire pentatonic. There are a variety of ‘improvised’ vocal ornaments added freely though out the song.

Rhythm and Metre
The song is in 12/8, with a lilting gentle rhythmic feel. There is some syncopation in the introduction. During the first eight bars, the meter isn’t established clearly. The bpm is about 60.

The texture is basically homophonic throughout, with a couple of small variants – in the opening section, there is a hint of dialogue and imitation between the Wurlitzer piano and bouzouki riffs, and the texture in the instrumental section is heterophonic – the pipes, violin and accordion all play slightly varied versions of the same melody over the top of each other, making it nearly, but not quite, monophonic – this is what heterophonic texture is.

There is no fixed traditional ‘verse – chorus’ structure used here, given the almost constant repetition of the vocal phrase. However, there are some distinctive sections, as mentioned above:

Bars 1-8: Introduction, in which the tonality and pulse of the music are ambiguous, before the voice enters.

Bars 9-24: Voice enters, with the song slowly building around more fixed patterns.

Bars 25-36: Full instrumentation, with kit playing a regular rhythmic pattern.

Bars 37-44: Instrumental section, similar in style to the previous section, with one-bar vocal break in bar 44.

Bar 45-end: Varied repetitions of the vocal riff, repeating to fade.

Notice each section is built in blocks of four bar units, formed from the length of the chord sequence and vocal phrase.


As with all the pieces, there is a three-way process to learning everything you need to know about the piece:

  • Know the basics (C) – title, composer, key, time signature, instrumentation etc. This needs learning to start with.
  • Understand the detail (B/A) – the technical details of the piece, and how they relate to DR G SMITH. This needs you to have written up all the detail onto your score. Listening to the piece lots whilst following through the score is what is needed here.
  • Hear the detail (A/A*) – being able to recognise the sound of all the technical language in the pieces, with no score in front of you. Listening to the piece without the score is what you need to do here.

This checklist document should help you with the process.

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