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GCSE Music Analysis: Capercaillie's "Skye Waulking Song"

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I'm currently a full-time student living and studying in London. For years I've written about the environment, science, and psychology.



The GCSE tests more than just your ability to summarize; it also tests your ability to think critically. Songs are no exception to this. Music is more than just the lyrics. It's important to understand how the lyrics relate to the other elements of the songwriting.

What to Include in a GCSE Music Analysis

  • An overview of the artist
  • An analysis of the instrumentation
  • A breakdown of the song's texture/s
  • An outline of the song's structure
  • An analysis of the song's harmony
  • A breakdown of the song's melody
  • An exploration of the song's rhythm and metre

Overview of the Band Capercaillie

Capercaillie is a Scottish band who combine traditional Gaelic folk music with elements of rock music. As Gaelic music evolves, many bands are mixing elements of other genres into the traditional sound. Few bands pull of this blending of genres better than Capercaillie. Here are some more facts about the band and this great song:

  • Their music is described as Celtic rock.
  • The song "Sky Waulking Song" is from their album Nadurra released in 2000, sung in Scots Gaelic.
  • They call their genre Celtic rock.
  • The song is also known as "Chuir m'athair mise dhan taigh charraideach."
  • "Chuir m'athair mise dhan taigh charraideach" translates into English as "My father sent me to the house of sorrow."
  • Fusion of a traditional folk song style called a lament (with a slow tempo, minor key, sad mood) and more modern popular music.
  • A waulking song is a work song sung by women workers processing cloth.

Instrumentation on "Skye Waulking Song"

  • "Skye Waulking Song" combines both folk and rock instruments.
  • The rock instruments include a synthesizer, Wurlitzer piano, bass guitar, and a drum kit.
  • The acoustic instruments that are usually associated with folk include a violin (fiddle), accordion, pipes, and a bouzouki.

Capercaillie does not use the same instruments on every song. The instruments that they choose work to help elevate the tone and mood expressed in the lyrics of each song. By blending rock and traditional instrumentation, Capercaillie has elevated the sense of lamentation present in the song's lyrics. The electric tones blend perfectly with the acoustic tones.

Traditional Irish Instruments

InstrumentsNotable Players

Fiddle (violin)

Mary Custy, Yvonne Casey, Paddy Canny, Bobby Casey, John Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Peadar O'Loughlin

Flute and whistle

Matt Molloy, Kevin Crawford, Peter Horan, Michael McGoldrick, Desi Wilkinson

Uilleann pipes

Paddy Keenan, John McSherry, Davy Spillane, Jerry O'Sullivan


Dáithí Sproule and The Bothy Band's Mícheál Ó Domhnaill


Liam Ó Maonlaí (of The Hothouse Flowers), Johnny 'Ringo' McDonagh, Tommy Hayes, Eamon Murray of Beoga


Rick Epping, Mick Kinsella, Paul Moran

Capercaillie's Use of Textures

A layered (contrapuntal) texture is created through the following:

  • A rhythmic pattern on the drum kit.
  • A bassline played by bass guitar.
  • Chords on the synthesizer and accordion.
  • Counter melodies on the melody instruments.

Polyphonic/contrapuntal textures consist of weaving together two or more equally important melodic lines. These lines fit together harmonically. A polyphonic/contrapuntal texture typically sounds busy and is a complex arrangement to write. Perhaps the use of contrapuntal textures is meant to mimic or call attention to the "waulking" in the song (a song sung by woman cloth workers).

The Song's Structure

Phrase 1: Call (in Gaelic).

Refrain 1: Response (vocables).

Phrase 2: Call (in Gaelic).

Refrain 2: Response (vocables).

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The Overall Structure of "Skye Waulking Song"

  • Intro
  • Verse 1
  • Verse 2
  • Coda

Regardless of the complexities of the instrumentation and song structure, the song (like many Celtic folk songs) is meant to be sung by the masses. The song is both musically complex, including contrapuntal and syncopation, while still containing moments that an audience can sing along with.

Capercaillie's Use of Harmony

  • It is in the key of G major.
  • The piece is entirely diatonic.
  • G, E minor, and C are the three main chords.
  • It has a modal feel.

Capercaillie is talented at creating beautiful and profound harmonies. Their harmonies blend traditional Celtic structures and modern rock structures. Their rock instrumentation only adds to the power of their musicianship while simultaneously aiding the intensity of how the song switches between soft (piano) to louder (forte).

The Melody of "Skye Waulking Song"

  • The piece is pentatonic.
  • Mainly syllabic.
  • Alternates between one-bar phrases.

The lyrics are taken from a 13th-century lament about a girl who is unhappy with an arranged marriage for her. Many folk songs deal with the trials and tribulations of the working class and the poor. These songs are full of heartache and history.

The Song's Rhythm and Metre

  • The time signature is 12/8.
  • Frequent syncopation in vocal and instrumental lines.
  • The cross-rhythms at the start of the song are created by the use of a hi-hat.

Contrary to most rock music (which is often recorded in 4/4) the song's time signature and syncopation is complex and even resembles some of the techniques used in jazz music. Part of the brilliance of Capercaillie's music is how they are able to pull of complex arrangements and showcase their musicianship without losing those powerful human feelings. Their melodies are still catchy without sacrificing their musicianship. Their music is highly intelligent but still relatable.

More Famous Lament Irish Folk Songs


Barney McKenna

"I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me"

Christy Moore

"Nancy Spain"

Luke Kelly

"Raglan Road"

Christy Moore


The Dubliners

"The Rare Ould Times"


OtheB on June 09, 2016:


-Starts with a piano section

-Verse 1 is mezzo-piano

-Moves into a forte chorus-esque section

-Drops back down to mezzo-piano for the middle section/Verse 2

-Drop to silence with solo vocals before forte chorus section again

-Fade-out at end done in post-production

joel on June 01, 2016:

is the key not e minor because its a lament??

Liam 'Big Diddy' Dudley on September 30, 2015:

I love this song it really brings me back to the farm back in Ireland.

I can just smell the potatoes wisp of the blissful lyrics of good ol Gaelic folk music. This song makes me proud of my heritage.

Katie Haber on June 04, 2015:

Thank you for spending the time to make these, they've helped me a lot!

I only have one issue- the key of the piece is E minor, G major's relative minor (which is why it looks this way from the key signature). They first chord from the synth is an Em with added 2nd and 4th making it dissonant and throughout the piece the chord sequence starts with Em then G and repeats.

Also, the structure of the piece contains 8 verses, an intro, break, instrumental and outro. Unfortunately it really isn't simple to sum up.

Beth on June 04, 2015:

It's spelled Gaelic but pronounced Galic. You're both right.

Jack on June 03, 2015:

Really appreciate all your hub pages, they have saved me!


Could you update the video link, as it sais it 'does not exist'

Thanks so much! :)

Emily (author) on April 22, 2015:

I wrote these 3 years ago and i can no longer remember anything about the pieces - sorry! Though I do recall that for the essay you only need two points from each subheading so the information in this article should be enough!

Elle on April 22, 2015:

please could you add some on dynamics? :p

Benjamin Rube on March 08, 2014:

its not gAElic when its from Scotland, its just Galic, ask a Scotsman and they will tell you.

Au79 on June 09, 2013:

Cyprus is GREEK

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