Course Descriptions

This Celtic drum is fun, fascinating, and unbelievably capable of providing so many different sounds and rhythms.
  • New Beginner: This class is truly geared for the raw beginner, but you will be amazed at the progress can make in just one week. The class will cover how to hold the tipper and drum and how to accompany jigs and reels as well as an introduction to triplets and rolls. Prerequisites: No prior experience necessary.
  • Advanced Beginner: We will use the hand at the back to add tonal changes and introduce more complex rhythms. Prerequisites: Not quite a raw beginner, but still working to master jigs and reels at faster tempos and to play with more control. Must know basic jig and reel rhythms.
  • Intermediate: The intermediate class will cover a wide variety of rhythms and various time signatures. Prerequisites: For the student who already has good control of the basics and comfortable playing them up to tempo, but now ready for a challenge. Have been playing for 4-5 years and is comfortable playing various rhythms and musical forms.
  • Advanced: In the advanced class we will be learning more advanced rhythms and arrangements at a much faster pace. Ideal for students wanting to improve their public performances. Prerequisites: Have been playing for 5+ years and have a strong knowledge of jigs and reels. Have accompanied tunes in the Cape Breton repertoire as well as other traditional musical genres.
Fàs, meaning grow, is a new program for specifically created for youth ages 5 to 7. Geared for young, first-time participants, it gives a gentle introduction to elements of Gaelic language and culture, and allows for insight into the College experience. Kids can expect to learn new Gaelic words, sing some Gaelic songs, try out step dancing, see what classes in fiddle, piping, and piano are like, have fun at the arts and crafts table, and still have time for great games and outdoor activities. Little ones are welcome to stay overnight with us, or come as day students.
This style of fiddle music is unique throughout the world, in all Celtic circles. Classes offered in Cape Breton Fiddle will focus on techniques such as bowing, grace notes, tempos and the swing that is so reminiscent of the Cape Breton style of music; a style rooted in the Gaelic language of Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia. Time will be spent discussing and learning some of the various types of tunes including airs, jigs, marches, strathspeys, and reels. Sheet music will be used in class, but time will also be spent teaching music by ear, as this is a common method of learning for many Cape Breton musicians. The traditional Gaelic language, music and culture of Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia are based on oral transmission.
  • New Beginner: The very basics of fiddle will be taught at this level. Fundamentals include how to hold the fiddle, how to hold the bow, what the strings are on the fiddle, as well as your first notes will be covered. A basic tune with a simple melody will be taught in this class.  Sheet music will be used and ear-training techniques will also be employed. Prerequisite: No prior experience necessary.
  • Advanced Beginner: In this class students will learn two or more of the following: strathspey, march, jig, reel, air. Sheet music will be used and ear-training techniques will also be employed. Prerequisite: Able to play 2 -3 tunes at a slow to moderate pace.
  • Intermediate: In this class, students will continue to develop their bowing techniques, they will build upon their existing repertoire of tunes (in at least 3 keys).  A strong emphasis will be placed on timing. Sheet music will be used and ear-training techniques will also be employed. Prerequisite: Have a good knowledge of marches, strathspeys, reels, and jigs in the common major and minor keys. Be able to play tunes at a moderate pace.
  • Advanced: At the advanced level of instruction, time will be spent looking at the very intricate components of this Gaelic style of fiddle playing. Grace notes, slurs, cuts, doublings and more of the detailed embellishments that define the style will be the focus of this class. Additionally, emphasis will be placed on developing timing. All types of tunes representative of this style, in many different keys, will be taught. Sheet music will be used and ear-training techniques will also be employed. Prerequisites: Have the ability to read music quite well. Be able to play all tunes at full tempo.
The goal of this course is to provide students with an opportunity to enhance the Gaelic language acquisition process through the use of stories and skits. Students of all skill levels will work together for this course. Only offered during youth sessions. One Level
Gàidlhig aig Baile (GAB) is an immersion method of Gaelic language instruction used in communities throughout Nova Scotia. The GAB course will provide students with a strong foundation in the language in a fun, social and interactive environment.
  • New Beginner: An introduction to Nova Scotia Scottish Gaelic in an immersion environment, this course will introduce students to basic Gaelic vocabulary, handy phrases, and the Gàidhlig Aig Baile style of instruction. Prerequisite: No prior knowledge of Gaelic language is required.
  • Intermediate: This course is aimed at students who have an established foundation in the Gaelic language. They are familiar with everyday vocabulary and basic phrases. Students in this level will build on vocabulary in an immersion setting. Gaelic will be the only language employed in the classroom. Prerequisite: Able to comfortably carry on simple conversation about day-to-day matters. Can speak in and respond to questions in the different tenses.
Learn about the song tradition in Nova Scotia Gaelic culture. Work on Gaelic milling songs and mouth music. No prior experience necessary. One Level
This course introduces students to the vibrant and ancient art of Gaelic storytelling. Students will hear and learn humorous anecdotes, ghost stories, fairy stories, oral history and will be introduced to our famous Gaelic heroes. This course is open to all learning levels. One Level
The dynamic rhythms of guitar accompaniment and rich sounds of melody instrumentation have greatly contributed to the sounds of traditional Gaelic music in more recent times. Learning this rugged style includes time spent on chord work, progressions, ear training, tune knowledge, and interpretation.
  • Beginner: This level covers the basic aspects of picking technique and fingering, the primary chords of selected keys, and simple accompaniment techniques.
  • Advanced Beginner/Intermediate: This level develops students resources for song and tune accompaniment. Secondary chords and modal progressions are introduced. Strumming and arpeggio (finger-picking) patterns are explored. Exercises and tunes for flat-picking are introduced.
  • Advanced: Advanced accompaniment techniques, such as chord substitutions, are explored. More advanced concepts in ear-training and theory are introduced. Flat-picking instruction includes medleys of jigs, and march/strathspey/reel groups.
The harp is an ancient part of the Celtic and Gaelic music tradition. Although a relative newcomer to the shores of Cape Breton, it is beginning to be heard more often as a small but growing community of harpers enters the Island’s musical culture. These courses are designed to help harpers of all levels experience the joy of a Cape Breton tune on their own instrument. Participants will develop their harping abilities by learning some of the music of Cape Breton. All levels will work on technique, melody accompaniment (for solo and session play) and capturing dance rhythms by working with tunes from the Cape Breton tradition. All material will be presented by ear, although written music will be available after each class as well. Equipment Note: There is a very limited number of harps available to use at the College. Students are strongly encouraged to bring their own instruments whenever possible.  Please contact the Gaelic College for further details.
  • New Beginner: This level provides an introduction to the instrument for those who have never played the harp before. This course covers everything a new beginner needs to start making music on the harp, including hand position, posture, and tone production. Prerequisite: No previous experience required.
  • Advanced Beginner: This course is intended to build confidence for new players and those who don’t yet feel comfortable with their playing, help those who play with RH only to add a simple LH accompaniment to their melodies, encourage those who already play RH melody with simple LH accompaniment to add more in the LH part, all while learning a Cape Breton tune; introduce some “social harping” skills, that is how to play together with others; explore chords: what they are, how they are made, and how to play them when accompanying other instruments or in a traditional music session. Prerequisite: Knowledge of basic hand position, posture; playing with both hands on melody or RH with one or two note accompaniment in LH; starting to play with hands together; basic music-reading skills.
  • Intermediate: This course is intended to encourage those who may have hit a plateau after their first energies and successes of learning have slowed a bit; introduce the main forms of traditional Cape Breton instrumental music: jig, strathspey, reel, march, slow air; teach jig and slow air tunes by ear; introduce “social harping” skills: the basics of accompanying other traditional instruments or playing along in a session, finding the key, possible rhythm patterns for different types of melody (jig, reel etc.) and playing with a group of harpers. Prerequisite: Comfortable playing with each hand alone and hands together; familiar with basics of chords (how to make and play them), playing feels more fluid than halting beginner. Developing proficiency and confidence reading music.
  • Advanced: This course is for harpers interested in learning about traditional Cape Breton instrumental music and how to choose, adapt and interpret it on the harp. Prerequisite: Comfortable playing with both hands together; have tried playing a variety of different types of music, comfortable learning by ear and reading music.
Described by some authorities as one of the most sophisticated forms of national dance in the world, Highland dance is a mixed heritage of war and ceremonial dance, competitive solo dances and social dances. Danced in competitions and Highland games all over the world, Highland dance is characterized by sharp precise leg movements and foot work, hops and leaps, and the use of both turn-out and a pointed foot. The most familiar dances are the Highland Fling and the Sword Dance; but Nova Scotians are pioneering a new form; choreographed Highland dances, and there are several Highland dance performance troupes in the province. *From “Dance! Nova Scotia”
  • New Beginner: Primary/New Beginner: Ages 5+ with little to no experience. Dancers under 7 years, and dancers who only know 1-2 dancers would fit here.
  • Advanced Beginner: Competitive/experienced Beginner level. Dancers should know at least: Fling, Sword, Seann Triubhas, Lilt. Learning Flora, Reel.
  • Novice: in the Novice Competitive Category – already competing at events. Dancers should know: Fling, Sword, Seann Triubhas, Lilt, Flora, Reel. Dancers would be learning or have some knowledge of the Reel.
  • Intermediate/Premier Competitive Level: Fling, Sword, Seann Triubhas, Lilt, Flora, Reel, Highland Laddie, Barracks Johnny – and should know/have experience with Jig and Hornpipe. Dancers at Premier level should have some experience with Blue Bonnets, Village Maid, Scotch Measure, Earl of Errol.
The piano was introduced as an instrument of accompaniment several decades ago and has since become the most common instrument of choice in accompanying fiddlers in the Cape Breton style. Walking bass lines, and syncopated rhythms in the right hand emulate the sounds of the Gaelic language of Cape Breton Island, and Nova Scotia. Students in this class will learn techniques used in accompanying fiddlers and pipers in the Cape Breton style of music. Chording approaches for marches, strathspeys, jigs, and reels will be explored during this class.
  • Advanced Beginner: Student will receive an introduction to basic playing techniques for Cape Breton-style piano accompaniment. Prerequisite: Has a working knowledge of piano keys, and basic chords in 3 major keys and 2 minor keys.
  • Intermediate: Student will work on refining basic rhythms and further developing the fundamental playing techniques for Cape Breton piano accompaniment, including more syncopated rhythms. Prerequisite: Able to build upon the basic chord patterns and rhythms from the Advanced Beginner level.
  • Advanced: Much time will be spent in this class listening to the various types of tunes which exist in the Gaelic style of music that is authentic and traditional to Cape Breton Island. It is the ear training that is required in identifying those chords that will allow the accompanist to chord along to another instrumentalist, all the while enhancing the delivery of music. Class time will be spent working on developing excellent timing as well. Prerequisite: Knowledge of most key signatures and associated chords. Previous experience in piano accompaniment required. Must be familiar with technique and specific chords. Accompaniment should be steady, strong and supportive, not domineering, with focus on timing.
Piping has strong roots in traditional Gaelic language and culture in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton and is closely connected to the rhythms of the language. The repertoire of tunes is lively, and at times, challenging. The fundamentals and rudimentary techniques taught are exactly the same as those taught for competitive enthusiasts.
  • New Beginner: Learn to play the scale and basic grace notes with a focus on good finger posture and aiming for consistency. Learn one or more basic tunes. Prerequisites: No prior experience necessary.
  • Advanced Beginner: Improve basic technical fundamentals while learning simple tunes. Learn early blowing and posture fundamentals. Prerequisites: Have learned fundamentals (doublings, triplets, grips, burls, etc.). Basic music-reading skill and ready to begin or already beginning on pipes.
  • Intermediate: Improve your technical consistency and discover how to bring more musicality to your playing by learning a range of tunes suited to your needs. Gain a better, hands-on understanding of bagpipe maintenance. Prerequisites: On pipes for 1 or 2 years. One should be able to play several tunes by memory and also read pipe music.
  • Advanced: Expand your tune repertoire and work on technique, according to your individual wants/needs and with a focus on the Gaelic/dance piping style. Develop your understanding of how this style relates intrinsically to Gaelic song and dance. Prerequisites: On pipes for 3 or more years. Play by memory. Strong ability to read music. Ability to play all tune forms (ie. jigs, strathspeys, marches, reels, airs).

Piping has strong connections with traditional Gaelic language and culture in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton and is closely connected to the rhythms of the language. The repertoire of tunes is lively, and at times, challenging. Our instructors focus primarily on traditional tunes from Cape Breton and Scotland, however contemporary tunes may also be introduced. These tunes are taught with an emphasis on expression and musicality that stems from and intertwines with Gaelic language, song and dance traditions.


Recent history in North America and around the piping world has seen a major resurgence in bellows blown pipers, enthusiasts, as well as high end pipe makers. New beginner classes are for those who have not previously played bagpipes and may be done on practice chanter, depending on the students present. Advanced beginner student and above are required to bring their own small pipes. Several basic sets of smallpipes will be available for loan through the Gaelic College on a first-come, first-serve basis. Advanced beginner classes focus on the basics of playing bellows blown pipes (e.g., technique, pressure, consistency of sound), and basic tunes. Intermediate and Advanced instruction will be more varied, and topics will include learning more advanced tunes and sets of tunes, learning by ear, group and session playing, and tuning. Only offered during adult sessions.

The Cape Breton style of dance is rooted in the Gaelic language. The various rhythms heard and danced in this style are a direct translation from the language. In this class, you will learn how to dance strathspeys, jigs and reels. Cape Breton square-dancing will also be taught throughout the course of classes.
  • New Beginner: Students in the new beginner level for step-dancing will learn the first basic steps for a strathspey, jig and reel. They will also learn at least one figure to a traditional square set which has its origin in Gaelic settlement areas of Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia. Prerequisite: No prior experience necessary.
  • Advanced Beginner: Advanced beginner step dance students will continue to develop their repertoire of strathspey and reel steps. The foundation for a routine will be laid out in this class. Particular attention will be made to teaching proper timing. Students will also learn at least 2 figures to a traditional square set which has its origin in Gaelic settlement areas of Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia. Prerequisite: Knowledge of 2 basic strathspey, jig and reel steps.
  • Intermediate: The intermediate step dance student will spend time in class working on the first of several intricate rhythms. Emphasis will be spent on developing good timing and ensuring that beats are not missed. Further development of a routine will take place, and sets will also be danced as part of this intermediate level class. Prerequisite: Confidence in 5 – 10 strathspey & reel steps as well as 3 or 4 jig steps.
  • Advanced: The advanced student will continue to learn additional steps. The Scotch Four traditional dance may be taught to the advanced level dance class. Teaching efforts will concentrate on developing excellent timing, expertise in dance and having fun. Prerequisites: Students in this level will have been step-dancing for 5+ years. They are extremely familiar with the timings and rhythms associated with all forms of Cape Breton music. Students will also be familiar with two of the more dominant square sets on the Island. Students have at least 10 strathspey and reel steps and can dance the jig comfortably.
Youth Session 1, 2 and 3 – One Level Geared for youth ages 8 and up. There is a maximum of 6 per class. No course level selection is required for this program and no previous weaving experience is required. This week will begin with dying preparatory work, introduction to looms and move on the setting up the dyed fibre on the loom. The project might include bookmarks, a small wall hanging, a scarf or placemat. The weaving and finishing of projects will occur over the bulk of the week.
Adult Session 1 and 2 Students will have a choice of looms (floor vs. table) and a choice of projects. Looms will be available pre-dressed for those choosing to learn various weave structures. Other projects might include a scarf, table runner, placemats, or a guitar strap. Students will have the opportunity to learn the technique of dressing a loom, reading a weaving draft and finishing techniques. Projects are chosen based on the amount of time spent in class. Materials are all provided.
  • New Beginner: Prerequisite: There is no previous experience required.
  • Advanced Beginner: Prerequisite: Must have done at least one week at New Beginner stage.
  • Intermediate: Prerequisite: Must have completed beginner stage.