How to : It’s A Long Way To The Top : B-Flat?

You can play AC/DC’s ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’ in B-Flat if you want, but you’re making it harder to play than it really is. It’s actually played in “A” on the guitars. Yes, I know it sounds close to B-Flat and there is a reason for this… read on…

So now you’re thinking it must be because the bagpipes are in the key of B-Flat, right?

You would be forgiven for thinking that all musical instruments were designed to be played together with all other musical instruments, but that was not always the case. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that ‘musical instrument makers’ became more in tune with each other and a standard pitch emerged.

Once upon a time there were no universal standards or agreements defining the pitch of any particular note. For example, a French oboe might be in perfect tune with itself, but clashing horribly with an equally well tuned English piano. So even though both instruments played the same scale, there was not a common, absolute starting point. So an “A” played on that oboe, might have had a frequency of 455 Hz, while that German piano’s “A” might have been tuned to, 433 Hz – together these make noise, definitely not music.

When musicians began to travel the world the problem became blazingly evident and needed a solution. An agreement was reached to standardize the pitch of the note “A” at 440 Hz, and this is where it has remained ever since. The 440 Hz “A” and the subsequent frequencies of the rest of the scale are referred to as ‘concert pitch’.

In today’s concert pitch, B-Flat is 466 Hz, which is close to the bagpipe’s “A”. The pitch of the bagpipes “A” is hovering at around 470 Hz.

If you’re playing in a band with bagpipes then tuning the guitars’ “A” to B-Flat is recommended to get the bagpipes on the same playing field as the rest of the band.

In the following video Mark Sly from Mahalo dot com takes you through the two ways (keys) you can play AC/DC’s ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’. There is mention of why this song sounds like it’s in B-Flat. One theory put forward is tape recording performance back in the seventies not being consistent and causing some recordings to have pitch issues. While this may have been the case with some recording it was not in this instance.

The Great Highland Bagpipe does not have its “A” tuned to 440Hz.

Reference material:
Oliver Seeler’s, Universe of Bagpipes