Booking for Variations 2024 is now closed.

Variations is a week of music making for amateur chamber music players.

It takes place in the award-winning Macphail Centre, Mill Street, Ullapool, at the head of Loch Broom in the Scottish Highlands.

Under the expert guidance of a team of professional tutors you will play chamber music with your group during the mornings from Sunday to Friday.   Each group has several timetabled tutor sessions during the week with the emphasis on ‘organised informality’ so you may consult the tutors on any technical or musical issues you may have.

I mainly enjoyed being thrown together with some new colleagues…however, close behind was the pleasure of being coached and learning how to be a better chamber music player.

The afternoon programme features optional masterclasses, clinics, larger group sessions, mixing strings and wind and the opportunity to play as one of the Edinburgh Quartet in a feature unique to Variations which we call ‘The Apprentice’.

A cellist joins the Edinburgh Quartet for an Apprentice performance

In these ‘Apprentice’ sessions, participants can sign up to play a short movement alongside the professional tutors as a member of a professional string quartet – or as part of a mixed chamber group in the case of wind players and pianists (an experience which has been compared to stepping into a Ferrari after a lifetime driving a Morris Minor!). Past examples of chosen works include movements from String Quartets by Haydn, Beethoven, Dvorak and Mendelssohn, Mozart Clarinet Quintet and Flute Quartet, Gordon Jacob Suite for Bassoon and String Quartet and the Shostakovich Piano Quintet.

Please look at our Apprentice Guide for more details.

The Speyside Quartet at Ullapool 2022

The week’s programme also includes two public evening concerts by the Edinburgh Quartet and wind tutor, one on the opening Saturday, followed by a welcome reception, and the other mid-week. A closing supper is organised on the Friday night, following the participants’ concert.

Each day starts at 10am and runs through to 5pm but the Macphail Centre opens at 9am and closes at 6pm for those wishing for extra playing or personal practice.

By enjoying such an intensive period of playing, we hope that you will enhance your skills and learn new repertoire, as well as enjoying the company and the surroundings.

Please look at our schedule for the week.

I gained a lot from the Quartet’s advice… I also liked the relaxed ‘feel’ to the course.  It really put me at my ease.

Can I come as an individual, or do I have to be in an existing group? And how good do I have to be?

You can apply either as an existing group or as an individual although almost all participants come to Variations in pre-formed groups, many of which have been together for several years.

When individuals apply we aim to put them into chamber groups with others who play at a similar level. Sometimes we can achieve this but  with so few individual applicants it is often impossible to create chamber groups with a rewarding repertoire, so we encourage players to get together with people they already know to form their own groups.

Those players who apply as individuals need to apply early in the year. If it proves impossible to create chamber groups for them we will recommend that they form their own chamber group and apply again the following year.

The maximum number of chamber groups at Variations is 14 which allows us to offer 5 one and a quarter hour tutored sessions to each group. We strongly prefer quartets or larger chamber groups although we can accommodate one or two trios.

The Poulenc Sextet performing at the end of course concert.

…the right balance of seriousness, humour and encouragement

Will I have time to explore the area?

There are no formal coached sessions on the Wednesday of the Variations week so you are free to attend optional workshops, play with your chamber group or get out and about to explore the area.

Ullapool is set in magnificent scenery so if you’d like a break from music making there are glorious beaches, beautiful gardens, historic lighthouses, world-renowned geology and more – a wealth to explore. Outdoor activities include hillwalking, climbing, boat trips to the Summer Isles and for rainy days, Ullapool has an indoor swimming pool.

In the evenings the town has bars and restaurants to suit a range of budgets but for more information please see

We were spoiled, as things turned out.

How much does it cost? And what does the fee include?

The cost of the week will be £490 for bookings received by 31st March 2024 and £525 for bookings received thereafter.

Booking for Variations 2024 is now closed.

The cost includes buffet lunch, teas coffees, home baking and other refreshments during the day, admission to concerts and all the musical activities taking place during the week.

More information can be found on the ‘Book Your Place‘ page.

We hope to offer substantial discounts for students and others who are unable to pay the full fee.  Please contact Fiona Ross, Variations Manager at

Please be aware that the cost of travel and accommodation is not included.