Scotish Piper

Scotish Piper

Scottish Piper

Scotish Piper


The National Piping Centre is an institution in Glasgow, Scotland, dedicated to the playing of the bagpipes, to include not only the Great Highland Bagpipes, but also the Scottish smallpipes and Irish uileann pipes, as well as other traditional musical instruments. The institution includes practice spaces, an auditorium, and the Museum of Piping. It is located in the Cowcaddens district of the city, in the former Cowcaddens Free Church. The building is Category B listed.


Though popular belief sets varying dates for the introduction of bagpipes to Scotland, concrete evidence is limited until approximately the 15th century. One Clan still owns a remnant of a set of bagpipes said to have been carried at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, though the veracity of this claim is debated. There are many ancient legends and stories about bagpipes which were passed down through minstrels and oral tradition, whose origins are now lost. However, textual evidence for Scottish bagpipes is more definite in 1396, when records of the Battle of the North Inch of Perth reference "warpipes" being carried into battle. These references may be considered evidence as to the existence of particularly Scottish bagpipes, but evidence of a form peculiar to the Highlands appears in a poem written in 1598 (and later published in The Complaynt of Scotland which refers to several types of pipe, including the Highland: "On hieland pipes, Scotte and Hybernicke / Let heir be shraichs of deadlie clarions."


In 1746, after the forces loyal to the Hanoverian government had defeated the Jacobites in the Battle of Culloden, King George II attempted to assimilate the Highlands into Great Britain by weakening Gaelic culture and the Scottish clan system, though the oft-repeated claim that the Act of Proscription 1746 banned the Highland bagpipes is not substantiated by the text itself, nor by any record of any prosecutions under this act for playing or owning bagpipes. However, the loss of the clan chief's power and patronage and widespread emigration did contribute to its decline. It was soon realised that Highlanders made excellent troops and a number of regiments were raised from the Highlands over the second half of the eighteenth century. Although the early history of pipers within these regiments is not well documented, there is evidence that these regiments had pipers at an early stage and there are numerous accounts of pipers playing into battle during the 19th century, a practice which continued into World War I when it was abandoned after the early battles, due to the high casualty rate. The custom was revived by the 51st Highland Division for their assault on the enemy lines at the start of the Second Battle of El Alamein on 23 October 1943. Each attacking company was led by a piper, playing tunes that would allow other units to recognise which Highland regiment they belonged to. Although the attack was successful, losses among the pipers were high, and they were not used in combat again during the war. A final use of the pipes in combat was in 1967 during the Aden Emergency, when 1st Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were led into the rebel-held Crater district by their pipe major playing the regimental marches.


The Great Highland bagpipe is classified as a woodwind instrument, like the bassoon, oboe, and clarinet. Although it is further classified as a double-reed instrument, the reeds are all closed inside the wooden "stocks", instead of being played directly by mouth as most other woodwinds are. The Great Highland Bagpipe actually has four reeds: the chanter reed (double), two tenor drone reeds (single), and one bass drone reed (single). A modern set has a bag, a chanter, a blowpipe, two tenor drones, and one bass drone. The scale of the chanter is in Mixolydian mode, which has a flattened seventh scale degree. It has a range from one whole tone lower than the tonic to one octave above it. The drones are tuned to this tonic note, called A. The nine notes of the chanter scale "low G, low A, B, C (sounds as a C#), D, E, F (sounds as a F#), high G, and high A". However, the A pitch of most pipers and pipe bands currently is somewhere around 480 Hz, which is actually sharper than standard B♭ at 466.16 Hz. Historically it was indeed flatter, as evidenced by recordings, and extant instruments. So the scale sound actually low Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb.


Highland bagpipe music is written in the key of D major, where the C and F are sharp (despite the key-signature usually being omitted from scores). Due to the lack of chromatic notes, to change key is also to change modes; tunes are in A Mixolydian, D Major, B Minor, or occasionally E Dorian. For the concert key (notes on the piano) it will be Bb Mixolydian, Eb Major, C Minor, or occasionally F Dorian. Traditionally, certain notes were sometimes tuned slightly off from just intonation. For example, on some old chanters the D and high G would be somewhat sharp. According to Forsyth (1935), the C and F holes were traditionally bored exactly midway between those for B and D and those for E and G, respectively, resulting in approximately a quarter-tone difference from just intonation, somewhat like a "blue" note in jazz. Today, however, the notes of the chanter are usually tuned in just intonation to the Mixolydian scale. The two tenor drones are generally an octave below the keynote of the chanter (low A), and the bass drone two octaves below, but they may be retuned to suit the mode of the melody. Forsyth lists three traditional drone tunings: Ellis, A3/A3/A2; Glen, A4/A4/A2; and Mackay, G3/B3/C2. Modern developments have included reliable synthetic drone reeds as well as synthetic bags that deal with moisture arguably better than hide bags.


Highland pipes were originally constructed of such locally available woods as holly, laburnum, and boxwood. Later, as expanding colonisation and trade provided access to more exotic woods, tropical hardwoods including cocuswood (from the Caribbean), ebony (from West Africa and South and Southeast Asia) and African blackwood (from Sub-Saharan Africa) became standard in the late 18th and early 19th century. In the modern day, synthetic materials, particularly Polypenco, have become quite popular, especially among pipe bands where uniformity of chanters is desirable. Ornamentation on stands of pipes can be made from: ivory, horn, nickel, German silver, silver, stainless steel, imitation ivory (often catalin or possibly bakelite depending on the year the pipes were made), or other exotic woods.


The Gaelic word pìobaireachd simply means "pipe music", but it has been adapted into English as pibroch. In Gaelic, this, the "great music" of the Great Highland Bagpipe is referred to as ceòl mòr, and "light music" (such as marches and dance tunes) is referred to as ceòl beag. Ceòl mòr consists of a slow "ground" movement (Gaelic ùrlar) which is a simple theme, then a series of increasingly complex variations on this theme, and ends with a return to the ground. Ceòl beag includes marches (2/4, 4/4, 6/8, 3/4, etc.), dance tunes (particularly strathspeys, reels, hornpipes, and jigs), slow airs, and more. The ceòl mòr style was developed by the well-patronized dynasties of bagpipers – MacArthurs, MacGregors, Rankins, and especially the MacCrimmons – and seems to have emerged as a distinct form during the 17th century.


Compared to many other musical instruments, the Great Highland Bagpipe is limited by its range (nine notes), lack of dynamics, and the enforced legato style, due to the continuous airflow from the bag. The Great Highland Bagpipe is a closed reed instrument, which means that the four reeds are completely encased within the instrument and the player cannot change the sound of the instrument via mouth position or tonguing. As a result, notes cannot be separated by simply stopping blowing or tonguing so gracenotes and combinations of gracenotes, called embellishments, are used for this purpose. These more complicated ornaments using two or more gracenotes include doublings, taorluaths, throws, grips, and birls. There are also a set of ornaments usually used for pìobaireachd, for example the dare, vedare, chedare, darado, taorluath and crunluath. Some of these embellishments have found their way into light music over the course of the 20th century. These embellishments are also used for note emphasis, for example to emphasize the beat note or other phrasing patterns. These three single gracenotes (G, D, and E) are the most commonly used and are often played in succession. All gracenotes are performed rapidly, by quick finger movements, giving an effect similar to tonguing or articulation on modern wind instruments. Due to the lack of rests and dynamics, all expression in Great Highland Bagpipe music comes from the use of embellishments and to a larger degree by varying the duration of notes. Despite the fact that most Great Highland Bagpipe music is highly rhythmically regimented and structured, proper phrasing of all types of Great Highland Bagpipe music relies heavily on the ability of the player to stretch specific notes within a phrase or measure. In particular, the main beats and off-beats of each phrase are structured, however, sub-divisions within each beat are flexible.


Scottish Smallpipes are distinguished from the Northumbrian smallpipes by having an open end to the chanter, and usually by the lack of keys. This means that the sound of the chanter is continuous, rather than staccato, and that its range is only nine notes, rather than the nearly two octaves of the later 18th/19th century style Northumbrian pipes. A further distinction from the Northumbrian smallpipes is that the Scottish Smallpipes lack an unbroken line of traditional playing. The instrument has a cylindrically bored chanter, most commonly pitched in A, although any key is feasible; D, C, and B flat are also common keys. Being cylindrically bored, the chanter sounds an octave lower than a conical-bored chanter of the same size, such as that of the Border pipes. Scottish Smallpipes are normally bellows-blown like the Northumbrian pipes and Border pipes. Mouth-blown versions are also available, but they are less common because the moist air tends to injure the cane reeds.


Scottish Smallpipes are most commonly unkeyed, but occasionally high B, G sharp, F natural, and C natural keys are added. Though it would in principle be possible to add as many keys as to the modern Northumbrian smallpipes, not many pipers use a set with more than 9 keys. Most music written for the instrument uses only the nine notes of its unkeyed range. The drones, typically three in number, are set in a common stock and are usually tuned in one of two patterns. For pipes in A, the tenor drone is tuned to the low "A" of the chanter, usually the tonic note, and the bass drone to the "A" an octave below this. There is also sometimes a dominant drone - this can be either a baritone, tuned a fifth above the bass, or else an alto drone, tuned a fifth above the tenor. For tunes in the key of D, the dominant drone can be either shut off or retuned. Most makers now prefer to make a baritone drone, rather than an alto, and many use only the bass and tenor. Other makers have developed drones compatible with both A and D chanters, so that one instrument can be used with either chanter. These sets include both A and D drones. One example is the "ADAD" style, with bass, baritone, tenor, and alto. And by using longer tuning pins, and northumbrian smallpipes-influenced tuning beads, some smallpipe drones can easily be retuned to a pitch one or two tones higher. A Baritone drone in C can be retuned to D, or E for example. This allows for increased drone tuning options, such as playing fifth or fourth tuned baritone or alto drones.


Originally one of the first documented bagpipes in Scotland, along with the Border pipes, which were popular in the Lowland areas of Scotland as far north as Aberdeen. Evidence shows them to have existed since the 15th century, (Highland pipes can only be documented from the 16th Century,) when they were used for dancing and entertainment in Court and castle, later they became popular amongst Burgh Pipers, and Town Minstrels until the early 19th Century, when the demise of the Town Pipers lead to their disappearing from the record. Being bellows blown this made them suitable for playing for long periods. Bellows blown smallpipes are believed to have entered Scotland via England, and the Continent of Europe, examples are preserved in many drawings, carvings, and paintings from 15th century onwards, and in Europe from the 12th century onwards. Since there was a break in the continuous playing tradition of the Smallpipes, and Border pipes, no absolute, definitive playing style can be ascribed to them. However, according to the evidence provided by surviving sheet music written for these pipes (Dixon, Peacock, Riddell,) their style depended more on variations, runs, and arpeggios, as opposed to the surviving Highland music which is dominated by stylised gracenote techniques.


Smallpipes are extremely popular with Highland pipers, many of whom keep them, or a set of Border pipes as a second instrument, usually preferring the mouth blown versions, and play them according to the Highland tradition. Though it has somewhat supplanted the musically unsatisfactory Highland practice chanter as a relatively quiet rehearsal instrument for Highland pipers, it has gained wide currency as a session instrument, for both the Highland and Border pipe repertoires. The Scottish smallpipes were the first widely available instrument to allow Highland pipers to participate in musical sessions with fiddlers, flautists and other instruments, as well as to accompany singers. However, modern Scottish Border pipes, many of which are becoming quieter and more reliable than their predecessors, may slowly be replacing the Scottish Smallpipes as the highland piper's session instrument of choice.


Uilleann is the genitive of the Irish word uillinn, meaning elbow, emphasising the use of the elbow when playing the uilleann pipes. The Irish word for uilleann pipes is "píobaí uilleann" which literally means pipes of the elbow. However, the first attested written form is "Union pipes", at the end of the 18th century, perhaps to denote the union of the chanter, drones, and regulators. Another theory is that it was played throughout a prototypical full union of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. This was only realised, however, in 1800, with the Act of Union; the name for the bagpipe slightly predates this. Alternatively Union pipes were certainly a favourite of the upper classes in Scotland, Ireland and the North-East of England and were fashionable for a time in formal social settings, where the term Union pipes may also originate. The term "uilleann pipes" is first attested at the beginning of the 20th century. William Henry Grattan Flood, an Irish music scholar, proposed the theory that the name "uilleann" came from the Irish word for "elbow". He cited to this effect William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice published in 1600 (Act IV, sc. I, l. 55) where the expression "woollen pipes" appears. This theory originated in correspondence between two earlier antiquarians, and was adopted as gospel by the Gaelic League. The use of "uilleann" was perhaps also a rebellion against the term "union" with its connotations of English rule. It was however shown by Breandán Breathnach that it would be difficult to explain the Anglicization of the word uillin into 'woollen' before the 16th century (when the instrument did not exist as such) and then its adaptation as 'union' two centuries later.


The first bagpipes to be well-attested to for Ireland were similar, if not identical, to the Highland pipes that are now played in Scotland. These are known as the "Great Irish Warpipes". In Irish and Scottish Gaelic, this instrument was called the píob mhór ("great pipe"). While the warpipe was alive and well upon the battlefields of France, the warpipe had almost disappeared in Ireland. The union or uilleann pipe required the joining of a bellows under the right arm, which pumped air via a tube to the bagpipe under the left arm. The uilleann or union pipes developed around the beginning of the 18th century. Geoghegan's tutor of the 1740s calls this early form of the uilleann pipes the "Pastoral or New bagpipe". The Pastoral pipes were bellows blown and played in either a seated or standing position. The conical bored chanter was played "open", that is, legato, unlike the uilleann pipes, which can also be played "closed", that is, staccato. The early Pastoral pipes had two drones, and later examples had one (or rarely, two) regulator(s). The Pastoral and later flat set Union pipes developed with ideas on the instrument being traded back-and-forth between Ireland, Scotland and England, around the 18th and early 19th century.


The earliest surviving sets of uilleann pipes date from the second half of the 18th century, but it must be said that datings are not definitive. Only recently has scientific attention begun to be paid to the instrument, and problems relating to various stages of its development have yet to be resolved. It is gradually becoming accepted that the union pipes originated from the Pastoral pipes and gained popularity in Ireland within the Protestant Anglo-Irish community and its gentlemen pipers. Certainly many of the early players in Ireland were Protestant, possibly the best known being the mid-18th century piper Jackson from Co Limerick and the 18th century Tandragee blind pipemaker William Kennedy. The pipes were certainly often used by the Protestant clergy, who employed them as an alternative to the church organ. As late as the 19th century the instrument was still commonly associated with the Anglo-Irish, e.g. the Anglican clergyman Canon James Goodman (1828–1896) from Kerry, who interestingly had his uilleann pipes buried with him at Creagh (Church of Ireland) cemetery near Baltimore, County Cork. His friend, and Trinity College colleague, John Hingston from Skibbereen also played the uilleann pipes. Another piping friend of Canon Goodman, Alderman Phair of Cork (founder of the pipers club in Cork in the 1890s) had the pipes recovered from Creagh cemetery. They were later donated to Cork piper Michael O'Riabhaigh, who had re-established the (by then non-existent) pipers club in Cork in the 1960s.


The Museum of Piping at The National Piping Centre holds three hundred years of piping heritage. Consisting of artefacts from the rich collections of National Museums of Scotland, this is the most authoritative display of its kind anywhere in the world. An outstanding item is the chanter of Iain Dall (Blind John) MacKay (fl 1650-1740), the oldest surviving chanter of the Highland bagpipe anywhere in the world. The exhibition also shows bagpipes from Lowland Scotland and other parts of the British Isles, as well as from mainland Europe. The exhibition also features displays on bagpipe manufacture and the printing of pipe music. A fascinating film on the history, culture and music of the bagpipe completes the exhibition. The museum is wheelchair accessible. There is a lot here to appreciate for the visually impaired (providing they enjoy pipe music). Tours for groups, along with an opportunity to try to play and to hear the bagpipes are also available by arrangement. To organise an tour, please contact them by email at or by telephone on 0141 353 0220. Guests will be welcomed by a Scottish bagpiper and given a tour of The Museum of Piping. A full demonstration of the bagpipes will follow along with an opportunity to learn, play and have fun with this challenging instrument. They will happily tailor make all events to suit your groups requirements, time and budget. The National Piping Centre can provide drinks and refreshments whilst your group participates in this entertaining exercise. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : The National Piping Centre, 30-34 McPhater Street, Glasgow G4 0HW

Transport: Queen Street (National Rail) then bus (simpliCITY 6A) or 10 minutes. Subway : Cowcaddens SPT is nearby. Bus Routes : 6b, 10A, simpliCITY 6 and 6A stop nearby.

Opening Times : Monday - Thursday, 09:00 to 19:00;  Friday 09:00 to 17:00;  Saturday 09:00 to 12:00

Tickets : Adults $4.50;  Concessions / Children £2.50

Tickets Come and Try Groups : Guests 1 - 19 £165; Guests 20 - 120 £10.00 per person

Tel. : 0141 353 0220