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Scottish Bagpipes Information and FAQs


Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland. Mouth blown, with a conical chanter and 3 drones.


The Great Highland Bagpipes are the best known of several types of Scottish Bagpipe, and are very loud and powerful instruments often used in marching bands. The bag is inflated with the mouth, and there are 2 tenor drones, 1 bass drone and an open chanter usually pitched in Bb, but the music is written in A.


Piob Mhor | Scottish Smallpipes

Piob Mhor

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Definition: Translates to 'Great Pipes'.

Scottish Smallpipes

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Definition: A bellows blown bagpipe from the Scottish lowlands, related to the musette and the Northumbrian smallpipes. Now usually has a keyless conical chanter, and 3 drones.


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Bagpipes are found in the folk traditions of many parts of the world, and their origins are quite old. We sometimes can obtain other kinds of Bagpipe, such as Biniou, Gaita, Flemish, Bulgarian, Northumbrian half-long, etc. Please enquire.


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Highland Bagpipes Information

It is usual to use a Practice Chanter when learning the Highland Pipes. The practice chanter has a narrower bore than a pipe chanter, and is cheap and quiet enough for use in the home. A practice Chanter is the best way for a beginner to learn tunes, this lets you concentrate on the notes without having to worry about keeping the bag full and steady pressure going. I think you need to practice both jobs separately before you try to put it all together. So as soon as you are sure you want to continue you will need a set of pipes.

It is a different story for Irish and Northumbrian pipes. Normally you would start with a practice set of Irish, and jump straight in with a normal 7 key set of Northumbrian.


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A related instrument, the Scottish Smallpipes are bellows blown, with three drones, bag, bellows and chanter. The fingering is the same as the Highland Pipes., and in Bb, the spacing is the same too, but this is a sweet sounding quieter alternative which is very popular with Scottish pipers. They are a versatile folk instrument too, and a set pitched in D, is an ideal session instrument.


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Advice for beginners

Bagpipes can be troublesome instruments and require good care and maintenance. In time you will need to become familiar with the workings of reeds, but when your pipes are new and you are in the first stages of learning, it is best to leave the reeds well alone if at all possible. It is unwise to remove the chanter from its stock to expose the reed unless you really have to, as it is extremely easy to cause damage when reassembling.

Always ensure the chanter is supported so it can not fall out of the stock when you pick up the pipes. Dropped cracked chanters and consequently mangled reeds are not covered by the guarantee! If any of the joints should dry out and become loose, extra waxed thread can be applied, and Vaseline or cork grease to lubricate and seal. Don't overdo the thread - it should be an easy push fit.

Always keep the pipes in a case except when actually in use.

Scottish Smallpipe Reeds

By John Rutzen
  • Don't ever blow a chanter reed with the mouth. To try out a reed suck from the staple end.
  • Squeeze gently with long nose pliers at 'A'-'A' to open the reed. This makes it flatter, harder to blow and louder. A little alteration makes a big difference.
  • Squeezing gently at 'B'-'B' has the opposite effect i.e.. it makes the reed sharper, easier to blow and quieter.
  • Sometimes a bridle may come loose. It can be tightened by twisting the knot with pliers.
  • A reed that stops when increased pressure is applied on the bag is leaking, either at the sides or where it fits into the chanter. Apply beeswax paste around the joint between the reed and the chanter or nail varnish to the sides of the reed ( don't get it anywhere else!). ( beeswax paste is made by softening beeswax with genuine turpentine).
  • Squeals are caused by not having the fingers properly covering the chanter holes.

    Drone reeds
  • If a drone reed stops it is usually due to a bit of dirt between the reed and the brass body. Clean by slipping a sheet of paper between the cane and the brass and holding the reed closed while pulling out the paper.
  • If it still does not work, ease the tongue open carefully by bending it back. There should be a tiny gap between the end of the tongue and the body. It should sound a steady note when sucked.
  • Rubbing the reed with the back of a knife also helps to get it working.

Read our Full Article on Woodwind Care & Maintenance