The Bagpipes

While the ancient Scot loved to play the Scottish harp Clarsach and the violin, the former for chamber music and the latter for fast reels, strathpeys and light dances, yet the pipe was too used for the same purpose.

The Plob-Mhor or great Highland Bagpipe is pre-eminently the national instrument not only of the Highland man but of all Scotland. All Scottish regiments whether Highland or Lowland have pipes. In the British Isles there were various forms of the bagpipe in use (1)The Lowland or Northumbrian Bagpipe, (2)The Irish Union (or Willeann) pipes, (3) The Piob-Mhor, or the great Highland Bagpipe.

Of these three the Highland bagpipes are the only ones blown by the mouth. The wind for others are supplied by the bellows fastened underneath the arm of the performer. Some of these instruments had a much greater compass then the Highland Bagpipe, and some had a sweeter tone, but all lacked the stirring and warlike sound of the Piob-Mhor.

This instrument is the type used by the pipers today. Its stirring strains have through the years carried the Scots to greater heights in battle, and the piper has always held a prominent position in the life of the Clan. Just who first played the bagpipe and how it got into Scotland has been a matter of great argument for and conjecture for hundreds of years. Most authorities agree it was brought to Britain by the Romans.

Ancient Roman coins found in Italy and in England depict pipers on one side of them and ancient Grecian and Roman sculpture show pipers using a primitive type of bagpipe.

In England too there are ancient carved and sculpted figures of pipers in the old churches, some of them making a joke of the pipes.

In the Lincoln Cathedral, for instance, we see a stained window, representing a piper holding a squalling cat under his arm while he has the tail in his mouth.

The picture of a monley blowing the instrument can be seen at St John’s Church Cirencester; while at Bolston parish church there is depicted an orchestra of bears, one of which is a p erformer of the pipes.

In Scotland itself are several paintings of the Highland warpipe as we know it today, with of course some changes.


The drum is an ancient instrument of Eastern origin, where it was originally used for communication. In clan warfare, bagpipes only served as martial music. When Highland regiments were formed during the early part on the 19th century, the military role of the drums was combined with the traditional one of the bagpipes. Thus was created the forerunner of today’s sophisticated pipe band.

Today, three basic sizes of drums are used. The Bass, which is usually carried on the chest, struck by padded mallets and given the awesome task of keeping a steady tempo. The Tenor, pitched and octave above the Bass, is also struck by mallets, but with great dexterity and showmanship and carried on one leg. The Snare or side drum is struck by sticks and is used to provide obbligato patterns and octave above the Tenor drums.

Each individual competitor is judged on a variety of qualities and talents what when all combined will make the playing of his instrument sound pleasing to the ear of the listener. Each player has an individual style, and this style must please the judge before he can win the prize. The competing drummer will be accompanied by a piper, but only the drummer is judged. He may play only a march, or will play a series of musical pieces that will increase in speed the technical difficulty. This will be heard in the higher amateur grades, and in the opening drumming, and is called the March Stathspey, and Reel competition.