Types Of Bagpipes (The Ultimate Guide)

When it comes to considering the world of bagpipes, the truth of the matter is that there have been a wide array of instruments that have been classified as being types of bagpipes in various parts of Europe as well as Asia.

However, in the Celtic region, which comprises the British Isles, it is noted that there are two primary kinds of bagpipes.

Thus, they are the Irish bagpipes (which are the elbow bagpipes or the Uillean bagpipes) and the Scottish bagpipes (which are the small border bagpipes or the Great Highlands bagpipes).

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How Many Different Types Of Bagpipes

Irish vs. Scottish Bagpipes

The most widely popular bagpipes around the world tend to be the Great Highland bagpipes. This is because they were widely used in the British Empire, which controlled many regions of the world during the nineteenth century.

The military of the English adopted the ancient method of the Scots, who were noted as applying the usage of the bagpipes during wartime for the sake of inspiration as well as intimidation.

The English went on to engage in the development of marching bands in the military. These bands would accompany the troops via the various colonies.

Consequently, there is widespread usage of the Great Highland Bagpipes even at this present time in India, Canada, Australia, the United States, Pakistan, New Zealand, Britain, and Scotland.

The bag section of the Great Highland Bagpipes fills with air as a result of the mouth of the player blowing via a blowpipe.

Then it is noted that the pressure that is derived in the left arm that is attached to the bag section directs air to make its way to the three drones as well as the melody chanter.

This left arm also controls the air. There are nine tones that can be made via the usage of the eight holes that are placed on the changer. Thus, there is a span of just one octave and one tone.

Sound emits from the bagpipes in such cases that there is the forcing of air via the application of a minuscule reed that is double-sided. It has been the traditional practice to make these reeds with the usage of a cane. But in more recent times, such reeds are also being fabricated with plastic.

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Because the pipe is blown with the mouth, there is much moisture in the air, which means the bagpipes function in a state of dampness. The pitch of the tonic notes is regarded as being close to B flat, while it is realized that there is the inclusion of a flat seventh in the scale.

As a result of the reality of the melodies being limited due to the limitation of the size of the scale for this instrument, along with the drones, the music that the bagpipes produce seems to have a mesmerizing appeal, while being highly haunting at times as well.

The historical use of these bagpipes was for the sake of playing for community dances that were held outside.

Also, the bagpipes were used to play solos, which would allow for vast permission for interpretation by individuals. Advanced players of bagpipes love the ultimate challenge of being able to play the pibroch, which is an ancient repertoire.

It is a collection of set pieces that are categorized as being mournful and slow. With this being the case, there is a need for applying thoughtful expression as well as advanced techniques.

Those who played these bagpipes in the military bands had to practice playing melodies with conformity at an undeniably high level.

As a result, the players of the bagpipes who served to play music in the military received training that was ultimately solid.

However, those playing the bagpipes for the military had to endure the frustration of not being able to apply their interpretations and expressions when playing military music.

The one who plays the Great Highland bagpipes frequently stands as he or she plays and may even pace slowly to form a minuscule circle as he or she measures his or her steps according to the beat that is produced by the music.

Then it is noted that the small border bagpipes are similar to the Great Highland bagpipes. But they are used for indoor playing and are scaled-down.

These bagpipes have a bellows that is attached to the right arm that is used to blow into.

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These bagpipes are regarded as producing a sound that has a higher level of refinement and that is dramatically quieter. These bagpipes have greatly increased in popularity in recent times among traditional groups as well as folk groups.

The pitching of these pipes is noted as being more sociable, as the keys that are used are A as well as D. This then contributes to these bagpipes being able to accommodate ensemble playing rather well.

Now in consideration of the Irish bagpipes, it is noted that the Ulilean or elbow bagpipes are very distinct from the Scottish bagpipes. There are bellows on the Ulilean bagpipes that are situated on the right arm.

The air is blown into the bellows and the air is then under the control of the bag that is perched under the left arm. When pressure is placed on the bag, there is the passage of air that is directed to the reeds that pertain to the melody chanter.

Air is also directed to up to three regulator stocks and three drones. It is noted that the regulator stocks, along with the drones, possess keys that can conduct the accompaniment of chords occasionally or constantly, based on the player’s preference and the requirement of the piece of music that is being played.

The inner wrist that pertains to the right hand is used for the sake of playing the regulator keys. During this process, fingers are used to play the chanter. Therefore, it is evident that there is a need for excellent coordination to achieve this.

The player places himself or herself in a forward position on a seat. Then on the right thigh, there is the placement of the melody chanter’s open end. The melody chanter remains in place and closes with good efficiency while there is the covering of the eight holes.

Then it is realized that there is the production of notes when fingers are lifted from the holes on the chanter. Also, the most tonic note is derived when the end of the chanter is removed from the leg of the player and when all the holes remain covered with the fingers.


We do note a key distinguishing factor when it comes to Irish bagpipes and Scottish bagpipes. The chanter of the Scottish bagpipes remains open at all times, which results in a continuous melody.

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But the chanter of the Irish bagpipes is mostly closed, which allows for the stopping of the sound, which is not easy to perceive due to the subtlety.

Due to the permitting of a widely diverse technique for fingering, it is possible to conduct a greater selection of ornamental effects as well as melodic options with the Irish bagpipes.

Moreover, the chanter of the Irish bagpipes offers two complete octaves. In addition, there is the placement of many keys. This means that it is possible to play these bagpipes in a chromatic fashion, which indicates that the bagpipes will coordinate with all the black and white notes that are present on a keyboard.

Which One Is Better?

It is difficult to indicate which type of bagpipes are better. This is based on the reality that each person will have his or her preference regarding the types of bagpipes.

Also, the effect that one desires to achieve will determine what kind of bagpipes are better.

For example, the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes are mournful and, thus, are used in military bands and commemorating those who have given their lives in war.

The small border pipes can be used indoors, and are regarded as being Scottish bagpipes, which give more notes and a sweeter tone.

If someone is craving a sweeter sound from bagpipes that seems more orchestra-like and if someone is craving a wider range of notes, then the Irish bagpipes are the right selection.

It is acknowledged that personal preference and the desired effect that one hopes to achieve will determine which are the best bagpipes for a particular scenario.

Which Type of Bagpipes Are Easier to Play?

The bagpipes that are likely regarded as being the easiest to play are the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes This is because they only offer nine notes. Hence, there are not as many notes to master.

The other smaller Scottish bagpipes and the Irish bagpipes require the mastery of more notes and more coordination, which can make them more difficult to play. Learn more.

If you’re interested in the best bagpipe to start with click here.

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