Scotland boasts a rich piping heritage but it is the great Highland bagpipe with which most people are familiar.
Scotland’s national instrument, the iconic bagpipes, is still hugely popular. From buskers on the street to pipe bands parading through Scottish towns and cities, you are certainly likely to hear the unmistakable sound of the bagpipe in Scotland before you see them!
Today the bagpipes are used in military and regional pipe bands, to entertain at ceilidhs and in folk bands and solo performances. They are also commonly used to accompany Scottish Highland dancing.
Bagpipe music has deep roots in the Gaelic culture of Scotland and there are roughly two main styles of music played on the bagpipes, Ceòl Mór and Ceòl Beag, which in Gaelic means ‘big music’ and ‘little music’.
Ceòl Mór refers to the pibroch, which is considered the classical music of the bagpipe. Pibrochs tend to be slow, stately and complex, lasting several minutes long. Ceòl Beag refers to dance tunes such as reels, jigs, strathspeys and slow airs.
Traditionally, bagpipe music was taught orally using a technique called the canntaireachd, which means ‘chanting’ in Gaelic. Notes on the bagpipe were indicated by singing certain vowels and consonants. Although it is less commonly used today, canntaireachd is a spectacular form of singing and some Gaelic singers such as Rona Lightfoot will sing canntaireachd during performances.
Other Scottish pipes include the Border pipes, the smallpipes and reel pipes, which are smaller than the great Highland bagpipes, and bellows-blown, similar to the Irish Uillean pipes.
You can uncover the fascinating history and culture of bagpipes at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. There are also plenty of events around Scotland which will showcase bagpipes, in particular, the annual piping festival Piping Live! and the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow and the Edinburgh Millitary Tattoo.