Northumbrian Smallpipes

The Northumbrian smallpipes (also known as the Northumbrian pipes) are bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England. In a survey of the bagpipes in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, the organologist Anthony Baines wrote: It is perhaps the most civilized of the bagpipes, making no attempt to go farther than the traditional bagpipe music of melody over drone, but refining this music to the last degree.

The instrument consists of one chanter (generally with keys) and usually four drones. The cylindrically-bored chanter has a number of metal keys, most commonly seven, but chanters with a range of over two octaves can be made which require seventeen or more keys, all played with either the right hand thumb or left little finger. There is no overblowing employed to get this two octave range, so the keys are therefore necessary, together with the length of the chanter, for obtaining the two octaves.

The Northumbrian smallpipe's chanter having a completely closed end, combined with the unusually tight fingering style (each note is played by lifting only one finger or opening one key) means that traditional Northumbrian piping is staccato in style. Because the bores are so narrow, (typically about 4.3 millimetres for the chanter), the sound is far quieter than most other bagpipes.

A detailed account of the construction of Northumbrian smallpipes written by William Alfred Cocks and Jim F. Bryan was published in 1967 by the Northumbrian Pipers' Society; it was very influential in promoting a revival of pipemaking from that time. This is now out of print, however. Another description, by Mike Nelson, is currently available at

Read more about Northumbrian SmallpipesEarly Development, Chanter, Drones, Repertoire, Playing Style, Recordings

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... Scottish Smallpipes are distinguished from the Northumbrian smallpipes by having an open end to the chanter, and usually by the lack of keys ... 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 ...
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