THE great Highland bagpipe is an uncompromising musical
instrument: when the pipes sound, they speak with authority. The
three drones, resting on the left shoulder, each with their own
reed, provide bass and two tenors, which fortify and strengthen the
music from the chanter. Such a concord of sound psychologically
elevates both player and listener.
When the drones strike in, first before the chanter, the human
spirit is ready and eager to submit to its ancient magic.
There are two branches of pipe music. For hundreds of years,
until the middle of the 19th century, generally the only music
heard was Ceol Mor, "Big Music". Ceol Mor is the classical music of
the Highland bagpipe, and this branch of piping still flourishes.
Ceol Mor's repertoire encompasses salutes, gatherings, laments, and
The music known to all as "bagpipe music", however, is Ceol
Beag, or "Little Music", comprising marches, reels, strathspeys,
and general Scottish airs. The two branches, therefore, are
Ceol Mor is really what the pipes were invented for. Little
Music needs to have a strict time and rhythmical structure. Ceol
Mor is not strict in its timing or rhythmical in structure, but is
interpreted by the player.
Before you embrace the bagpipe itself, you will need to learn
the basics of piping on the practice chanter, ideal for practising
at any time because of its size and quiet nature - thus you will
avoid family conflict with either humans or pets. This chanter is
always used to learn new tunes and their embellishments, known as
Anyone seriously interested in taking up piping can garner
information relating to practice chanters, pipes, tutor books, and
CDs, etc., from the internet, where there is a wealth of practical
information. Practice chanters cost from about £40.
But, if you consider learning the pipes, seek the advice of an
established player, pipe band, or piping society. Do not seek
assistance from the general high-street music store, unless it has
a piper on the staff.
Piping has now become a worldwide phenomenon, not only in parts
of the former British Empire but, for example, in Germany, too,
where piping is now a significant musical activity. Those readers
who have heard the pipe tune Highland Cathedral, now
popularly played at weddings, may not know that it was composed by
a German piper.
Pipers are always in demand, from Burn's Night haggis suppers to
weddings, funerals, St Andrew's Day dinners, and other community
gatherings. Your first step in taking up the practice chanter could
lead to an interesting and proud future in playing the Highland
bagpipe. After I retired, I was invited to teach it at a famous
English preparatory school, from which I have just retired after 13
Should you wish to seek further advice, you may contact me at