Scottish and Northumbrian Smallpipes

Smallpipes are another style of bagpipe found in the border region of Scotland and England.  These petite instruments were bellows-blown and have narrow cylindrical chanter bores, making them ideal for use in domestic settings, to provide music for dancing, and to play with fiddle.  Although at first glance these instruments may look similar, there are two distinct styles of small pipe: Northumbrian and Scottish.

Scottish Smallpipes

Scottish small pipes are distinguished from Northumbrian pipes by their chanters.  A Scottish smallpipe has an open ended chanter with no keys, while the Northumbrian pipe chanter has a closed end and later chanters had multiple keys.  Chanters with open ends play continuously with no silences or ‘rests,’ unlike a closed chanter that can play rests.  This allows the Northumbrian piper to play in a staccato style while the Scottish smallpiper plays in a legato style.

Keys were added to Northumbrian chanters around 1800 by makers such as Robert Reid of North Shields.  The addition

Northumbrian chanter with closed end

of keys allowed players to extend the number of notes the instrument could play, making them . Seven keys are common but there are chanters with up to 14 keys.

Additional drones were added to the Northumbrian pipes to enable the piper to play in different keys.  Although an instrument may have up to five drones, only three would be played at a time, with the other two drones stopped. The drones have tuning beads at the top which were used to change the pitch of the drones to match the .  This flexibility allows the Northumbrian pipe to be an amazingly versatile and refined bagpipe.

Northumbrian Pipes with four drones and 10 keys