Uilleann Pipes


The phrase uilleann comes from the Irish (Gaelic) phrase uille with genitive of “uilleann”, that means elbow, emphasizing using the elbow when taking part in the uilleann pipes. Nonetheless, the pipes had been initially known as “Union pipes,” the primary printed occasion of this on the finish of the 18th century, maybe to indicate the union of the chanter, drones, and regulators. One other idea is that it was performed all through a prototypical full Union of England, Wales, Eire, and Scotland. This was solely realized, nevertheless, in 1800, with the Act of Union; the identify for the bagpipe barely precedes this. Alternatively Union pipes had been definitely a favorite of the higher courses in Scotland, Eire and the North-East of England and had been modern for a time in formal social settings, the place the time period Union pipes might also originate.

The time period “uilleann pipes” got here into use originally of the 20th century. William Henry Grattan Flood, an Irish music scholar, proposed the idea that the identify “uilleann” got here from the Irish phrase for “elbow”. He cited to this impact William Shakespeare’s play The Service provider of Venice revealed in 1600 (Act IV, sc. I, l. 55) the place the expression “woollen pipes” seems. This idea originated in correspondence between two earlier antiquarians, and was adopted as gospel by the Gaelic League. The usage of “uilleann” was maybe additionally a revolt in opposition to the time period “union” with its connotations of English rule. It was nevertheless proven by Breandn Breathnach that it could be troublesome to clarify the Anglicization of the phrase ‘uillin’ into ‘woollen’ earlier than the 16th century (when the instrument didn’t exist as such) after which its adaptation as ‘union’ two centuries later. See Folks Music and Dances of Eire, Cork, The Mercier Press, 1971, p. 77. A more likely rationalization is the truth that many bagpipe luggage of that earlier kind had been constituted of goatskins which nonetheless had the fur hooked up.

Historical past

The primary bagpipes to be well-attested to for Eire had been related, if not equivalent, to the Highland pipes that are actually performed in Scotland. These are often known as the “Nice Irish Warpipes”. In Irish and Scottish Gaelic, this instrument was known as the pob mhr (“nice pipe”).

Whereas the warpipe was alive and effectively upon the battlefields of France, the warpipe had nearly disappeared in Eire. The union or uilleann pipe required the becoming a member of of a bellows below the best arm, which pumped air through a tube to the bagpipe below the left arm, with bellows. The uilleann or union pipes developed across the starting of the 18th century, the historical past of which is right here depicted in prints of carvings and photos from modern sources. At about the identical time the Northumbrian smallpipe was evolving into its trendy kind, early within the 18th century; a tutor of the 1750s calls this early type of the uilleann pipes the “Pastoral or New bagpipe.” The Pastoral pipes had been bellows blown and performed in both a seated or standing place. The conical bored chanter was performed “open,” that’s, legato, not like the uilleann pipes, which may also be performed “closed,” that’s, staccato. The early Pastoral pipes had two drones, and later examples had one (or hardly ever, two) regulator(s). The Pastoral and later flat set Union pipes developed with concepts on the instrument being traded back-and-forth between Eire, Scotland and England , across the 18th and early 19th century.

The earliest surviving units of uilleann pipes date from the second half of the 18th century but it surely have to be mentioned that datings are usually not definitive. Solely lately has scientific consideration begun to be paid to the instrument and issues relating to numerous levels of its growth have but to be resolved.


The instrument most sometimes is tuned in the important thing of D, though “flat” units do exist in different keys, similar to C, C, B and B, and some units in E have been tried. These phrases solely started for use within the 1970s, when pipemakers started to obtain requests for pipes that may be in tune with Technology tin whistles, that are stamped with the important thing they play in: C, B, and many others. The chanter size determines the general tuning; accompanying items of the instrument, similar to drones and regulators, are tuned to the identical key because the chanter. Chanters of round 362mm (14 1/four”) size produce a backside be aware on or close to D above center C on the piano (the place A=440 Hz, i.e. trendy “live performance pitch”). The trendy live performance pitch pipes are a comparatively latest invention, pioneered by the Taylor brothers, initially of Drogheda, Eire and later of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, within the late nineteenth century. Live performance pitch pipes sometimes have wider bores and bigger tone holes than the sooner “flat” pitch units, and as a consequence are an excellent deal louder, although in no way as loud because the Highland pipes of Scotland. They had been developed by the Taylors to satisfy the necessities of taking part in in bigger venues in the USA; immediately they’re the most typical kind of uilleann pipes encountered, although many gamers nonetheless choose the mellower sound of the sooner model narrow-bore pipes, which exist in pitches starting from D, by means of C, C, and B right down to B. Pipemakers earlier than the Taylors had, nevertheless, constructed live performance pitch pipes utilizing the narrower bores and smaller fingerholes of the flat pipes. A few of these devices appear to have been designed with decrease pitch requirements in thoughts, similar to A=415. The Taylors additionally constructed many devices with greater pitch requirements in thoughts, such because the Outdated Philharmonic pitch of A=453 that was commonplace in late 19th century America.

The D pipes are mostly utilized in ensembles, whereas the flat-pitched pipes are extra usually used for solo taking part in usually a fiddler will “tune down” their instrument to play with a piper’s flat set, however the inflexibility of different devices utilized in Irish music (accordions, flutes, and many others.) often disallows this. It’s noteworthy that Irish music was predominately solo music till the late 19th century, when these fixed-pitch devices started to play extra of a job. Like pipe organs, uilleann pipes are usually not usually tuned to even temperament, however fairly to only intonation, in order that the chanter and regulators can mix sweetly with the three drones. Equal temperament is nearly common with the fastened pitch devices utilized in Irish music, which might conflict with the tuning of the pipes.

Instrument variations

Beginning out The “follow set”

Due to the instrument’s complexity, starting uilleann pipers usually begin out with partial units often known as follow units.

Starter or Observe Set

A follow set consists of solely the fundamental parts of pipe bag, bellows and chanter, with no drones or regulators. The chanter is on the market in keys starting from the “live performance pitch” D chanter in half-note steps downward to a B chanter, the latter of which commonly is known as a “flat set” (as are any units under the important thing of D).

With a view to play the uilleann pipes successfully, college students should study to pump the bellows steadily whereas controlling the stress on the bag and taking part in the chanter concurrently. Due to this fact, starting college students usually play on follow units till they turn into comfy with these fundamental mechanics. Regardless of their identify, nevertheless, follow units are used not solely by starting gamers but in addition by some superior gamers once they want to play simply the chanter with different musicians, both dwell or in recording classes. In these situations, the follow units may be tuned to equal temperament if wanted.

“Half set”

A half set is the subsequent stage up from a follow set. As with different types of bagpipes, uilleann pipes use “drones”, that are mostly three pipes accompanying the melody of the chanter with a relentless background tonic be aware. The pipes are typically geared up with three drones: a) the tenor dronehe highest sounding pipe which is pitched the identical because the lowest be aware of the chanter, b) the baritone drone which is pitched one octave under that and c) the bass dronehe lowest sounding pipe, two octaves under the underside be aware of the chanter. The Pastoral pipes had 4 drones, these three plus yet one more which might play a concord be aware on the fourth or fifth interval. These drones are related to the pipe bag by a “inventory”. That is an intricately made wood cylinder tied into the bag (as some other inventory) by a thick yarn or hemp thread. The drones connect with the inventory, as do the “regulators” (see “Full Set” under). The inventory and drones are laid throughout the best thigh. That is distinct from different types of bagpipes, during which the drones are often carried over the shoulder or over the best arm.

The drones may be switched off. That is made doable by a key related to the inventory. The unique design of the inventory was a hole cylinder, with two metallic tubes working by means of it to each maintain the regulators, and independently provide air to them. Thus the regulators could possibly be performed with the drones silenced. Within the late 19th century it grew to become extra frequent to construct the inventory from a strong piece of wooden, with 5 holes bored by means of it end-to-end. This was much less vulnerable to wreck than the sooner design. The piper can be capable of change on and off varied drones individually (making use of barely extra stress to the bag and tapping the top of a drone), which is mostly used to assist in tuning (a way utilized in nearly all bagpipes which have drones) or all of them on the similar time utilizing this key. This makes the instrument extra versatile and usable not solely as a half set, but in addition to permit taking part in the chanter by itself. The drones use a single-bladed reed (the precise half creating sound), not like the double reed used within the chanter and the regulators. These drone reeds had been typically constituted of elderberry twigs up to now cane started for use within the late 19th century.

“Full set”

A full set being performed by Cillian Vallely

A “full set”, because the identify implies, is a whole set of uilleann pipes. This could be a half set with the addition of three “regulators”. These are three closed pipes, much like the chanter, held within the inventory. Just like the drones, they’re often given the phrases tenor, baritone, and bass, from smallest to largest. A regulator makes use of keys (5 on the tenor and 4 on each baritone and bass) to accompany the melody of the chanter; these keys are organized in rows to offer restricted two be aware “chords,” or, alternatively, single notes for emphasis on phrases or particular notes. The notes of the regulators, from highest to lowest (given a nominal pitch of D) are as follows: Tenor: C, B, A, G, F#. Baritone: A, G, F#, D. Bass: C, B, A, G. The tenor and baritone regulators match into the entrance face of the inventory, on prime of the drones; the bass regulator is hooked up to the facet of the inventory (furthest from the piper), and is of advanced building.

One other technique of utilizing the regulators is to play what are known as “hand chords”: when the melody (often in a slower piece of music similar to an air) is being performed on the chanter completely with the left hand, the best hand will likely be free to create extra advanced chords, utilizing all three regulators without delay if that’s the case desired. Many airs finish a piece on a G or A be aware within the first octave, at which level a piper will usually play one in all these hand chords for dramatic impact.

The problem of taking part in a melody, pumping the bellows, retaining fixed stress on the bag and taking part in the regulators on the similar time, precludes most pipers from utilizing the regulators a lot; some pipers have performed for years and years but have little skill to make use of them. Some pipe makers additionally add one other regulator with one key to play an E (a tone above the chanter’s lowest be aware); this permits an entire tune to be performed with the regulators, which was sometimes talked about in outdated accounts of pipers. Typically this E secret is added to the tenor regulator, or, extra hardly ever, the baritone. One other addition is a “double bass” regulator, giving the notes F#, E, D, under the bass regulator. The regulators use the identical double-bladed reed because the chanter. A closing occasional variant, the three-quarter set, omits the bass regulator. The pipes developed from one regulator, to 2, to a few, which grew to become a de facto normal within the early 19th century.


The chanter is the a part of the uilleann pipes that’s used to play the melody. It has eight finger holes (instance given of a D pitched chanter): Backside D, E, E, F, G, A, B, C, C, D’ (additionally known as “again D”). To attain the “backside D” the chanter is lifted off the knee, exposing the exit of the chanter’s bore, the place the be aware is produced. The chanter is ready on the best knee thus closing off the underside gap. Many gamers use a strip of leather-based positioned over the knee, known as a “popping strap,” which gives for an hermetic seal. Extra hardly ever, a easy gravity- or spring- operated flap valve hooked up to the underside of the chanter achieves the identical finish. Typically, for all different notes (apart from particular results, or to range the amount and tone) the chanter stays on the knee.

One attribute of the chanter is that it will possibly produce staccato notes, as a result of the piper seals it off on the backside; with the entire finger holes closed, the chanter is silenced. That is additionally crucial for acquiring the second octave; the chanter have to be closed and the bag stress elevated, after which fingered notes will sound within the second octave. A terrific vary of various timbres may be achieved by various the fingering of notes and in addition elevating the chanter off the knee, which supplies the uilleann pipes a level of dynamic vary not present in different types of bagpipes. Pipers who use staccato fingering usually are termed “closed-style” pipers. Those that use legato fingering extra predominately are known as “open-style” pipers. Open piping has historic associations with musicians (usually Irish travelling individuals) who performed on the road or open air, because the open fingering is considerably louder, particularly with the chanter performed off-the-knee (which might, nevertheless, result in defective pitch with the second octave notes).

A sort of simultaneous vibrato and tremolo may be achieved by tapping a finger under the open be aware gap on the chanter. The underside be aware additionally has two totally different “modes”, specifically the “smooth D” and the “exhausting D”. The exhausting backside D sounds louder and extra strident than the smooth D and is achieved by making use of barely extra stress to the bag and flicking a better be aware finger as it’s sounded. Pipemakers tune the chanter so the exhausting D is the in-tune be aware, the smooth D often being barely flat.

Many chanters are fitted with keys to permit correct taking part in of all of the semitones of the size. 4 keys will give all of the semitones: F pure, G sharp, B flat, C pure. Older chanters often had one other key for producing d3 within the third octave, and infrequently one other small key for e3, and one other for D#’ (versus the E fingerhole, which could possibly be barely off-pitch). Most uilleann chanters are very attentive to “half-holing” or “sliding”, which is the follow of acquiring a be aware by leaving a fingerhole solely half coated. Because of this many chanters offered in Eire are offered with out keys. With this method and a few follow, many pipers can precisely play the semi-tones which might in any other case require a chromatic key to be put in. The exception to that is the C pure within the second octave, which can’t be cross-fingered or half-holed, and requires the important thing. That is probably the most generally fitted key.

The chanter makes use of a double reed, much like that of the oboe or bassoon. Not like most reed devices, the uilleann pipe reed have to be crafted in order that it will possibly play two full octaves precisely, with out the nice tuning allowed by means of a participant’s lips; solely bag stress and fingering patterns can be utilized to keep up the proper pitch of every be aware. It is because of this that making uilleann pipe chanter reeds is a demanding job. Uilleann pipe reeds are additionally usually known as “the piper’s despair” for the immense issue of sustaining, tuning and particularly making the double reed of the regulators and, most significantly, the chanter.

See additionally

Varieties of bagpipes

Checklist of All Eire Uilleann pipe champions

Checklist of bagpipers

Checklist of pipe makers

Checklist of revealed bagpipe music

Checklist of nontraditional bagpipe utilization

Checklist of bagpipe know-how books

Glossary of bagpipe phrases

Tomas O’Canainn


^ Brian. E. McCandless. he Pastoral Bagpipe Iris na bPiobairi (The pipers overview) 17 (Spring 1998), 2: p. 19-28.

^ H. Cheape. The Union Pipe of Scotland and Eire: A Shared Custom. Lecture on the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Eire (2007).

^ G. Woolf hanter Design and Building Strategies of the early Makers, Sean Reid Society Journal v2 no four (2002).

Brian. E. McCandless. he Pastoral Bagpipe Iris na bPiobairi (The pipers overview) 17 (Spring 1998), 2: p. 19-28.

O’Farrell’s Treatise on the Irish Bagpipes (The Union Pipes) 1801

Exterior hyperlinks

Article on uilleann pipes.

The Irish piping group Na Pobair Uilleann (“the uilleann pipers”)

Novice recordings of the uilleann pipes

Interview with piper Brian McNamara

CraicTunes.ie – Preview & Obtain Music by Sligo uilleann piper Alan Roberts

Classes: Bagpipes | Irish folks music | Irish musical devices | Irish phrases and phrases

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