It is not known when the first Northumbrian pipes were played in their native region. The principal characteristics of the Northumbrian instruments are the bellows and the method of mounting the drones—the common stock. The drones are a straight tube, made in two parts, and a single reed. Northumbrian smallpipes also have a chanter with a stopped end—this is almost unique amongst bagpipes world-wide. Mouth-blown bagpipes of various types are recorded throughout the Middle Ages in most parts of England. The first known treatise on musical instruments , mentions only mouth-blown bagpipes. The first bellows-blown instrument appears in a much-quoted publication of Praetorius. It was probably about the middle of the 16th century that bellows-blown pipes first appeared. They were most likely imported from the Low Countries or Germany, almost simultaneously appearing in England, the Scottish Lowlands, and Ireland. As noted above, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Northumbrian pipes is having all their drones mounted in a common stock, and this feature is also thought to have been introduced from the Low Countries or Germany where now-extinct pipes had this form at about the same time as bellows.
Northumbrian Smallpipes Information and FAQs
The Northumbrian smallpipes also known as the Northumbrian pipes are bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England , where they have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than years. 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 smallpipes' 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. Bryan  was published in 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.
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Unique amongst British bagpipes in having a chanter that is closed at one end, and related to the French Musette de Cour from which it probably derives, NSPs have a characteristic staccato sound and remain strongly rooted in the music and traditions of the North-East of England. Played with closed fingering only one sound hole uncovered at a time , NSPs are bellows blown, have up to four drones worn across the chest, and employ a number of keys to extend the range and to enable accidentals. They come in a variety of pitches, have a rich and unique repertoire and their singing quality lends them to slow airs as well as crisp hornpipes. We are settling into our new website, including making available articles from our thirty year history. If you spot something inaccurate, garbled or missing, or if you want to volunteer to help us improve our site, please mail info bagpipesociety. Join Renew Members Contact us.