Irish Bagpipes: The Difference Between Irish and Scottish Bagpipes

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The traditional Irish bagpipes  are called uilleann pipes. Often it was translated in old English as 'Union Pipes,' and the word translates to mean 'pipes of the elbow.' While the Irish uilleann pipes are the common name for these pipes now, there is no record of this name historically before the 20th century.

Grattan Flood invented it, and the name just stuck. At the time, the term 'Union' was mistakenly thought to refer to the 'Act Of Union' in 1800. But actually, Brendan Breathnach was the one who pointed out that in 1796 there was a poem that used this word.

Billows which are strapped around the waist and right arm allow the bag of the uilleann pipes to be inflated. When there is a left-handed player, then the strap is reversed.


The reeds are made to allow for relatively dry air to power them, and the billows help reduce the effort needed by the player to blow into the bag and maintain its pressure. This helps reduce any adverse effects moisture might have on longevity or tuning. Experienced Piper's can often sing or talk while playing.

Top 4 Irish Bagpipes for Sale on Amazon

Irish bagpipes are incredible instruments. When shopping for your new bagpipes, you will want to consider one of these four incredible options.


1) Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Upgrade Drone Set Left Hand

Left-handed musicians in the market for high-quality Irish bagpipes will want to consider this option from DanyMusic.

These bagpipes are Uilleann bagpipes and are designed to provide clear and traditional sound while still being relatively easy for musicians to play. This makes them a great option for musicians of all skill levels.

Roosebeck Ebony Uilleann Chanter w/ Keys

They come with two sets of cane reeds so that you can change out the reeds as needed without having to worry about whether or not you are going to suffer from a decrease in sound quality. Additionally, these three drone set is made from durable and gorgeous wood.

They are finished to add to the beauty of the instrument, as well as to make sure that they will last without showing signs of wear and tear or damage.

2) Brian Boru, Irish War Bagpipe, Rosewood with 5 Key Chanter

While these pipes are a little more expensive than some other options on the market, they are designed to last for a long time and to look amazing.

This is partly because they are made from a black painted Rosewood and partly because of the impressive details on these bagpipes. The silver fringe and black cord contrast beautifully with the black paint and make them pop.

Brian Boru, Irish War Bagpipe, Rosewood with 5 Key Chanter

These bagpipes don’t just look great; they also sound great. Since they come with a bagpipes practice chanter, carrying case, two chanter reeds, and synthetic drone reeds, musicians can practice and perfect their sound easily.

The synthetic bag is designed to last for a long time and to be very easy to care for.

3) Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Practice Set 3 Key Chanter Booklet

This practice set of Irish bagpipes is made from high-quality African Blackwood. It features an impressive two octaves of range from low to high D, making it great for a lot of various songs and tunes.

The chanter has three nickel keys that make it possible for musicians to play additional C, G#, and F notes, expanding the range even more.

Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Practice Set 3 Key Chanter Booklet

The included rosewood practice chanter makes it easy for you to practice music on the go, which is perfect for musicians of all skill levels.

Thanks to the synthetic design of the airbag, these bagpipes are built to last for a long time and won’t need a lot of additional care to look and sound their best. They are built for longevity and for high-quality sound.

4) Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Practice Set (Starter) with 3 Keys Chanter (African Blackwood) Uilleann Pipes

These 2019 bagpipes are designed to offer a high-quality playing experience for all musicians.

Made from Wilbert Garvin plans, they are made from African Blackwood, which is renowned for its great sound as well as its longevity. The chanter easily handles two octaves for a full and complete range of sound when playing any song.

Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Practice Set (Starter) with 3 Keys Chanter (African Blackwood) Uilleann Pipes

Because this set is handcrafted, it is higher quality than other similar options on the market. It ships with a durable carrying case for taking the bagpipes on the go as well as a bag cover, airbag, and booklet to help beginners learn how to play.

Musicians will enjoy the high-quality cane chanter reed and the unique sound that it brings to their music. Any of these great Irish bagpipes options are sure to make you sound and look great when performing. 

Start Learning Irish Bagpipes with 4 Lesson

Here are some very good Uilleann pipes lessons to start learning the bagpipes from.

1. The Davy Spillane Uilleann Pipe Tutor

2. The New Approach to Uilleann Piping

3. Bagpipe Tune Lessons Vol2

4. Bagpipes for Beginners: Study Unit 1

The 4 Most Asked Questions about Irish Bagpipes:

1) Do Irish People Have Bagpipes?

The simple answer to this question is yes. Irish people do have bagpipes. But, they are probably not like the bagpipes that come to mind when you think of bagpipes. We often think of bagpipes that are blown into.

But, Irish bagpipes are not blown into. Irish people play a type of bagpipe that is known as the Uilleann pipes. You may be thinking, aren't all bagpipes the same? While all bagpipes have something in common, they do not have all things in common.

They do not all look the same or even sound the same. These pipes are played in different ways and have a different sound. Both bagpipes played an influential role in the military, and while it is not sure how the bagpipe arrived in Europe, it is believed that the Egyptians brought them over in the early 1200s.

2) Do Irish People Play the Bagpipes?

Irish people play a type of bagpipe known as the Uilleann pipes. These pipes have a rich history in the Irish military that dates back to the early 1400s.

Bagpipes are also played at celebrations and special events. You can hear the melodies of the pipes on the streets of Ireland. The type of bagpipes played in Ireland are played differently than those played in Scotland.

They also have a softer tone. The Irish enjoy the rich sound of the Uilleann pipes so much so that they are considered the national bagpipe of Ireland.

3) What are Bagpipes Called in Ireland?

In Ireland, they play a particular type of bagpipe known as Uilleann pipes. This name originates from the term Union pipes. The Scottish referred to this type of bagpipe as a Union pipe.

The Word Uilleann comes from an Irish-Gaelic word meaning elbow pipe. The term is used because of how they are played using the elbow.

4) What is the Difference Between Bagpipes and Uilleann Pipes?

Bagpipes are comprised of a reed melody pipe and from one to five drones. The drones are supplied continuously from the bag. The player of the bagpipes plays the pipes in a standing position by blowing into the mouthpiece.

This type of bagpipe is generally played in Scotland. This type of bagpipe is usually played outdoors due to their loud, somewhat high-pitched sound.

Uilleann pipes are made up of a bag, bellows, chanter, three drones, and three regulators. The player of these pipes is seated when playing. The elbow is used to pump air into the billows. These pipes are usually played indoors. They have a quieter, softer sound than other bagpipes.

All bagpipes are woodwind instruments that use an enclosed reed that is fed from a constant reservoir of air that is held in a bag. All bagpipes have this in common.

Bagpipes also have a vibrant heritage. While the Uilleann pipe and the bagpipe are both this type of instrument, they are still very different. I guess you could say they are both very unique in their own way.

1) The Irish Bagpipe Is Different from the Other Bagpipes

Is there a person on this earth to ever ask "Do Irish play bagpipes?" I guess the answer is no! The Irish Bagpipe is different from other bagpipes, and its tone has a larger range of notes. The chanter can achieve a range of 2 full octaves and includes flats and sharps along with a blend of regulators, drones, and chanter.

The Piper's wrist action can open the regulators that have closed keys which allow a piper to play simplified chords which give a harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment. There is an assortment of ornaments that are based on single and multiple grace notes.

By resting the chanter on the player's thigh, it can also be played staccato and in this position allows the player to close the bottom hole and work the tone holes as required. The staccato effect is created by closing one hole before the next one is opened because it prevents air from escaping.

Most agree that the uilleann pipes sound quieter and sweeter than other bagpipes such as Italian Zampognas, or Highland bagpipes, or the Irish War Pipes. They are usually played indoors and while sitting down.

2) Are Bagpipes Irish or Scottish? The Difference Between Irish and Scottish Bagpipes

Let's begin the debate between Irish vs Scottish bagpipes. So are bagpipes Irish or Scottish? The short answer is the difference between Scottish Bagpipes and Irish Bagpipes is that the Irish bagpipes usually have two drones - a bass and tenor while the Scottish bagpipes have another tenor drone too.

Below Scott Duncan explained the difference between Irish and Scottish bagpipes in short video.

Admittedly, the most prominent bagpipes in the world are the Irish and the Scottish bagpipes.

Top 3 Irish Bagpipes


Buy from Amazon

Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Practice Set 3 Key Chanter Booklet

Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Practice Set 3 Key Chanter Booklet

Brian Boru, Irish War Bagpipe, Rosewood With 5 Key Chanter

Brian Boru, Irish War Bagpipe, Rosewood with 5 Key Chanter

Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Upgarde Drone Set Left Hand

Irish Uilleann Bagpipe Upgarde Drone Set Left Hand

  • The Irish bagpipes were developed in the 1700’s. The Scottish bagpipes were developed between 1500’s and 1800’s.
  • The Irish bagpipes play more than two complete chromatic octaves while the Scottish bagpipes play only one octave.
  • The Irish bagpipe is more elaborate and complex than the Scottish bagpipe. It is known to be the most elaborate bagpipe in the world.
  • However, the Scottish bagpipe is the most known bagpipe in the world.
  • The Irish bagpipe is not blown by mouth but is inflated by bellows. The Scottish bagpipe is blown by mouth.

3) Buying and Getting Started with Irish Bagpipes for Sale

You can find the three options for Irish bagpipes for sale below:

Option 1) Irish Bagpipes Practice Set

Most beginners will want to start with a set that is made for beginners. Chanter playing is not only the most difficult, but it's also the most important part of playing Irish bagpipes. 

So a beginner should start with uilleann pipes practice set.

Option 2) A Half Set

A half set is identical to a starter but includes three drones. Those beginners who can afford it will do well to make this choice. The tones can be easily switched on and off making this choice easily changed into a practice set.

When buying, however, the one disadvantage is that it cost more and often you'll have to wait longer to receive it. Usually, the drones can be purchased later. Learn more about bagpipes parts.

Option 3) A Full Set

A full set adds three regulators and includes a chanter, a bag, bellows and the drones. Regulators should normally only be used after a few years of experience with the pipes as they are only used for accompaniment. In fact, some players almost never use them, but some do use them extensively.

As you would expect, getting a full set will be considerably more expensive, and the wait to receive them will be much longer. There is also three-quarter sets available which include only the upper two regulators and not the third.

4) How to Carefully Select Your First Irish Bagpipe

4.1) Concert Pitch

D is also sometimes known as 'concert pitch' and is the most common key when using uilleann pipes. This key allows any player to play their pipes with other musicians. This key can be heard by listening to players like Patty Keenan, John McSherry, Johnny Duran, Leo Rowsome and others.

Other sets that are available are B and Bb as well as C & C#. Older Piper's often preferred the softer tones. But they make it harder to play with other Irish musicians. William Clancy, Mike O'Brien, Tommy Rick and others are associated with these types of flat sets.

Most commonly, I recommend the D set for getting started but even if you like a flat set, learning the other will be necessary if you want to play with other musicians. Beginners often improve faster when they're able to play with other musicians.

Occasionally, you might hear a more narrow bore D chanter. These sound closer to Flat sets and are quieter, but they are still different from either.

4.2) Chanter Keys

Commonly, makers will provide the option of keys for your chanter. A chanter that comes with Bb, High C, F natural, and G# have fully keyed chanters. A piper can play all the notes in a chromatic scale with a fully keyed chanter. Because most Irish melodies can be played without any of those keys, some consider them to be an optional feature.

You can, in some cases, find the option for keys that could be fitted later. C natural is a key that is more common than the others, and some makers will provide it with their practice sets. In most cases, I would not recommend it for most beginners. A stop key option is available which allows a Piper to silence the chanter while tuning the drones. It's useful but not essential.

4.3) Left Hand - Right Hand

Even if you are left handed it is my recommendation that you learn to play pipes right handed. There simply isn't a big enough advantage for getting a custom left handed set. These pipes require both hands to be used almost equally.

Having a custom-made bagpipe set means you can't even consider the second-hand market and you will pay dearly for having your set made custom. The only possible exception to my recommendation would be when the player already has lots of experience playing whistle or flute unconventionally.

Having a custom-made set means you can't even consider the second-hand market and you will pay dearly for having your set made custom. The only possible exception to my recommendation would be when the player already has lots of experience playing whistle or flute unconventionally.