Are you fond of Scottish music? It is a genre that is enjoyed not only in Scotland but all over the world. It is described as jolly that one cannot help but tap their toes upon hearing the beat. It is a hearty sound that guarantees long hours of dancing and shared laughter. Of course, it has its fair share of serene songs that depict courtship and love.
This traditional music has distinct Scottish instruments that make the melody very unique. Are you curious to know what they are? This article has listed 10 Scottish Instruments responsible for giving its flavor. Song arrangements can include all or some of these mediums. Let’s go over them one by one in detail.
All Scottish Instruments Listed
- Highland Bagpipes
- Scottish Penny Whistle
- Scottish Tenor Drum
- Stock And Horn
1. Highland Bagpipes
Bagpipes are the National Instrument of Scotland. Whenever it is played and heard, people cannot help but think it originated from there. The actual origin of this medium is still up for debate. Some historians say it originated from Egypt. Then it was introduced to a wide scale during the prime of the Roman Empire.
As for the current structure of the Highland Bagpipe, the Scottish people have developed and influenced it. Initially, there was only one Bagpipe drone. The second and third pieces add ons were done in the late 1500s and 1700s. Aside from its role in producing entertaining music in feasts, festivals, and weddings, it also served as an instrument of war.
There were documented encounters that Bagpipes served as a war instrument. It includes the Battle of Pinkie (1549) and the Battle of Culloden (1746). This part of history widens the musical scope of the bagpipes. It is an instrument highly favored by the Scottish military.
Expert Tip: Another fun fact about the Bagpipe is the materials used to make it. The animal bladder was used in the past to make the bagpipe bag. At present, durable fabric has replaced it. The overall structure for the drone and chanters remained the same.
The fiddle is a bow stringed instrument often used in Scottish music. It is usually confused with the violin since the two have the same structure. The difference lies in the number of strings a violin has four while a fiddle has five. Switching finger positions on the fiddle is less of a hassle due to its flat-arched bridge.
It is one of the reasons why this medium is appropriate for playing folk music. There are two ways to play the fiddle. Arco using a bow and Pizzicato plucking the strings. The fiddle was introduced to Scotland courtesy of England around 1670. As a beloved instrument, the Scots have developed a variety of ways to play the fiddle.
These styles include the North East style, Shetland style fiddling, Border style, West Coast, and Highland style. Out of all these variants, the North East style is the mainstream method of fiddling.
North East style has a rich tone, difficult keys, vibrato usage, and fancy bow work. This method is quite close to classical music playing. Prominent musicians who used this technique were William Marshall, Willie Blair, J Scott Skinner, and Paul Anderson. North East bowing is very physically demanding.
The player must constantly use the bow from heel to tip.
The clarsach or Celtic harp is one of the oldest instruments in Scotland. It is a harp strung with a gut or wire that dates back to the 8th century. It is smaller in build compared to the modern Pedal Harp. Traditional Scottish music that is related to clan life is often the theme. During this era, clarsach players received high status and were revered.
These experts have a nomadic lifestyle and make a living by playing for different clans. On important feasts and occasions, they are always in attendance playing for the audience.
The Celtic harp usually accompanies singing during festivities. It has a soft and quiet sound. This instrument is fundamental in Scottish oral music tradition. The Lamont Harp and Queen Mary Harp of the 1500s are under the clarsach category.
Unfortunately, the clarsach took a slump during the Highland Clearances. The original compositions for the clarsach are now scarce.
During the early 1900s, the clarsach made a comeback. It was a challenge to learn playing it once more. Aspirants have difficulty adapting since the technique is different from the traditional harp. It requires the treble clef to be handled by the right hand, while the left will play the bass. This flipped method confuses those who try to challenge it.
The cittern was a popular plucked stringed instrument during the 16th to 18th century. It is a close relative of another stringed medium that uses a gut string, the Citole. It had an asymmetrical neck and pear-shaped body that was shallow. The part of the neck where the treble strings are attached is thicker. It had a unison of four courses of wire strings.
The cittern has two types chromatic and diatonic. The chromatic cittern can play all 12 keys but is a bit complicated to learn. The diatonic cittern is a simpler version with a few missing notes. Is it possible to play Scottish music in the diatonic variant? Based on the manuscripts from the mid-17th century it is feasible.
Tunes like Flowers of the Forest from Macalman and The Healing by Robert Edwards continue to inspire musicians up to the present. The cittern is influential to contemporary Scottish music. However, checking the records, since its appearance in the 17th century, there are compositions made for it.
Robert Edwards’ Commonplace book and the Millan/Macalman manuscripts are the two surviving cittern guides that musicians refer to frequently. Both Robert Edwards and Alexander Mackalman are of Scottish heritage.
5. Scottish Penny Whistle
The Scottish penny whistle is a woodwind instrument. It is composed of a mouthpiece and six small aligned holes. It is played by blowing air into it and varying the positions of the hands to cover the holes. The Scottish Penny Whistle is also known as the Tin Whistle. It has many names depending on the regions using it.
In Scotland, it was called as such since the cost of this instrument was a penny. At present, it now costs more, but the name got stuck to it. This instrument is also associated with Native American flute and clarinet due to its playing style. Learning this instrument does require the aspirant to have good breathing capacity.
Since the mid to late 1900s, Scottish compositions would always include this in their manuscripts. It has received global awareness during the 1960s and 1970s with the Celtic Revival. International artists like the Chieftains. Clancy Brothers and the Irish Rovers frequently included it in their compositions.
Other musicians that favor using this instrument are Andrea Corr, Sean Potts, Matt Malloy, and Tommy Makem.
Expert Tip: The enchanting melody of the penny whistle never fails to put the audience into a trance. That is why in some songs, there are portions fully dedicated to showcasing it.
The dulcitone is a keyboard instrument invented by a Scottish man named Thomas Machell of Glasgow (1864). Unlike the piano that uses strings to hammer and resonate, the dulcitone produces sounds via a range of tuning forks. To create a melody, using the keyboard, felt hammers will strike the tuning forks.
Since the sound from it is from tuning forks, the dulcitone never goes out of tune. It has a range of 5 octaves and can play 61 notes. Thomas Machell & Sons, during the late 19th to the early 20th century, manufactured this instrument.
In the 1860s, the dulcitone was initially popular due to its mobility. Compared to a piano, this musical instrument is lighter, more compact, and easier to transport. The early models have a sharp pitch. Over time it was improved by the inclusion action suspension on the leaf springs system.
It made the latest versions quieter than their predecessors. The downside of this creation is the volume it produces is limited. This weakness affected its popularity and usage.
The original patrons of the dulcitone are the missionary community. In mission fields like South Africa, this instrument plays the hymns. At present, musicians can use an amplifier to increase the sound volume of the dulcitone. This technique helps bring it back to the contemporary Scottish music scene.
7. Scottish Tenor Drum
The Scottish tenor drum is a percussion instrument widely used in Scotland during pipe band marches. This event must at least have one drum. It is not a pipe band without one. It has two heads, but only the top side is playable. During marches, the player will hit the top side with a mallet.
In big competitions, a pipe band should at least have five tenor drummers. These members often do a choreographed swing sequence that makes the performance more impressive. The sound from this percussion creates a rich texture and adds a special effect to the performance.
The Scottish tenor drum pitch is adjustable. It is tuned based on the bagpipes chanter or drone that will play alongside it. It is a favorite instrument of the military band of Scotland. One of the notable drummers that revolutionized this instrument was Alex Duthart. He introduced a virtuosic way to play this percussion.
Some of his unique techniques are performing back-sticking and stick clicking. Duthart was also famous for his creative drum salutes. His legacy inspired talented drummers like John Scullion, Jim Kilpatrick, and his very own son Drew Duthart.
The accordion is a boxed-shaped instrument that has keys and bellows. The dynamic consists of the keys are in charge of the notes and the bellows for everything else. The volume, pitch, and clarity of the accordion are dependent on the air between reeds. These are all regulated by the bellows.
Even if this medium is not of Scottish origin, it has made its way through folksongs and other traditional music. Accordions became a favorite due to their portability and fewer demands of tuning. It is a mainstay instrument during Scottish social gatherings known as a Ceilidh.
This event features a Ceilidh band that would play Gaelic folk music. The genre is an upbeat and lively tune fit for merry dancing. Thanks to its versatility and volume, every social gathering is full of life whenever it is around. There are two types of this instrument the piano and the button.
Expert Tip: A piano accordion right-hand keyboard is similar to an organ or piano. A button accordion has a series of buttons on its melody side.
In playing Scottish music, any type is suitable. Traditional musicians like the duo of Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain actively play and showcase it worldwide. Phil plays the accordion, while Aly is in charge of the fiddle.
The bodhran is a percussion instrument where its top side and sides are usable. This percussion is said to be the Celtic version of a tambourine. The material used is animal skin stretched on top of a circular frame. It is held together by a cross of wood in reverse. Unlike the drum that strictly uses sticks to play, using bare hands is acceptable.
If the musician prefers to use sticks, this instrument has an accessory called the tippers, a double-headed wooden beater. This percussion did not originate from Scotland. However, it is frequently in arrangements of Scottish folk music.
An advantage of the bodhran is it is tunable. It is more versatile in harmonizing with other instruments like a pulse or a heartbeat of the music played. The sound of this medium is slow and rhythmic that is often used in soft melodies.
10. Stock and Horn
The Stock and Horn is a traditional Scottish instrument often used by commoners. It is a woodwind instrument that consists of stock with seven holes aligned upfront and a hole located at the back. At the tip is an augmenting bell made of a horn and an oaten reed.
This structure was how Robert Burns described it in his letter to George Thomson, a music editor, and publisher. Blowing into it the finger position is essential to control the melody.