Welsh bagpipes

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Welsh Bagpipe (single-reed type) made by John Glennydd

Welsh bagpipes (Welsh: pipa cŵd, pibau cŵd, pibgod, cotbib, pibau cyrn, chwibanogl a chod, sachbib, backpipes, bacbib) refer specifically to a bagpipe; the generic term pibau (pipes) which covers all woodwind instruments is also used) have been played, documented, represented or described in Wales since the fourteenth century. A piper in Welsh is called a pibydd or a pibgodwr.


Welsh Bagpipe (double-reed type) made by Jonathan Shorland.
Huw Roberts playing a pibgorn, Welsh hornpipe made by Jonathan Shorland

In 1376, the poet Iolo Goch describes the instrument in his Cywydd to Syr Hywel y Fwyall.[1] Also, in the same century, Brut y Tywysogion ("Chronicle of the Princes"), written around 1330 AD, states that there are three types of wind instrument: Organ a Phibeu a Cherd y got ("organ, and pipes, and bag music").[2] Continuous use of the instrument has since waxed and waned in popularity according to musical fashions. Pipe making has historically been localised and idiosyncratic, and piping since the sixteenth century has generally been employed in celebratory or public roles such as weddings, markets, or dances.[3]

"Mabsantau, neithioirau, gwylnosau, &c, were their red-letter days, and the rude merrimaking of the village green the pivot of all that was worth living for in a mundane existence. I do not remember much about the Gwylmabsant and the Gwylnos - I came a quarter of a century too late for those wonderful orgies - but I remember the neithior with its all-day and all-night rollicking fun. We did not have the crwth, but we had the fiddle, and occasionally the harp, or a home-made degenerate sort of pibgorn. I myself am a tolerable player on the simplified bibgorn." [4]

No undisputed examples of Welsh bagpipes remain; there is a "double pibgorn" with the numbers "1701", found in Northern Wales that appears to have been once installed in a bag.[5] However, said instrument is absolutely unique in the British Isles, and strongly resembles Arabian or North African bagpipes, leading some to conclude it may not be Welsh at all.[6][7] Aside from that one piece of possible physical evidence, there are also sixteenth-century sketches of a Welsh bagpipe in the British Museum.[8]


The Welsh Academy in 2008 noted that "[i]t is unlikely that there was ever a single standardized form of bagpipe in Wales".[9] Today there are two types of bagpipe made and played in Wales. One species uses a single-reed (cal or calaf) in the chanter (Welsh: llefarydd, see image top right), and the other uses a double-reed (see image on right). The single-reed chanter is also furnished with a cow-horn bell. Both types of chanter may also be played un-attached to the bag; the single-reed type in the form of a hornpipe (Welsh: pibgorn pl:pibgyrn, see image below right), and the double-reed type in the form of a shawm. The double-reed type is characteristically louder, and can over-blow a few notes in the upper register. The single-reed type plays only an octave. The bagpipes may be drone-less or furnished with drones (byrdwn) via the bag (cwdyn).

The single-reed chanter is drilled with six small finger-holes and a thumb-hole giving a diatonic compass of an octave. Modern examples are generally pitched in D Major, or D Mixolydian; but historical instruments give a variety of pitch as well as musical modes. The double reed chanters come in a variety of pitches, and some of the instruments may be cross-fingered to give different modes. Some have a semi-tone leading note at the bottom of the instrument, others give a whole tone leading note.

Repertoire on both is contiguous with minor adaptations necessitated by the limitations of each particular instrument.

Modern pipes[edit]

Contemporary pipe makers in Wales base their chanters on measurements of extant historical examples of the pibgorn. Some of these instruments, dating from the eighteenth century, are on display at the Museum of Welsh Life. A single-reed type pipe with a drone attached via the bag is called the pibau cyrn. A notable player of these pipes is Ceri Rhys Matthews. Makers include John Glennydd from Carmarthenshire and John Tose from Pembrokeshire.[10]

Other makers such as Jonathan Shorland from Cardiganshire have based the chanters of their idiosyncratic double-reeded pipes on measurements of the chanters of the Breton veuze, the Great Highland Bagpipe chanter, the Galician gaita chanter, the Breton bombarde, as well as historical descriptions, drawings and carvings of bagpipes in Wales. These may be furnished with one, two, or three drones. No standardisation is employed in the making of contemporary bagpipes in Wales.[11] Shorland is also a significant maker of pibgyrn.

There are three Great Highland Bagpipe bands in Wales: The City of Newport Pipe Band, The City of Swansea Pipe Band and the Cardiff Pipe Band. A recent development of piping in Wales has been the use of imported Breton veuze and Galician gaita on which Welsh repertoire is played. These standardised foreign instruments have enabled a nascent marching pipe-band to be formed.


Welsh pipe groups and bands include Pibau Pencader, Pibe Bach and Pibau Preseli. Welsh folk groups using bagpipes include Fernhill and Carreg Lafar. Ceri Rhys Matthews and Jonathan Shorland have recorded pipe music using different types of Welsh bagpipes called pibau on Fflach records.


  1. ^ Henry Lewis, Thomas Roberts ac Ifor Williams (gol.), Cywyddau Iolo Goch ac Eraill, 1350-1450 (Bangor, 1925; ail arg. Caerdydd, 1937)
  2. ^ Harper, Sally. "Instrumental Music in Medieval Wales." North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Vol. 3, no. 1. Flint, MI: North American Association for the Study of Welsh Culture and History, 2004.
  3. ^ THE HISTORY OF THE VALE OF NEATH by D. RHYS PHILLIPS Facsimile Edition West Glamorgan County Archive Service and Neath Borough Council 1994
  4. ^ A glossary of the Demetian dialect of North Pembrokeshire : with special reference to the Gwaun valley by W. Meredith Morris. Tonypandy : Evans and Short, 1910
  5. ^ Stuart Piggott; John M. Coles; Derek Douglas Alexander Simpson (1968). Studies in ancient Europe: essays presented to Stuart Piggott. Leicester U.P. p. 343. 
  6. ^ Anthony Baines (1979). Bagpipes. Pitt Rivers Museum. p. 41. 
  7. ^ Theodor H. Podnos (1974). Bagpipes and tunings. Information Coordinators. p. 48. 
  8. ^ Anthony Baines (1967). Woodwind Instruments and Their History. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 223–. ISBN 978-0-486-26885-9. 
  9. ^ John Davies; Nigel Jenkins; Menna Baines (2008). The Welsh Academy encyclopaedia of Wales. University of Wales Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6. 
  10. ^ http://www.bagpipesociety.org.uk/en/bagpipe-guide/#welsh-pibgorn-pipes
  11. ^ http://www.bagpipesociety.org.uk/en/bagpipe-guide/#welsh-veuze-pipes

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