Pipe and tabor: Wikis

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Pipe and Tabor
Playing range
1-2 octaves
Related instruments

Pipe and Tabor is a pair of instruments played by a single player, consisting of a three-hole pipe played with one hand, and a portable drum played with the other.

The drum hangs on the performer's left elbow or arm, leaving the hands free. The right hand beats the drum with a stick to mark the rhythm, while the left held and fingered the pipe with thumb and first two fingers. The little finger is placed under the pipe to help steady it; sometimes a small metal ring or cloth finger-sling adds support to the little finger.

The pipe is usually of wood and consists of a cylindrical tube of narrow bore (1:40 diameter:length ratio) pierced with three holes near one end, two in front and one in back. At the opposite end is a fipple or block, similar to that used in a recorder.

The range of the pipe is spread across 4 overblown registers. Therefore, the normal useful scale consists entirely of overblown harmonics: the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th of the harmonic series, which are easily obtained. Semitones may be produced by half-stopping the holes. Four notes can be produced without overblowing, but these are rarely used.

Tabor pipes are found in different sizes, and as a result, different pitches. The smallest of the family is the Picco pipe, while the largest is the Fujara.


Early descriptions

As depicted by Michael Praetorius

Mersenne mentions a virtuoso, John Price, who could rise to the twenty-second on the galoubet. Praetorius mentions and illustrates three sizes of the Stamentienpfeiff, the treble 20 in. long, the tenor 26 in. and the bass 30, the last being played by means of a crook about 23 in. long. A specimen of the bass in the museum of the Brussels Conservatory has middle C for its lowest note. The pipe and tabor are said to be of Provençal origin; it is certain that they were most popular in France, England, the Basque region of Spain, and the Netherlands, and they figure largely among the musical and social scenes in the illuminated manuscripts of those countries.[1]

Comparison with fife and drum

There is a similarity between fife and drum music and pipe and tabor. Both are combinations of flute playing in the upper register and small drums. The fife, however, is a transverse (side-blown) flute, whereas the pipe is a fipple flute. The fife requires two hands, and thus the drummer must be a separate person.

Another difference is the cultural connections. The fife and drum are associated with military marching, whereas the pipe and tabor are associated more with other forms of music.

In the drama of Shakespeare's time, clowns performed between acts, often dancing to the music of pipe and tabor[2] Into the 19th Century, the pipe and tabor was often associated with entertainments such as dancing bear acts. [3]

English tradition

In England, pipe and tabor playing survived into the twentieth century, where it was used to accompany Morris dance. It was close to extinction in the early part of the century, but a revival of interest occurred and the English pipe and tabor tradition remains alive.

19th Century English pipes and tabors.

Colloquially known as whittle and dub[4] (whistle and tub, perhaps a play on the term wattle and daub), the English form was a small pipe made of wood, about the size of a soprano or descant recorder. In the twentieth century the makers of Generation pennywhistles introduced an economical English tabor pipe, made of metal and with a plastic mouthpiece, like their tinwhistles. The English tabor is traditionally a shallow drum of about ten inches across, and often without a snare. It is suspended from the arm or hand that plays the pipe.

Three-hole pipes, made from bone and dating to the Middle Ages, have been found in England, and may be early forms of tabor pipe. [5] There are a number of examples of medieval taborers in buildings of the era, for example Lincoln and Gloucester cathedrals, and Tewkesbury Abbey.

European tradition

A txistu.
18th Century tambourinaire with galoubet.

Iberian Peninsula

The pipe and tabor, in various local forms, is popular in the Basque region. The txirula and txistu are three-hole tabor pipes tuned to the dorian mode.[6] The pipe and tabor (danbolin in Basque, tamboril in Spanish) is often played by groups of players in the Basque country.[7]

Aside from its importance in the Basque region, in the Iberian Peninsula the pipe and tabor remains an important part of various regional traditions.


In Provence a form of tabor pipe called the galoubet is played. Its scale begins a third below that of the English tabor pipe. The galoubet is accompanied on an exceptionally deep tabor known as the tambourin.[7]

American tradition

Latin America

From Spain, the pipe and tabor was carried to the Americas, where it continues to be used in some folk traditions.[7] The Yaqui nation in Arizona and Mexico has its "Tamboristas", and the Tarahumara in the mountains of Chihuahua play a three-hole whistle (there is no back thumb hole) made from Arundo donax Cane. The tambor used with the whistle is a large diameter, double-headed skin drum. However, its wood frame, or shell, is very narrow, perhaps to save on total weight.

United States and Canada

The revival of the English pipe and tabor occurred to some extent throughout the Anglophone world, including the United States and Canada. One of the largest manufacturers of tabor pipes today is the Kelischeck Workshop, in North Carolina, makers of the Susato line of instruments. [8]

A similar tradition existed in the United States of playing the panpipes together with a tambourine. [9]

See also


External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

An 18th Century pipe and tabor player (tambourinaire).



The pipe and tabor are two instruments played by a single player. The first instrument is the tabor, which is a small drum, and this is played with a drumstick in one hand. The other instrument is the pipe, which is a three-holed flute with a whistle mouthpiece of the same sort as on a tinwhistle or a recorder.

Playing the pipe and tabor might be seen as similar to playing a keyboard instrument, in that one hand plays the melody, while the other provides the accompaniment.

In English, the player of pipe and tabor may be called a taborer (tă'-bər-ər). The French equivalent name is tambourinaire, and the Spanish equivalent is tamborilero.


17th Century English pipe and taborer with dancers.

Medieval art provides ample illustration of the popularity of one-man pipe and tabor playing during that period. The taborer's pipe was played in the British Isles and many parts of Western Europe. Sometimes another instrument was played in place of the tabor. In France and Spain a special psaltery was tuned as drones and beaten with a stick as a sort of stringed-tabor. Others played bell, triangle, or even a second pipe in place of the tabor.

Pipe and tabor was used to accompany clown acts, dances, puppet plays, religious processions, and any outdoor occasion calling for music by a single musician. Pipe and tabor also was seen in bands, along with other instruments, from the Mediaeval period into the 19th Century.

The pipe and tabor waned in popularity as bands became more accessible, but never entirely died out. In the 20th Century the regional forms in Spain, Britain, and France resurged.

In the late 19th and early 20th Century, British folklorist Cecil Sharp helped to repopularize a national dance called morris dancing. The pipe and tabor, having been a traditional accompaniment to these dances, with the drum providing audible cues to the dancers, was revived by many morris dance sides (troupes). Some of the new taborers looked to the continent and adopted a larger form of pipe, adapting it by adding a fourth hole, so they would not need to partially cover the bottom of the instrument to get an extra low note. Others stayed with the smaller three-hole pipes. Metal versions of both were produced, the latter being made by the makers of Generation tinwhistles, and widely available inexpensively.


This treatise will focus on the playing of the English pipe and tabor, though much of the information may apply to other species of the pipe and tabor, as well. Aside from regional musical traditions, other forms of pipe vary in their scales, and other forms of tabor vary in their dimensions and in how they are held.

Playing the tabor

The tabor is suspended from the arm or, if small and light enough, may be suspended from a finger.

The tabor is often suspended from the arm of the same hand that holds the pipe, and it is beaten with the other hand. Some players use a deeper drum, and hang it from a strap around the neck or attach it to a belt. If it has a snare, the player beats on the snare side, with the snare giving a distinctive buzzing sound.

The light shell and rope-tensioned natural heads give the traditional tabor a relatively low pitch. The tabor should be affixed to the arm in such a way that it will not give problems with swinging or spinning too much, but it should not be held firmly against the body, because this will mute the sound and render an inferior tone.

It is important to practice the tabor. The job of the drumming-hand is to maintain a steady beat. Many players practice by beating with a drumstick to about any music they hear. Playing with recordings of professional musicians, regardless of the style, will teach the aspiring taborer proper rhythm.

Some styles of tabor playing are little more than beating the drum like one would clap one's hand with music. Others incorporate rolls and enhanced rhythmic patterns. It is important to listen to other drummers in order to understand what can be done with the instrument.


Drum rolls

It is quite possible to do rolls on the tabor when using an ordinary drumstick. This is accomplished by using a fulcrum effect, bouncing the head of the stick on the drumhead and the part near the rim of the tabor off the rim.

Playing the pipe

How the pipe is held.

The pipe is narrow, enabling the taborer to play all of his scales using the upper registers. Most woodwind instruments play a scale beginning with the lowest possible note, and then add more octaves by overblowing. However, as the taborer's pipe has only three holes, it is impossible to obtain the notes between the lowest four notes and the second octave. Therefore, the pipe begins its first octave at the first overblow.

The pipe is gripped, below the lowest finger hole, between the ring finger on front and the little finger on back, which leaves two fingers and a thumb completely free for playing the instrument.

The following chart shows the fingering of the pipe. Filled circles represent covered holes. Open circles represent holes left uncovered. Plus signs (+) represent overblown registers.



Some players recommend that a beginner first practice blowing the pipe at different pressures, and then learn the fingerings once comfortable with these.

With the above fingerings one can begin playing tunes. The following will provide the beginning piper with some material to practice.

Lesson One: A Carol

A pipe and taborer at Chrismas

Christmas is a time when pipe and tabor is often used, due to its merry and traditional nature. It is thus fitting to begin by learning to play a familiar carol. It may help to sing the words in your mind as you play.


Lesson Two: A Jig

It is important to play a tune through enough times to memorize it well.

This tune is one that is used by morris dancers in England.


Lesson Three: A Reel

A reel is a traditional type of tune in two parts. The A part is played a few times and then the B part a few times, alternating.


Off-site resources

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