What Are the Different Types of Pipe Band Music?

Angela Farrer

The different types of pipe band music are traditional Scottish folk tunes, Irish dances, and military marches. Music pieces such as suites are also sometimes written for pipe and drum bands, and these selections often draw inspiration from other kinds of cultural music traditions. Since each section of pipers and drummers plays a different melody or harmony, some pieces of pipe band music are also created with specific pipe bands in mind. One particular Scottish pipe band may have more variety in its drum section that allows for more flexibility in terms of music. Some pipe bands who perform concerts in auditoriums may play contemporary pieces that require additional types of instruments.

Pipe Band music can be set to tunes from the Scottish Highland.
Pipe Band music can be set to tunes from the Scottish Highland.

Pipe band music performed while marching in formation is usually a set of tunes from the Scottish Highland or Irish musical traditions. Civilian and military pipe bands frequently have similar repertoires along with the same distribution of instruments. Both of these groups traditionally play pipe band music that leaves much of the melodies and harmonies to the bagpipe sections with the drummers providing most of the backing rhythms. These rhythms can have various levels of complexity according to the numbers of tenor, snare, and bass drums in a given band. Songs designated pipe band marches are usually noted for their solemnity and stateliness.

Traditional folk tunes and military marches are common types of pipe band music.
Traditional folk tunes and military marches are common types of pipe band music.

More upbeat types of pipe and drum music include folk songs such as jigs, reels, and certain dance pieces known as strathspeys that are distinguishable by their expressive note dynamics. A strathspey is similar in tone and rhythm to a traditional Scottish hornpipe dance tune. Each of these pieces is normally written to showcase the musical intricacies of the pipes that are often challenging to master. Complicated pipe melodies that are played with skill provide a unique listening experience with each piece of pipe band music.

Some modern pipe band pieces borrow musical ideas from cultures other than those of Scotland or Ireland. Pipe and drum bands are also part of the musical histories of certain Middle Eastern cultures, though often with different patterns of melody, harmony, and rhythm. Some composers who write pieces for pipe and drum bands incorporate some of these influences such as the use of a technique known as counter-melody. This music pattern creates a closer blend of melodic and harmonic parts that the bagpipe musicians share rather than play as separate sections. Counter-melody suites for pipe bands are frequent choices for concerts rather than parade performances.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I've heard pipe bands play some popular tunes, and it sounds pretty funny to hear "Louie, Louie" on bagpipes. But they do it. It's hilarious to hear. I always enjoy their ingenuity.


Pipe band music also frequently includes hymns. Since a lot of Western hymns have their origin in the British Isles, they're often well suited for pipes of any kind.

In fact, some popular hymns, like "Morning Has Broken" is set to an old Irish tune, while "Be Thou My Vision" is an old Irish hymn in its own right.

In the United States (and elsewhere, I'm sure), every pipe band plays "Amazing Grace." I heard it numerous times at funerals for police officers and firefighters after Sept. 11, 2001. It was everywhere.

Post your comments
Forgot password?