Pipe and Tabor

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Pipe and Tabor


Pipe and Tabor
  • Wind
  • Woodwind
  • Percussion
Playing range
1-2 octaves
Related instruments
  • Tinwhistle
  • Snare drum
  • Fife and drum

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 Provenēal 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]


External links


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This site was last updated 11/18/09