Musical Instruments

We use the following musical instruments to accompany the dancers:


The Melodeon was developed from the Harmonica and other primitive free reed instruments early in the 19th century, in the border area between Saxony and Bohemia. The Abbe Georg Josef Vogler had a role in introducing the concept of the free reed principle to Europe and by his death in 1814 many prototype instruments were being made with a variety of names and shapes. The earliest instrument is said to be the Aeolidicon made by Eisenach in Hamburg in 1800. The Harmonica itself is said to have been perfected by Buschmann in 1821. The fingering system is still basically the same today, very similar to a Harmonica on the right hand, with a different note on the push & pull of the bellows, and bass notes and chords on the left hand. The instrument has a naturally rhythmic sound, and has been absorbed into traditional music worldwide.


Shepherd's Bagpipes

This bagpipe is in the style of the bagpipe design that was used in our region.The  bagpipe consists of a chanter, which is something like a small shawm, and one drone,  so the drone plays only one note. Chanter and drone  are plugged into stocks (bits of wood with holes drilled in them). The stocks are sewn into a sealed leather bag, which is made airtight with the application of seasoning compound, so that air can escape only through the stocks, and therefore through the drones and chanter. (Don't ask what goes into seasoning compound. You don't want to know). Another stock houses the blowpipe. When the piper blows into the blowpipe, the bag inflates. When it's fully inflated, a little more lung pressure will start chanter and drone sounding together. That's the reason for plugging them all into the same bag - ingenious, eh?

The piper begins by tuning the drone. He does this by sliding bits of it in and out to make it longer or shorter, until it is perfectly in tune with the chanter. Now he fingers the holes on the chanter, and you get some tunes with drone accompaniment. When the piper runs out of breath, he stops blowing and squeezes the bag with his arm, still playing the chanter. The blowpipe has a simple valve (just a leather flap, but it works), which stops air being pushed back out of the blowpipe, so the sound just keeps going by arm pressure until the piper has breathed in and is ready to start blowing again.

The bagpipe was a an instrument to be heard at weddings, funerals and parties in combination with the fiddle before the time of the accordion and melodeon.


Primitive bowed instruments of many types exist around the world and some are still widely used, but the modern Violin first appeared in Italy in the early 16th century. Well known early fiddle makers include Guarneri, Amati and Stradivari. The modern classical violin has a longer neck and fingerboard, and a greater neck angle than the original baroque design, in order to provide more volume. Many early violins were modified in the early 1800s to match the requirements of the new design, and can be identified by the grafting on of a new neck.

 The top and back are carved out from solid wood. The top is spruce and the back, sides and neck are generally from sycamore. The bassbar is an integral and tonally important part of the top. The soundpost is fitted about 1/4" behind the treble foot of the bridge and connects the front and back of the instrument acoustically in a way that shapes the sound considerably. The most popular type of sycamore used in violins has a curl in the grain which shows up as a flame effect. The edges of the body are almost always inlaid with a band of purfling. Copies and originals of the Italian maker Maggini will have two separate purflings.


The Mandolin evolved from earlier lute family types of fretted instrument, in Italy during the last century, and reached a peak in popularity around 1895. Most of these examples were made in Naples, and the Neapolitan style has a deep bowl back constructed from thin ribs of wood.

In the late 19th century, American instrument makers developed the flat backed style. Gibson's carved models, and Martin's flat tops are the best known of these. These designs give a more open sound, which projects well, and they also have the advantage of being much more comfortable to hold. Most modern styles of playing use these flat back instruments.  


The bassoon] is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor clefs, and occasionally the treble. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral and  concert band music we use it in our folk band to add colour in the lower register. The bassoon is a non transposing instrument known for its distinctive tone colour, wide range, variety of character and agility. Listeners often compare its warm, dark, reedy timbre to that of a male baritone voice. [


Hurdy Gurdy  

The hurdy gurdy is a stringed instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. The wheel functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on the instrument sound similar to a violin. Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents (small wedges, typically made of wood) against one or more of the strings to change their pitch. Like most other acoustic stringed instruments, it has a soundboard to make the vibration of the strings audible.
Most hurdy gurdies have multiple drone strings, which give a constant pitch accompaniment to the melody, resulting in a sound similar to that of bagpipes. 

  • trompette: the highest-pitched drone string that features the buzzing bridge
  • mouche: the drone string pitched a fourth or fifth below the trompette
  • petit bourdon: the drone string pitched an octave below the trompette
  • gros bourdon: the drone string pitched an octave below the mouche
  • chanterelle(s): melody string(s), also called chanters or chanter strings in English
  • chien: (literally "dog"), the buzzing bridge
  • tirant: a small peg set in the instrument’s tailpiece that is used to control the sensitivity of the buzzing bridge

Frame Drum

A frame drum is a drum that has a drumhead diameter greater than its depth. Usually the single drumhead is made of rawhide or man-made materials. Shells are traditionally constructed of bent wood (rosewood, oak, ash etc.) scalf jointed  together; plywood and man-made materials are also used. Some frame drums have mechanical tuning and on many the drumhead is stretched and tacked in place. It is the earliest skin drum known to have existed. Examples are found in many places and cultures. It has been suggested that they were also used to winnow grain.

Frame drums are one of the most ancient types of musical instruments. They have a simple structure with strong spiritual and entertaining effects. They are usually round, made of wood with animal skin and sometimes metal rings or plates incorporated into the drum to provide jingle. They have different sizes; the larger drums are played mainly by men in spiritual rituals and medium size drums are played mainly by women.

Bass Drum  

The drums are typically between 16" and 32" in diameter, but some groups have used bass drums as small as 13" and larger than 36". The drums in a bass line are tuned such that the largest will always play the lowest note with the pitch increasing as the size of the drum decreases. Individually, the drums are tuned higher than other bass drums (drumset kick drums or orchestral bass drums) of the same size, so that complex rhythmic passages can be heard clearly and articulated.

Unlike the other drums in a drumline, the bass drums are generally mounted sideways: the two drumheads don't point up and down, but left and right. This results in several things. First of all, to ensure that a vibrating membrane is facing the audience, bass drummers must face the end-zone (outdoor groups usually march on a football field; indoor groups in a gym: in either case, the drum head still points toward the audience) and so are the only section in most groups whose bodies do not face the audience. Consequently, bass drummers usually point their drums at the back of the bass drummer in front of them, so that the drum heads will all be lined up, from the audience's point of view, next to one another in order to produce optimal sound output.  


The most common whistles today are made of brass tubing, or nickel plated brass tubing, with a plastic mouthpiece. Generation, Feadóg, Oak, Acorn, Soodlum's (now Walton's), and other brands fall in this category. The next most common form is the conical sheet metal whistle with a wooden stop in the wide end to form the fipple, the Clarke's brand being the most prevalent. Other less common variants are the all-metal whistle, the PVC whistle, the Flanna square holed whistle, and the wooden whistle.

Gaining popularity as a folk instrument in the early 19th century in the Celtic music revivals, penny whistles now play an integral part of several folk traditions. Whistles are a prevalent starting instrument in English traditional music,also in Scottish and Irish traditional music, relatively easy to start with (no tricky embouchure such as found with the flute), and the fingerings are nearly identical to those on the traditional six holed flute (Irish flute, baroque flute). The tin whistle is a good starting instrument to learn the uilleann pipes, which has identical finger technique, notes and music. 


We use a variety of rattles, bells, goats toenails, tambourines and bell sticks.