British Folk Music Instruments

Scottish pipe band marching on the grass - blur image by Elnur from

A wide variety of folk instruments are still played in Britain, used in both traditional and modern settings.

For example, the folk band "Fairport Convention" has evolved from folk to folk rock to more standard rock, but still uses traditional instruments like the fiddle--including its updated version, the electric fiddle. Folk music is used for dancing, to maintain regional character and for the sheer joy of playing instruments that have been around for centuries.

Scottish Bagpipes

While there are dozens of different types of bagpipes around the world, one style, the Great Pipes, is very typically Scottish. A whole body of music, "piobaireachd," has grown up around the bagpipes. Bagpipe players use an air vent to inflate a leather bag held under the armpit, then produce sound with two single-tone drones and a chanter which is equipped with holes for note-fingering. The Great Pipes of Scotland originated as an instrument of war, and during the 18th-century Jacobite uprising were even classified as weapons. Yet when used in regiments and bands, their haunting sound is readily associated with Scotland.


The recorder, often the first instrument of a British schoolchild, is a cylindrical instrument with seven holes for fingering notes, a hole at the back to change tone, a mouthpiece and an internal duct. Recorders have been around at least since medieval times, but their predecessors may date back thousands of years more. Recorders are made in either wood or cheaper plastic versions, and come in a variety of sizes, associated with a tonal range. For example, there are tiny soprano recorders and huge bass models.

Celtic Harp

Concert harps evolved from their earlier cousins, the smaller Celtic harps or clarsach. The Irish band "The Chieftains" uses clarsachs together to create its distinctive harmonies. The Celtic sound has a more metallic-sounding tone than concert harps, though its strings are usually made out of nylon. The original clarsachs had wooden bodies and brass strings. Celtic harps do not have pedals but use levers to change key and come in different sizes. In their smallest form, you can place them on your lap for playing.