Instruments Used in Traditional Irish and Scottish Music

Traditional Irish and Scottish music is generally played using the following musical instruments: the Uilleann pipes, tin whistle, flute, harp and fiddle. The concertina and button accordion came to be used in traditional music a little later on during the 19th century and the guitar was introduced in the 1930s followed by the bouzouki in the 1960s.

The Uilleann and Harp

The Uilleann pipes are a complicated instrument that can take many years to grasp and several more to fully master. This instrument is actually a type of bagpipes that have a double reed, three single reed drones and a chanter. Unlike certain other types of bagpipes, the bag is filled by squeezing a bellows and a format of these pipes has been around at least since the late 1700s.The tin whistle was a type of Irish flute that features strongly in the traditional music of Ireland and because of its popularity was even taught to school children there. The flute in the old tradition was made of wood but later this was largely replaced by metal as a more economical option.

The harp is similarly a very old instrument and in fact the Celtic harp was played in Ireland as long ago as the 10th century. The distinctive sound is a classic part of much of the country’s musical history. One of the most important instruments played in Irish music and one of the original and oldest ones is undoubtedly the fiddle, which is played somewhat differently depending on what region of Ireland you are from.


When we think about traditional music of Scotland, the bagpipes come to mind, especially the famous Great Highland Bagpipe. There have been several different types of bagpipes played in traditional Scottish music and they are famously played at many events and activities of note, including on board ship to boost the morale of men sailing off to fight, as well as other ceremonial occasions. Bagpipes are commonly played in Scotland today and anywhere the Scots are to be found around the globe!

Other Instruments

However, other musical instruments were also used in traditional Scottish music, including the Scottish fiddle. The fiddle arrived in Scotland around the 17th century and there were some regional variations in how the fiddle was played. Presently there are still fiddle festivals every year celebrating the enduring popularity of this iconic instrument, and the many tunes developed and published in Scotland dating back as far as the 18th century also use it. The popularity of the fiddle in Celtic music remains to this day and has seen a resurgence in the mainstream.

Other instruments that were used to play in Scottish traditions included the Clarsach. The Clarsach is a harp and one of the oldest musical instruments that one can find. There is evidence to suggest that the harp was being played as early as 2300 BC in Scotland and was in fact the main musical instrument that was played in Gaelic courts and often used in churches. In later years it was replaced by the bagpipes as the national musical instrument of Scotland. Many of the instruments used to play traditional Irish and Scottish music are still very much a part of that culture, giving a distinctive sound to the music of each region.