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Pipe-a-Tabor-art - 9/14/07


"Pipe and Tabor" by Hlaford (Lord) Iohann se pipere.


NOTE: See also the files: recorders-msg, p-songs-msg, instruments-msg, drums-msg, bagpipes-msg, trumpets-msg, music-lnks, Bardic-Guide-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at



Pipe and Tabor

by Hlaford (Lord) Iohann se pipere

The pipe and tabor first appeared in southern France and northern Spain during the time of the troubadours and trouvères (c. 1100 – c. 1300) and is still played there today.  Three such pipes were found during the excavation of the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545, but the oldest surviving tabor pipe is a Polish instrument dated from the second half of the 11th century.  By the late Middle Ages – when it had spread throughout most of Western Europe – this instrument was used mainly to accompany dances, a practice that continued into the Renaissance.  In Medieval times taborers also provided complementary music for jugglers, performing animals, etc.  During this period the pipe and tabor was entertainment for the masses – it was commonly played by pilgrims and often by the poor.


The pipe and tabor – along with the nakers and trumpet – is one of the few instruments of the Middle Ages which are supported by both pictorial and written records.  Variations of this instrument from different regions and centuries came in different keys and scales and were known by many names.  In England – at least in the 19th century – the combination was called the "whittle and dubb". The following table shows some of the names of other types of pipes and the regions in which they were found.



country or region


name of “three-hole” pipe (and drum,   if known)




pito rociero


Basque provinces


txistu (and tambourin du   Bearn)*




flabiol (and tambori)




gaita (extremeña?)


France (except in Provençal)


flûtet (and tambourin de   Provençe or tambourin ê córdes)*








schwegel or tammerinpfeife




gaita charra or flauta   maragata



*See the discussion of the percussions instruments below for more information about these.

The tabor pipe was not side-blown like a fife; rather, it was end-blown, making it a relative of the recorder.  During the Middle Ages it was commonly only four or five inches long but by the Renaissance the family ranged from these small pipes to rather large and stout instruments as long as 23” or so.  It bore two finger holes on the top and a thumbhole underneath.  The lack of more holes on the tabor pipe is an asset, not a hindrance.  Further holes are unnecessary as the taborer can play songs having a range of just over an octave through harmonic emphasis – a technique of changing pitches by varying the pressure at which air is blown into the instrument – which on the tabor pipe is facilitated by its narrow bore.  Employment of this principle allows the use of a pipe which can be played with only one hand, leaving the other free to provide an accompaniment on the tabor.  The tabor was a double-headed drum – normally similar in size to a tambourine but sans the zils – usually shown in manuscripts as suspended by a cord from the wrist of the hand playing the tabor pipe.  However, it was also borne by a cord attached to the pipe itself or a belt, a strap slung over the shoulder, fastened to the shoulder, or even hung from a finger!  The tabor, played with a stick held in the free hand, came in various sizes (i.e., depths), possibly depending on whether the music was performed indoors or in the open air and sometimes had a single snare on one or both heads.  While the tabor was the most common companion of the tabor pipe, other combinations included the pipe and tambourin à córdes (a type of salterio [i.e., psaltery] in the form of an oblong soundboard with strings which are slapped by a small rod), the pipe and triangle, and the pipe and bell.  In France the tabor was replaced by the tambourin de Provençe (a very deep tabor with a snare) or the tambourin ê córdes (another type of salterio), except in the Basque provinces where another version of the salterio known as the tambourin du Bearn [1] (quite similar to the tambourin à córdes) was used.

Among the many types of musicians known to perform at courts during the early Renaissance were those called tambourineurs, or a similar title, which referred to players of the pipe and tabor.  These individuals may have performed for informal dances and perhaps even doubled as dancing masters.  The pipe and tabor, rebec, and harp or lute (an haute [soft] band) were the usual choice of instruments for less courtly dances – as well as being the preferred indoor band in England. An alta [loud] band (commonly formed of two shawms and a sackbut) were suitable for the basse-danse, but generally quite expensive.  The quieter music associated with the ballo seemed to favor the softer instruments of the haute band such as the pipe and tabor.

Although several wind instruments (such as most types of bagpipes) fell from grace during the 15th and 16th centuries, the pipe and tabor continued to by used to provide accompaniment for dancers.  By the late 16th century, it had reverted from a court instrument to one of the commoner.  From that time it was used mostly for merriment, the Maypole ceremony, and – in the Elizabethan Era – for Morris dancing.  The pipe and tabor itself had almost completely vanished by the early 20th century, but resurfaced a few decades later.  In America, its chief modern use is for the accompaniment of Morris dances and for atmosphere at Medieval and Renaissance Faires, but in portions of both South America and Europe it is still used to perform folk music

For more information contact:

[1] Today, the Basques call this drum the ttun-ttun, and play it with a small three-hole pipe called the xirula.



Copyright 2006 by John Byron Boyd, 912 Crockett Street, Nashville,  

TN 37207-5564. <lutenist at or SCAlutenist at>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>


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