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Pipe & Tabor

The Quintessential Morris Instrument

Quick Contents: Rationale, History, Manufacturers, Reviews of Tabor Pipes, References, Links.


The three-hole pipe and tabor make possible a one-man-band with both melody and percussion. Since the pipe has only three holes it can be played with one hand, leaving the other available to play a drum. A large drum may be hung from the shoulder or waist, or a small drum hung from the arm or wrist, as in the illustrations below. A scale of more than an octave is available by overblowing to use upper harmonics of the pipe, similar to the 3-keyed trumpet and other brass instruments.

In modern times this instrument has become favored by truckers and other long haul drivers, since the pipe can be played while keeping one hand on the wheel. I would respectfully request that you not try to play the tabor in addition while sharing the roadway with me.

Taborer Woodcut from 1600 Then and Now. photo of Ishmael with pipe and tabor, late 20th Century


The illustration above left is from a woodcut of Thomas Slye, Taberer for Will Kemp from his Nine Daies Wonder, (39k text, courtesy of David Pritchard) an account of dancing from London to Norwich in 1599.

The Betley Window shows a Pipe & Tabor played for dancers at the beginning of the 1500s.

Beverly 15thC pipe and tabor with band A relief carving dating from the 15th century in St. Mary's Church, Beverly, shows a pipe and tabor player in the company of other musicians.

A similar instrument is the Basque Txistu, a three-hole pipe, but in a minor-key tuning. (courtesy of Mikel Penagarikano Badiola)
Renaissance Use, Military History.
See Wm. Shakespeare Much Ado about Nothing act II scene 3 about trading fife and drum for the tabor and the pipe.

Mentioned in Thoinot Arbeau's Orchesography, with a woodcut illustration online at U. Virginia - courtesy of Greg Lindahl. Known also to the New World, for Thomas Paine, in his essay AGE OF REASON in 1794 wrote:

Were we now to speak of prophesying with a fiddle, or with a pipe and tabor, the expression would have no meaning or would appear ridiculous.

Music for Morris Dancing, the one-man-band.
Chris Brady of London has put Francis Darwin's 1914 lecture on pipe-and-tabor on the web. (about 5000 words, one illustration)

Luis Payno writes about la flauta de tres agujeros / three-hole pipe (Espanol/Spanish) with lots of additional information.


Other persons who make custom instruments.

Reviews of Tabor Pipes

Over the years I have had the opportunity to play a number of pipes, and now make available these Reviews of Tabor Pipes which are my own opinions.

Reference Works

Dick Bagwell, Pipe & Tabor Tutor, subtitled a Self-Teaching Method, 1988, addendum Feb 1992 60 pages, music, illustrations; with 30 minute cassette He Pulled Out His Tabor & Pipe for about $20.

Russell Wortley, How to Play the English Pipe and Tabor EFDSS, Cecil Sharp House, London, 1967, revised 1977, 8 pages, originally cost 30p.

Letchworth Morris Men series of Morris Music recordings, available on cassette from the Letchworth Morris Men, Radwell House, Radwell, Baldock, Herts, UK.

EFDSS publications, many available in the United States through the CDSSA catalogue.

Country Dance & Song Society of America (CDSSA)
17 New South St
Northampton, MA 01060

Links to Other Pipe & Tabor Pages

Ishmael's Music | The Black Jokers | Morris Dancing

Corrections, additions or comments?
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Original Dec 5, 1995
Last Modified: Sep 30 12:59 EDT 2009 / Ishmael the Fiddler