Pipe and tabor

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An 18th Century pipe and tabor player (tambourinaire).

The pipe and tabor are two instruments played by a single player. The first instrument is the tabor, which is a small drum, and this is played with a drumstick in one hand. The other instrument is the pipe, which is a three-holed flute with a whistle mouthpiece of the same sort as on a tinwhistle or a recorder.

Playing the pipe and tabor might be seen as similar to playing a keyboard instrument, in that one hand plays the melody, while the other provides the accompaniment.

In English, the player of pipe and tabor may be called a taborer (tă'-bər-ər). The French equivalent name is tambourinaire, and the Spanish equivalent is tamborilero.

History[edit]

17th Century English pipe and taborer with dancers.

Medieval art provides ample illustration of the popularity of one-man pipe and tabor playing during that period. The taborer's pipe was played in the British Isles and many parts of Western Europe. Sometimes another instrument was played in place of the tabor. In France and Spain a special psaltery was tuned as drones and beaten with a stick as a sort of stringed-tabor. Others played bell, triangle, or even a second pipe in place of the tabor.

Pipe and tabor was used to accompany clown acts, dances, puppet plays, religious processions, and any outdoor occasion calling for music by a single musician. Pipe and tabor also was seen in bands, along with other instruments, from the Mediaeval period into the 19th Century.

The pipe and tabor waned in popularity as bands became more accessible, but never entirely died out. In the 20th Century the regional forms in Spain, Britain, and France resurged.

In the late 19th and early 20th Century, British folklorist Cecil Sharp helped to repopularize a national dance called morris dancing. The pipe and tabor, having been a traditional accompaniment to these dances, with the drum providing audible cues to the dancers, was revived by many morris dance sides (troupes). Some of the new taborers looked to the continent and adopted a larger form of pipe, adapting it by adding a fourth hole, so they would not need to partially cover the bottom of the instrument to get an extra low note. Others stayed with the smaller three-hole pipes. Metal versions of both were produced, the latter being made by the makers of Generation tinwhistles, and widely available inexpensively.

Method[edit]

This treatise will focus on the playing of the English pipe and tabor, though much of the information may apply to other species of the pipe and tabor, as well. Aside from regional musical traditions, other forms of pipe vary in their scales, and other forms of tabor vary in their dimensions and in how they are held.

Playing the tabor[edit]

The tabor is suspended from the arm or, if small and light enough, may be suspended from a finger.

The tabor is often suspended from the arm of the same hand that holds the pipe, and it is beaten with the other hand. Some players use a deeper drum, and hang it from a strap around the neck or attach it to a belt. If it has a snare, the player beats on the snare side, with the snare giving a distinctive buzzing sound.

The light shell and rope-tensioned natural heads give the traditional tabor a relatively low pitch. The tabor should be affixed to the arm in such a way that it will not give problems with swinging or spinning too much, but it should not be held firmly against the body, because this will mute the sound and render an inferior tone.

It is important to practice the tabor. The job of the drumming-hand is to maintain a steady beat. Many players practice by beating with a drumstick to about any music they hear. Playing with recordings of professional musicians, regardless of the style, will teach the aspiring taborer proper rhythm.

Some styles of tabor playing are little more than beating the drum like one would clap one's hand with music. Others incorporate rolls and enhanced rhythmic patterns. It is important to listen to other drummers in order to understand what can be done with the instrument.

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Drum rolls[edit]

It is quite possible to do rolls on the tabor when using an ordinary drumstick. This is accomplished by using a fulcrum effect, bouncing the head of the stick on the drumhead and the part near the rim of the tabor off the rim.

Playing the pipe[edit]

How the pipe is held.

The pipe is narrow, enabling the taborer to play all of his scales using the upper registers. Most woodwind instruments play a scale beginning with the lowest possible note, and then add more octaves by overblowing. However, as the taborer's pipe has only three holes, it is impossible to obtain the notes between the lowest four notes and the second octave. Therefore, the pipe begins its first octave at the first overblow.

The pipe is gripped, below the lowest finger hole, between the ring finger on front and the little finger on back, which leaves two fingers and a thumb completely free for playing the instrument.

The following chart shows the fingering of the pipe. Filled circles represent covered holes. Open circles represent holes left uncovered. Plus signs (+) represent overblown registers.

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Lessons[edit]

Some players recommend that a beginner first practice blowing the pipe at different pressures, and then learn the fingerings once comfortable with these.

With the above fingerings one can begin playing tunes. The following will provide the beginning piper with some material to practice.

Lesson One: A Carol[edit]

A pipe and taborer at Chrismas

Christmas is a time when pipe and tabor is often used, due to its merry and traditional nature. It is thus fitting to begin by learning to play a familiar carol. It may help to sing the words in your mind as you play.

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Lesson Two: A Jig[edit]

It is important to play a tune through enough times to memorize it well.

This tune is one that is used by morris dancers in England.

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Lesson Three: A Reel[edit]

A reel is a traditional type of tune in two parts. The A part is played a few times and then the B part a few times, alternating.

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Off-site resources[edit]

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