The bagpipe may have originated centuries ago in Scotland, but it’s now one of the most recognizable musical instruments. With a refined, elegant sound, you’ll hear bagpipes at weddings, memorials, funerals, and parades. Virtually any song can be given the bagpipe treatment, but there are a few tried-and-true favorites that are universally beloved among bagpipe fans. Here are twelve examples of popular bagpipe songs you will probably recognize instantly.
“Mairi’s Wedding” is a Scottish folk song composed in 1934 by J.R. Bannerman. His inspiration for the song was Mary C. McNiven, the singer who won the gold medal at the 1934 Mòd.
“Mairi’s Wedding” also has an associated folk dance, which was choreographed to the tune in 1959. Since its original publication, “Mairi’s Wedding” has been recorded by dozens of Scottish artists and endures as a traditional classic, making it a popular piece to play on the bagpipe.
Fun Fact: Scotland’s national musical instrument is the bagpipe.
Playing Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” as a recessional tradition that’s been upheld by generations of brides.
Originally written in 1842, it became associated with weddings when it was played at the 1858 wedding of Princess Victoria and Prince Frederick William of Prussia.
The song is traditionally played on a bulky pipe organ, but bagpipes are an acceptable, compact substitute for most weddings. Interestingly enough, Mendelssohn wasn’t a fan of bagpipe music, claiming it was “vulgar” and “out-of-tune,” among other things.
“The Black Bear” is an old regimental marching song that gained prominence during the Jacobite Uprising of 1689 in Scotland.
With a faster tempo than other traditional marches, historians believe the song was played for soldiers to march along to as they returned to their barracks for the night.
Like most examples of the genre, “The Black Bear” is traditionally played with bagpipes, drums, and occasional yells. Today, it’s considered a classic bagpipe song and an essential part of any bagpiper’s repertoire.
John Newton penned “Amazing Grace” in 1772 as a lyrical autobiography depicting his spiritual journey and salvation. The words were inspired by Newton’s experience at sea during a violent storm in 1748.
After the storm, Newton credited his survival to divine intervention and subsequently pursued a career in theology. This later influenced his views as an abolitionist. “Amazing Grace” was already well-established as a hymn when it rose further in popularity during the Second Great Awakening.
Newton’s lyrics appealed to the cultural values of the day when the majority of the population was poor and uneducated.
In 1972, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards recorded an instrumental version featuring bagpipes that became an international hit. This version had a slower tempo to accommodate the bagpipes, producing a haunting effect that resonated with the public.
Since then, Amazing Grace on bagpipes has become one of the most popular bagpipe songs to play at memorials, funerals, and other somber occasions.
Skye Boat Song
“The Skye Boat Song” was originally a traditional Scottish lullaby or rowing song, depending on who you ask. The most popular version is the opening song of the 2014 show Outlander, which was written and composed by Bear McCreary.
McCreary’s version has a modified melody and replaces the original lyrics with edited lines from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. The final version used for the show features a vocalist accompanied by a bagpipe, alluding to the show’s Scottish setting.
It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’ N’ Roll)
“It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock’ N’ Roll)” by AC/DC may be one of the most popular bagpipe songs because it successfully integrates bagpipes into a rock act.
The middle of the song consists of an iconic duet between the bagpipe and the lead guitar. This feature solidified vocalist Bon Scott as the frontman and enduring voice of AC/DC. This song is the first track on AC/DC’s chart-topping album High Voltage, which was released in 1976.
Strangely, this was the same year the band stopped using bagpipes in their live shows, citing tuning issues as the main reason.
Tragically, Bon Scott passed from alcohol poisoning in 1980, which nearly ended things for AC/DC. Fortunately, the band found renewed success with vocalist Brian Johnson, and Bon Scott remains one of the most famous pipers of rock ‘n’ roll.
Flower of Scotland
“Flower of Scotland” was originally written and performed by The Corries, a Scottish folk band that emerged in the 1960s. Considered to be Scotland’s unofficial national anthem, the song’s lyrics commemorate Robert the Bruce’s heroic charge against “Proud Edward’s army.”
Today, “Flower of Scotland” is used by the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish rugby union team as a de-facto national anthem for pre-game ceremonies. Due to this significance in Scottish culture, it’s one of the most popular bagpipe songs to master on the instrument.
Mull of Kintyre
In 1974, Paul McCartney was inspired to write a musical tribute to Scotland’s natural beauty. “Mull of Kintyre,” a song about his property on the peninsula of Kintyre, is the result. In 1977, McCartney recorded the song’s final version with his band Wings to be released later that year.
It quickly became the number one Christmas single in the UK charts and became the band’s greatest UK hit. Today, it remains the UK’s best-selling non-charity single.
Considered a Scottish classic, “Mull of Kintyre” features a bagpipe ensemble and is credited for contributing to the instrument’s revival during the 1970s.
Braveheart Theme Song
Directed, produced, and distributed by American filmmakers, Braveheart is the famous Scottish historical drama that went on to become the summer blockbuster of 1995.
The film’s popularity helped generate worldwide interest in Scottish history and culture, including bagpipes. The instrument is featured heavily in the soundtrack via its main refrain, simply known as the “Braveheart Theme Song.”
Thanks to the movie’s continued relevance, this theme song may be one of the most widely recognized bagpipe songs. Ironically, the original soundtrack was recorded with Uilleann pipes, which are Irish in origin.
This song was initially composed by German nationals Ulrich Roever and Michael Korb for a 1982 Highland game event in Berlin.
An accomplished piper, Korb wrote the melody with the bagpipe in mind. The tune quickly gained prominence within the Scottish diaspora over the following years.
Today, “Highland Cathedral” is one of the most popular bagpipe songs performed regularly at cultural and sporting events.
Inspired by the conflict in Northern Ireland, U2’s “Tomorrow” opens with an Uilleann bagpipe. This instrument differs from the archetypal Great Highland bagpipe in several ways, one of which is the ability to play chords.
The Irish bagpipe also allows for more precise tuning, making it possible to accurately play a wider range of songs compared to the Scottish counterpart. Considering this, the difference between Irish vs. Scottish bagpipes is evident at the beginning of “Tomorrow,” which utilizes chords and a complex melody played from a single instrument.
Whiskey In the Jar
“Whiskey in the Jar” is a traditional Irish folk song of unknown origin dating back to the 17th century. The lyrics tell the tale of a highwayman who steals from an Englishman, only to get his comeuppance when his lover betrays him.
In 1972, the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy achieved their breakthrough hit with their version of this song, which then set the standard for all future rock covers.
Today, “Whiskey in the Jar” on bagpipes may refer to either the traditional or the rock version, depending on the individual performer.
Give Piping a Try
In Ireland and Scotland, musicians have been using bagpipes in times of war, celebration, and mourning. After several centuries, the instrument and its sound still stand firm.
What are your favorite tunes from our list of popular bagpipe songs? Let us know in the comments.
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