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Instruments Used in Riverdance

Unlike this set of bag pipes, uilleann pipes are blown with a set of bellows.
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Riverdance was originally a seven-minute performance for the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. It shot straight to the top of the charts, and the company expanded its performance to the dance performance it is today. The dance company is backed by an 11-piece orchestra, playing Irish and more traditional musical instruments.

Uilleann Pipes

This is probably the most unusual instrument used by the Riverdance Orchestra. It has a sound that is similar to Scottish bagpipes, but the air is forced through the instrument from a leather bag placed under the left elbow. Since both hands are used to finger the stops on the pipe, playing this instrument requires quite a bit of coordination.

Guitars, Keyboard, Saxophone, Violin and Accordion

Classical and acoustic guitars are played for part of the dances. Keyboard and saxophone provide smooth accompaniment. Violins lend their voices to the distinctive minor melodies characteristic of Irish music. The accordion lends fullness to the over-all sound, as well as some toe-tapping tunes.

Gadulka, Kaval and Bouzouki

The gadulka is a stringed instrument that is played with a bow, like the violin, but has a short neck and rounded body similar to that of a lute. The kaval is a Balkan folk flute, that looks a lot like an English flute or recorder; however, it is a hollow tube without a reed or throat, and is played by blowing across the end of it as if you were blowing across a bottle. The bouzouki has a tear-drop shaped body and a long neck that is similar to a banjo, but the sound is remarkably like that of a sitar.


As with all musical ensembles, drums are an essential part of the whole. In addition to a traditional drum set, bodhrans and hand drums are used.

Mouth Music and Shoe Taps

Mouth music was used by indigent Irish to make up for not owning a musical instrument. Taps, stomps and clicks from the dancers' shoes also become a part of the musical whole.

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