Northumbrian Smallpipes are, arguably, the most sophisticated bagpipe. They are a small indoor instrument that is bellows-blown, quieter than most, and capable of a wide range of tunes. Basic sets have 15 notes, others range up to 25 notes and are fully chromatic over 2 octaves. They have a sweet tone and are equally at home skipping merrily through dance tunes or winding plaintively through haunting slow airs. They are usually played as a solo instrument or in small groups, but fit well into a Ceilidh band. They have a parallel bore chanter and up to five drones that usually play a bass and tenor tuned an octave apart and a baritone a fifth above the bass. They can be altered to play in various keys.

There is some evidence that bagpipes arrived in Northumberland around the 11th or 12th century. Since then, they have been developed into the unique instruments that they are. The most characteristic development was probably made in the 17th century, when the end of the chanter was stopped, giving them the staccato sound and closed fingering that distinguish them from other bagpipes. Then, in the 18th century, pipe-makers added keys to give them the extended range and greater versatility. The basic design has not changed a great deal over the last two centuries, until some of the contemporary makers experimented with some refinements and developed sets that transpose into other keys.

Northumbrian Half Longs (also known as Border or Lowland pipes) are the big cousin and are of simpler design. They are also bellows blown but do not usually have keys to extend the basic eight-note, tapered-bore, open-ended chanter. They are louder than the smallpipes and fit very well at the head of a procession. There are several versions of the basic design, some capable of cross-fingering to extend the range, but generally their tune repertoire is similar to that of the great highland pipes.