The chanter has a thumb hole and three finger holes for the left hand, and four finger holes for the right hand; there are also two transverse holes near the open end of the chanter. The instrument also has three cylindrically bored drones in a common stock, typically tuned A, a, e, or A, a, a. The drone tuning A, E, a was used in half-long pipes in the early 20th century, and though still rare, sets are now beginning to be made with this drone tuning again. The bag is not filled with breath from the player's mouth, but instead is supplied with dry air, from a set of bellows strapped under the player's right arm. This stops moisture condensing on the reeds, with consequent tuning changes. Dry-blown cane reeds also last very much longer than ones exposed to moisture. Some instruments are made with plastic rather than cane reeds.
The compass of the chanter is nine notes, from G to a, though a few higher notes are obtainable on some chanters by 'pinching' and overblowing. As with the Highland pipes, the basic scale is a mixolydian scale on A. Some chanters can play semitones however, and some old tunes, for instance Bold Wilkinson or Wat ye what I got late yestreen, suggest a dorian scale may also sometimes have been used, requiring a c natural instead of the c sharp of the mixolydian scale. This could be achieved by cross-fingering or half-holing.
An important difference between the music of the Border pipes and of the Great Highland Bagpipe is that many melodic figures in older Border pipe music typically move stepwise or in thirds rather than by wide intervals, and lack the multiple repeated notes found in many Highland pipe tunes. This suggests that in contrast to the Highland pipes, Border pipe music neither needed, nor greatly used, the complex graces which are so characteristic of Highland pipe music. Modern attempts to reconstruct a musically valid playing style for Border music such as the Dixon tunes have been very successful, and several respected pipers play in such styles. These are characterised by simple gracings, used sparingly, mostly either for rhythmic emphasis or to separate repeated notes. The tunes from Skene's manuscript contain more complex written-out gracings, and many more repeated notes than the Dixon tunes, so it is reasonable to conclude that the playing style in the 18th century varied from place to place. Many Highland pipers nowadays use the Border instrument to play Highland music in a Highland style, treating it as an indoor version of their own instrument. As the modern instrument is still fairly newly revived, ideas on playing styles are still evolving.
The Lowland and Border Pipers' Society was formed in 1982 and has played a large part in the revival of the instrument and its music. In Northumberland, the Northumbrian Pipers' Society has played a similar role for both Border pipes and Northumbrian smallpipes. The instrument is now once again widely played, and the original Border repertoire for the instrument, particularly the Dixon tunes, is becoming better known.