All About Bagpipes


Bagpipes are a woodwind instrument that we commonly associate with Scotland. However, bagpipes have been around and played by other countries before coming to Scotland. In fact, they are believed to have originated in China or Sumeria in about 5000 BC. In countries, such as Australia, Canada and the UK, the bagpipes are played during military ceremonies and/ or police services. Bagpipes consist of a bag and pipes. The melody pipe is known as the chanter (this contains a single reed). Aside from the chanter there are pipes called drones (may contain several reeds) which provide a constant note and are the tenor and bass pitches of the music.

The bagpipe may have one or more drones which contain reeds that move as air moves over them. Air is produced by air from the bag. The drones attach to the bag by wooden pieces called stocks. Some bagpipes have only one drone, while others may have three drones. The chanter pipe has holes in it so that it is in a way like a flute, and it is played with the hands. The range of the chanter is two octaves. Ancient bagpipes were made of reeds placed into a goatskin or sheepskin bag.

Today the bag of the bagpipe can also be made of a synthetic material, such as goretex instead of the traditional animal skin. The bag is held between the arm and side of the chest with the drones pointing upwards while the person is playing. To play the bagpipes you have to maintain enough air pressure in the bag to produce a more or less continuous sound. Playing the bagpipes takes some practice as a result. More air pressure is needed to force air into the chanter pipe than into the drones.

The bagpipes need a supply of air which a person provides by blowing into a bagpipe. Bellows-driven bagpipes were invented in about the 1600s; an example of this today is the Uilleann pipe of Ireland. This bagpipe has a bellows that you strap around your arm and waist. The Uillean bagpipes have a slightly different sound, quieter than the traditional bagpipes such as for instance the Great Highland Bagpipes or the Great Irish Warpipes.

There are several other types of bagpipes found in different countries of the world, for example, the folk pipes of France which are known as Comemuse and the traditional Austrian Bock. The bock is a bellows operated bagpipe which has bells on it. The Swedes and people in Lithuania and Latvia play a bagpipe that has only a single drone.  This bagpipe is known as the Dudas in Latvian and Lithuanian culture while the Swedish people have what they call a Sackpipa.

Many European countries use the bagpipes in traditional ceremonies, such as in Hungary and Romania where the bagpipes are known as the Magyar Duda and the Cimpoi, respectively. It is actually astonishing how many countries play the bagpipes. Spain, in particular, the Iberian Peninsula has several different types of bagpipes that are played, and Poland has four different types of bagpipes that are played. The bagpipes are a really interesting and quite complex musical instrument that has played a role throughout history in many countries.