The bagpipe is an instrument that is made of a leather (or synthetic) bag, a blowpipe, chanter and so-called drones. It belongs to the 'reed'-instruments, because it produces its sound by blowing air over a thin strip of reed. Air is blown into the bag through the blowpipe. When playing the instrument the bag serves as a reservoir when the musician takes a breath. By squeezing the bag with his arm when inhaling the atmospheric pressure that flows along reed stays constant. This is what is called a mouth-blown bagpipe. However, there are models where the bag is filled with air via bellows. The melodies are played on a flute, called 'chanter' (or two flutes, called double chanter). The chanters are located at the bottom of the leather bag. Next to that most bagpipe models come with so-called 'drones' (one or more). These provide a constant keynote when playing a melody.
What is a bagpipe?
The history of the bagpipe.
100 years AD one of the first bagpipes was already described by the Greek writer Dio Chrysostom, in Nero's era. Nowadays we know that the Romans indeed played the bagpipe. Early 6th century a Greek historian explained that the bagpipe formed the mechanism of the Roman infantry, and the trumpet of the cavalry. Some centuries later the bagpipe is used by the clans of the Scottish Highlands. Later the British army used it to play on meetings and to motivate the soldiers during battle. The sound of a bagpipe can be heard over a distance up to 2 miles over land or see.
In the past bagpipes were made out of the skin of a sheep or goat. In some countries they were also made out of other small animals' skin. Nowadays bagpipes are made out of airtight leather or airtight synthetic. However, animal skin is still used. The disadvantage of skin is that it never comes airtight naturally. It needs to be 'seasoned'. This means that one pours an especially composed mixture into the bag. The mixture is absorbed by the skin, making it airtight. The drones, blowpipe and chanter use to be made and are still made out of hardwood, for example African Blackwood. In the old days they were often decorated with rings of hollowed bones of ivory. Nowadays this is no longer allowed so imitation ivory (plastic), zinc, silver or even gold are used instead.
How do you play a Scottish bagpipe?
A bagpipe player blows air into the bag through a blowpipe. This blowpipe is equipped with a rubber valve that prevents air from escaping
the bag. The air will then leave the bag via the
chanter and the drones. Because the player
produces the right pressure they will produce
the right tones.
To maintain the pressure when inhaling the
player must squeeze the bag with his/her
arm. As soon as he/she blows air into the bag
again the arm pressure should be released slowly.
This shows that it's not easy to (learn how to)
play the bagpipe.
Not only because you have to think of several things at the same time when playing a piece of music (music played from memory) but also because you need a large lung volume! It may take years to master the technique of playing the bagpipe.
Different types of bagpipes.
The Irish Uilleann pipes
Probably the most elegant bagpipe. Developed around 1700 in Ireland. These are not played with the mouth, but via bellows. This bagpipe is played sitting down.
The Mandoura Bagpipe
A bagpipe made out of goat leather, originating from the Greek island Crete. Air is blown into the bag through a blowpipe. The chanter is made up of a double a pipe. Every pipe has 5 finger holes with a single reed.
The Northumbrian Small pipe
Developed late 17th century. Via bellows the air is blown into the bagpipe. The chanter is cylinder-shaped and is equipped with a double reed. The four drones are equipped with a single reed.
The Scottish Highland Bagpipe
The most well-known bagpipe, developed around 1500 in the Scottish Highland. This is equipped with a blowpipe, a leather of synthetic bag and a conic chanter with a double reed. Three drones, carried on the shoulder, ensure the base tone.
The Zampogna Bagpipe
These comes from Italy (Sicily) and is equipped with a blowpipe. The bag is mostly made out of sheep leather. The instrument contains 2 conic chanters with a double reed. The two drones are equipped with a double reed.
These different types bagpipes with their different origins ensure that everyone can enjoy the sound of the bagpipe all over the world.