Bagpipes are a type of woodwind instrument that uses enclosed reeds fed by a constant reservoir of air. The latter resides in a bag. Its roots trace back to antiquity. Herdsmen had the requisite tools on hand: goat or sheep skin and a reed pipe. That’s why the bagpipe could have originated as a rustic instrument in many cultures. The instrument was mentioned in the Bible, and historians claim it came from Sumeria. It spread to Persia and India by Celtic migration, and then to Greece and Rome.
A first-century Roman historian said that Emperor Nero could play the pipe with his mouth and the bag thrust under his arm. During the Middle Ages, the instrument was heard and appreciated by all levels of society. For instance, bagpipes were common for carvers of wooden choir stalls in Europe in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
The use of Scottish Highland Bagpipes is first recorded in French history. It references their use at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. They replaced the trumpet on the frontline, according to George Buchanan (1506–82). Bagpipes dropped out of fashion in many regions due to their limited range and function, as western classical music evolved. This set off a long, gradual downturn that lasted well into the twentieth century.
In modern days, dozens of different styles of bagpipes can be found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and most of the former British Empire. The bagpipe has basically become synonymous with its most well-known form, the Great Highland Bagpipe. This version overshadows the various conventional bagpipe types.
Construction of the bagpipes
An air source, a pocket, a chanter, and normally at least one drone make up a set of bagpipes. Many have multiple drones and in some cases, multiple chanters. These are kept in place by stocks—sockets that connect the different pipes to the bag. Bags come in a variety of materials, the most popular of which are the skins of local animals such as goats, dogs, sheep, and cows.
The drone is a pipe that is not fingered but emits a continuous harmonizing tone during execution. It’s usually the tonic note of the chanter. Exceptions are typically pipes with a double-chanter. A drone is typically a cylindrically bored tube with a single reed. However, double-reed drones do exist. Drones are constructed in two or three parts, each with a sliding joint that allows the pitch to be adjusted.
Execution of the bagpipe
Blowing into a blowpipe or blow stick is the most popular way to supply air to the bag. When inhaling, the player must cover the tip of the blowpipe with their tongue in certain pipes. However, most blowpipes have a non-return valve that eliminates the need for that. In recent years, several devices have been designed to allow a clean airflow to the pipes and the accumulation of condensation.
Internally, a chanter can be designed such that the inside walls are parallel for their whole length, or it can be designed in a conical shape. Since it’s is normally open-ended, there’s no simple way for the player to silence the pipe. As a result, most bagpipes have a consistent legato tone when there are no rests in the song. For that reason, technical gestures are used to break up notes and create the illusion of articulation and accents. .