Scotland is an incredible country, so much so that you don’t even have to visit it to be in awe of its beauty. From its vast lochs (aka. Lakes) to the Scottish highlands, this country is incredibly beautiful. It is also packed full of rich history.
From its many castles to the true story of ‘William Wallace’ which is depicted in Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’, Scotland is founded on its history, and this is evident in their many traditions and emblems.
One of which, of course, is the Bagpipes. You only have to hear the first few notes of the Bagpipes playing, and anyone who has ever visited Scotland is instantly transported back there.
But what exactly are Bagpipes? And how do they work? Today we’re answering all of these questions and more.
What are Bagpipes?
Before we take a look at how Bagpipes work, let’s take a look at exactly what they are. As you probably know, Bagpipes are a musical instrument which originated in Scotland.
However, despite their main connection being with the country of Scotland, bagpipes are actually used in a variety of countries across Europe, including Ireland and France.
Bagpipes belong to the woodwind family of musical instruments and can be further grouped into the reed category of woodwind instruments.
Bagpipes produce noise through the use of air, and we’ll take a deeper look at how they work later on. But first, let’s look more at their history.
Bagpipes have a rich history, but there is no record of the most famous type of bagpipes, Scottish Highland Bagpipes, until the 1500s. In a French text, it was claimed that the Scottish used these bagpipes on the battlefield and their history has grown since then.
In more modern history, the bagpipes are still often connected with war and the battlefield. This is thanks to the expansion of the British Empire and the utilization of Scottish Highland Regiments within British Military Service.
Both the first and second world wars led to many trained pipers signing up to fight which only further cemented the army connections with the bagpipes. Bagpipes are now often used in events all over the world.
From folk music festivals to Commonwealth and military events, bagpipes have now become commonplace in a variety of different cultures.
So now that we know more about bagpipes, let’s take a look at how they work.
How do Bagpipes work?
If you are reading this, then the chances are that you have heard bagpipes being played. If you have not, bagpipes produce a loud and long-lasting sound. Bagpipes can be played continuously for long periods of time without the player growing tired.
This is because of the design of bagpipes. While the exact design will differ depending on the type of bagpipes, they generally all have the same basic build and it is this build that allows them to produce sound in such a way.
The majority of bagpipes will consist of a bag and a variety of pipes. One of these pipes is known as a blow pipe, and as its name suggests, the user blows into this pipe to be able to use the bagpipe.
However, unlike a lot of other woodwind instruments, like a flute, the bagpipes do not require the user to continually blow into the blow pipe. Instead, the bagpipes require the user to blow into the blow pipe until an airbag inside of the bagpipes is completely full of air.
The user of the bagpipes then utilizes the air within the bag to play the bagpipes instead of the air in their lungs, which is why they are able to play long notes. That being said, the airbag will run out of air and it is the user’s job to ensure that it never runs out.
The airbag inside of the bagpipes is connected to several pipes that produce the sound made by the bagpipes. These pipes are known as drone pipes, and within each drone pipe, there will be a reed. These reeds vibrate when air passes through them which produces the unique sound that makes it clear it is a bagpipe producing the music.
To produce a melody through the use of the bagpipes, the player must do two things simultaneously. The first is to squeeze on the airbag to release air into the system of the bagpipes.
At the same time, the player must also focus on yet another pipe connected to the bagpipes, this time it’s the chanter. The chanter is a pipe that is usually located at the bottom of the bagpipes.
While using their arm to push air out of the airbag inside of the bagpipes, the player must use both of their hands to play a melody on the chanter.
If this wasn’t multitasking enough, the bagpipe player will also have to refill the airbag by blowing into the blow pipe. They will only need to do this when the airbag begins to run out, but there is a good chance that this will have to be refilled during the time that they are playing.
So the bagpipe player must fill-up the airbag using their mouth while using their elbow and arm to squeeze the air out of the airbag and their fingers to play a melody across a series of small holes located on the chanter.
Based on this it is safe to say that playing the bagpipes isn’t an easy task, and it is definitely something that requires a lot of practice for you to be able to play them well.
However, being able to play the bagpipes is an incredible skill so you should definitely not be put off by the complexity of their design, all it takes is practice.
In short, the way that bagpipes work is actually quite complex which might explain why a lot of people don’t fully understand how to play them.
The key to playing the bagpipes lies in multi-tasking and lots of practice to ensure that you can manage all of the different components of the bagpipes simultaneously.