Bagpipes – A Brief History

Bagpipes are closely linked to Scottish culture however their history is complicated.

There is evidence that points to early Middle Eastern bagpipes dating back to 1000 bc, although records are unclear. They are also thought to have been used by the Ancient Greeks in the 1st millennium.

By the early 2nd millennium they were used extensively in Western Europe, where they were modified and improved. Although they were widespread across central Europe, there are no clear records of them in Britain until the 14th century.

Bagpipes in Scotland

The first real evidence of bagpipes in Scotland came via the description of the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547. It was during this era that bagpipes were said to replace the trumpet on the battlefield and establish their connection to the military world. Through the 16th and 17th Century they increasingly became synonymous with Scottish pageantry and culture.

As the British empire grew and expanded, the Royal highland division became a driving force of their success. The stirring music of the highland bagpipe became revered and respected.

The strong Scottish connection with the bagpipe was further ingrained during the first and second world war.


The Great Highland Pipes

There are actually a number of different bag pipes around Europe and the Middle East. These are largely overshadowed by the dominance of the “great highland pipes”. These pipes are a modification of years of influence from all over the continent. The word “chanter” comes from the French word for sing.

Bagpipe Parts 

Pipe Chanter
The chanter is the part of the pipes that actually produces melody notes. The player holds the chanter vertically and “fingers” the chanter similar to a clarinet. Covering up or uncovering a hole with a finger produces a different note. There are only eight holes and nine notes on the chanter, but the highly intricate finger movements take a great amount of technique and manual dexterity.

The player fills the bag (with air from his lungs) using the blow stick like a mouthpiece. This attaches to the bag. There is also a valve inside that keeps the air flowing into the bag (and not back out). The player must continuously fill the bag to sound the pipes. This takes a tremendous amount of physical endurance.

Bass Drone
The drones are responsible for the characteristic low “humming” sound that emanates from the pipes. The bass drone produces a tone that is one octave below that of the tenor drones, filling out the sound.

Tenor Drones
The drones are responsible for the “humming” sound that emanates from the pipes. The two tenor drones are tuned one octave above the bass drone. The sound travels out through the top of the drones (over the player’s shoulder).

The bag is a bladder that is continuously filled with air (from the blowstick). Once the bag is filled, the player must squeeze air out of the bag (using his arm). This pushes the air through the chanter and drone reeds to make a sound. Originally made of sheepskin or cowhide, pipe bags are now made of synthetic materials that are always airtight. Constant and steady pressure must be applied to the bag (using the player’s arm) in order to maintain a steady tone from the drones. This takes a tremendous amount of control and physical endurance.

Chanter Reed
The chanter reed, made of two tightly woven bamboo slivers, is hidden inside the pipes, between the bag and the chanter. Air is pushed from the bag through the reed, producing the sound for the chanter notes.

McCallum P1 Black Acetyl Bagpipes

McCallum P1 Black Acetyl Bagpipes


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