History of the Bagpipes

The origin of bagpipes can be traced back practically to the cradle of civilization. Bagpipes of one form or another can be found throughout Europe, the Middle East and India. Simple mouth blown pipes with reeds were used long before the introduction of a bag, which was probably added around the first century A.D.

Bagpipes were first mentioned in literature by Greek classical writer Chrysostomos about 100 A.D. He writes of a man who could play a mouth blown bagpipe placed under the armpit. It is believed that Bagpipes came to the Romans via the Greeks. It is known that Emperor Nero played a Bagpipe referred to as the Tibia Utricularis.

The instrument was known to flourish in Gaul and Britain after the Romans left. The Bagpipe probably came to Scotland from England more than likely by the Romans and is first recorded in Scotland in about 1400 A.D. There are over thirty different types of bagpipes throughout the world.

Three of the most well known bagpipes after the Great Highland Bagpipe are the Spanish Gaita which is similar to the Scottish bagpipe but only has one drone, the French Musette which has keys on the chanter and a bellows to keep the bag full, and the Italian Zampongna which has two chanters.

The Great Highland Bagpipe is classified as a woodwind instrument, like the bassoon, oboe, or clarinet. It is a double reed instrument with the reeds being closed inside the wooden stocks instead of being played by mouth like other woodwinds, as a result, notes cannot be separated by simply stopping blowing or tonguing, so a combination of grace notes, called embellishments are used for this purpose.

The Great Highland Bagpipe is made up of the chanter (melody pipe) two tenor drones, one base drone, a blowpipe and a bag made of any number of materials such as sheepskin, cowhide or synthetic material such as Gore-Tex. The scale of the chanter is in Mixolydian mode which has a flattened 7th or leading tone. The Great Highland Bagpipe is limited by its range of 9 notes, one volume (loud) and an enforced legato style due to the continuous airflow from the bag.