Bagpipes... 20 Fun Facts
Think you know everything there is to know about Bagpipes? Think again...
In Gaelic, 'bagpipe' translates into
literally meaning 'big pipe'.
Bagpipes were traditionally made from the skin of a whole animal,
The skin would be turned inside out and pipes would be placed where
the legs and neck would have been. These
days, bagpipes are usually made with artificial fabric such as
Although the bagpipes are widely assumed to be a Scottish invention,
actually have a lengthy history. Their
origin is widely disputed, with their use dating
back centuries, with
references to them existing in Rome and Egypt. When
the Roman's brought the bagpipes to Scotland, more than 2000 years
ago the Scot's added the third pipe, making the famous wind
instrument their own.
Bagpipes have several parts including the air supply blowpipe, the
bag, the chanter, the chanter reed, and the drone or drones. The
chanter is the melody pipe which can be played by the piper, while
the drone or drones provide a constant note.
The bagpipe can play nine notes, from G to A; however, there are no
sharps or flats, so there is no need for a key signature.
The bagpipes have a bag that holds air. The player keeps the bag full
of air by blowing into it with a tube or pumping it with a bellows.
To make music, the bag is pressed and the air comes out through a
kind of flute or "chanter". There are usually one or more
other tubes coming from the bag that make sounds whenever the bag is
squeezed, called "drones". Each drone normally plays a
different note, and stays on the same note the whole time it is
playing, to play a harmony with the "chanter". The sounds
are made by a single or, more commonly, double reed which vibrates
when air is blown over it.
Classical bagpipe music is called 'piobaireachd' (pronounced 'Peebrock).
8. Bagpipes have been in continuous use across Europe, and especially in Great Britain, Ireland and North-Western Spain. In Bulgaria, the bagpipes are called a Gaida. Although there are not many bagpipes today that existed prior to the 1800s there are a few examples that suggest they have existed since ancient times. A sculpture that dates to 1000 BC shows bagpipes. Other references to the bagpipes exist in written form dating to the 2nd century AD.
the instrument we know today, bagpipes were originally used to scare
off enemies on the battlefield. Interestingly, bagpipes are the only
known musical instrument in history to have been used as a weapon of
Partly due to their connection with war, the bagpipe has been banned
in Scotland twice. Once in 1560 and for a second time in 1746. In the
battle of Culloden, a Scottish Jacobite piper, James Reid was
captured. He was later hung by British authorities for being in
possession of the instrument.
pipers were banned from playing into battle. 3000 of them were killed
going over the top of the trenches during the first World War which
caused the ban to be put in place.
The ancient Roman emperor Nero was a notorious piper, who is said to
have played the bagpipes as Rome burned. He must have been a fan of
the music as he once offered to play bagpipes in public as a penalty
for those losing a poetry contest.
Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK use the bagpipes today in
their military ceremonies. The bagpipes are also commonly used in
police services as well.
14. The chanter in the bagpipe is never silent. This means that there is no rest between notes and the volume of the instrument cannot be altered. The use of grace notes means that a variation can be created, rather than through dynamics.
The song 'A Flame of Wrath for Patrick MacCrimmon' is a common
set choice for pipers. The song tells of the story of a piper from
Glenelg, near the Isle of Skye. To avenge the murder of his brother,
the musician in the story set a whole village alight. It is said that
he overlooked the blaze from a hill, playing his bagpipes
The most played song on the bagpipes is Scotland the Brave.
English pipers tend to refer to the bagpipes as 'a stand of pipes',
'a set of pipes', or 'the pipes' as opposed to 'bagpipes'.
It is said that Queen Elizabeth doesn't wake up the same way as the
rest of us. Rather than an alarm clock, she has her own personal
bagpipe player who rouses her from slumber. Every morning at
precisely 9:30am a kilted piper parades beneath the Queen's window
and plays her favorite military marches. Her husband Philip hates
19. The 10th of March is
International Bagpipe Day. Inaugurated by the Bagpipe Society, it is
a grassroots celebration of all the world's bagpipes. There are
celebrations across the UK, but also in Greece, America, Kenya, and
even Iran. Pipers of every kind gather, put on concerts, visit
schools, play on the streets or for dancing.
20. These days, piping has become so popular that there are more pipe bands in the U.S than there are in Scotland.