How bagpipes arrived in Scotland is somewhat of a mystery; but we know the instrument did not originate in Scotland, Ireland, Wales or anywhere in the British Isles.
Some historians believe that bagpipes originate from ancient Egypt and were brought to Scotland by invading Roman Legions. Others maintain that the instrument originated in the Middle East and was brought over the water by the colonizing Scots tribes from Ireland.
Ancient Egypt does appear to have prior claim to the instrument however; from as early as 400 BC the ‘pipers of Thebes’ are reported to have been blowing pipes made from dog skin with chanters of bone. And several hundred years later, one of the most famous exponents of the pipes is said to have been the great Roman Emperor Nero, who may well have been piping rather than fiddling whilst Rome burned.
What is certain however is that bagpipes have existed in various forms in many places around the world. In each country the construction of the basic instrument comprises the same component parts; an air supply, a bag with a chanter and one or more drones.
By far the most common method of supplying air to the bag is by blowing with the mouth, although some early innovations included the use of bellows. The bag, commonly made from animal skin, is simply an airtight reservoir to hold the air and regulate its flow, thus allowing the piper to breathe and maintain a continuous sound, both at the same time. The chanter is the melody pipe, usually played by one or two hands. Generally comprising two or more sliding parts, the drone allows the pitch of the pipes to be altered.
Whilst historians can only speculate on the actual origins of the piob mhor, or great Highland bagpipe, it was the Highlanders themselves that developed the instrument to its current form, establishing it as their national musical instrument both in times of war and peace.
The original Highland pipes probably comprised a single drone with the second drone being added in the mid to late 1500’s. The third, or the great drone, came into use sometime in the early 1700s.
Types of Bagpipes
Family of Wind Instruments
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