Making The Famous Bagpipes

I love the sound of bagpipes myself even though I am of Native American and French origin. Lets take a look at what creates the unique sound of bagpipes.

All bagpipes are made with an air supply, a bag, and a chanter. More sophisticated bagpipes may also include more chanters and drones to enhance the sound.

The most common method of supplying air to the bag is by a blowpipe, into which the player blows. The blowpipe can be fitted with a non-return valve, or the player can close the tip of the blowpipe with their tongue while they breathe.

Starting back in the 6th or 17th century a bellows began to be used to supply air. The big advantage to using a bellows for the air supply is that the air has not been moistened and heated by the players breath which allows one to use more delicate reeds and also allows the instrument to be played longer.

The bag is crucial to the bagpipes of course as they hold air while the player breathes, this way the bagpipe player can play without the need to take a breath. This gives the player the advantage of being able to breathe more naturally and play without discomfort for a longer time. The bags are usually made of skins from local animals such as goats and sheep. Some modern bagpipes have been made with materials such as rubber, goretex, and other airtight fabrics.

When made of skin, the bag is usually saddle-stitched with an extra strip folded over the seam to prevent air leaking. Holes are cut in the bag to accommodate the stocks, the connectors which the various pipes are attached to the bag with. With more modern materials, the seam is usually stitched and then a strip of material glued in place to achieve the same purpose. These bags are often fitted with rubber collars to insert the stocks in, which can result in a better, tighter fit with less chance of damaging the bag while attaching the stocks.

The chanter is the pipe that actually controls the music that comes from the bagpipes and can be played with one or both hands. There are three types of chanters: a chanter internally can be bored such that the inside walls are parallel for the full length of the chanter or it can be bored in the shape of a cone. Additionally, the reed can be a single or a double reed. A single reeded chanter can only be parallel bored, as conical bored chanters do not work with a single reed. However, both conical and parallel bored chanters operate with double reeds, and double reeds are by far the more common.

The chanter is usually open ended; thus, there is no way for the player to stop the pipe sounding easily. This means that most bagpipes share a legato sound where there are no rests in the music. Primarily because of this inability to stop playing, embellishments (which vary between types of bagpipe) are used to break up notes and to create the illusion of dynamic effect. Because of their importance, these embellishments are often highly technical systems specific to each bagpipe which take much study to master.

Most bagpipes have at least one drone. A drone is most commonly a cylindrical tube with a single reed, although drones with double reeds do exist. The drone is designed in two or more parts, with a sliding joint so that the pitch of the drone can be manipulated. Some drones have a tuning bead, which effectively alters the length of the drone by opening a hole, allowing the drone to be tuned to two or more distinct pitches. The tuning bead may also shut off the drone altogether.

I hope this has helped you to understand how bagpipes are able to deliver the beautiful music that comes from them.


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