By Jonathan Wilkins

Musical instruments are timeless tools that allow varied expression and interpretation of music. From ancient times and even in medieval times in England, musical instruments were used to accompany simple chants and stories of bravery, adventure and hope. One of the most popular instruments were the bagpipes.

Bagpipes are a class of musical instrument, using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag. Though the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe and Irish uilleann pipes have the greatest international visibility, bagpipes of many different types come from different regions throughout Europe, Northern Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the Caucasus.

The construction of the bagpipe and how music is created determines the classification of the instrument. Basic bagpipe construction consists of a blowstick, bag, chanter and drone. Air is blown through the blowstick into the bag, either from the piper's mouth or from bellows. The bag is an air reservoir. Early bags were made from the pelts of domestic and farm animals. Traditionalists consider cow or sheep hide to be the genuine material. The chanter is similar to a recorder, with notes being played by covering holes with fingers. Air is forced through the chanter by squeezing the bag to which it is attached. Drones are also attached to the bag. Early bagpipes had one drone. Modern bagpipes have three drones, a long bass drone and two shorter tenor drones.


Musical instruments are classified by the Hornbostel-Sachs system introduced in 1914 by Curt Sachs and Erich Moritz von Hornbostel. Bagpipes fall into the Aerophone category, which is sub-divided into two further categories, those containing vibrating air and those played with non-vibrating air. Bagpipes fall into the former category alongside wind instruments, such as the trumpet and clarinet, while the latter includes the harmonica and siren.

Aerophone is any of a class of musical instruments in which a vibrating mass of air produces the initial sound. The basic types include woodwind, brass, and free-reed instruments, as well as instruments that fall into none of these groups, such as the bull-roarer and the siren. Bagpipes and organs are hybrids with different kinds of pipes. The word aerophone replaces the term wind instrument when an acoustically based classification is desired.

The most familiar of the pipes is the Great Highland Bagpipe. Blown by a piper, this is the bagpipe traditionally associated with Scotland. Lesser known is the Northumbrian Smallpipe. This is a smaller bagpipe with four drones that is bellows driven. Similarly, the Uilleann Bagpipe, or Irish Bagpipe is bellows driven, so it contains no mouthpiece. The traditional French bagpipe, the Musette De cour is also bellows driven, while the Biniou is mouth blown. In Austria, the Bock has both bellows and bells, while the German Dudelsack resembles Scottish pipes. The Sackpipa from Sweden, and Dudas from Latvia and Lithuania, both have a single drone. The Ney Anban Iranian bagpipe, and Greek, Turkish and Maltese pipes all have two chanters and no drones. The Libyan Zokra also has two chanters and no drones, but includes cow horns in its design.

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