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Origins of the Bagpipes

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

The Bagpipe is strongly associated with Scotland and Scottish culture. The sound you are used to hearing on the bagpipes comes from the idea of air flowing through a double reed. Two pieces of material vibrate with air pressure through a chanter, where the holes are lifted to sound the notes. However, putting two thin surfaces together and creating sound with the pressure of breath is too old to determine.


funeral bagpiper


In The Bagpipe: The History of a Musical Instrument, Musicologist Francis Collinson writes that 'Such a simple discovery…could have occurred in any in any number of places in any part of the world independently…..earliest specimens of the reed-sounded pipe or pipes have been found, namely in Babylonia and ancient Egypt….impossible to dogmatise upon any theory of evolution of the reed-pipes based upon geography…musical pipes of the earlier millennia have been found in the excavated tombs of Egypt.' (Collinson, 1975, pp. 1-3)

Perhaps due to the organic nature of materials such as wood, bone and skin, it is difficult to trace back to any origin. Ancient Egyptians could claim the first records of a reed instrument due to their advanced abilities in preserving materials.

Dr Hugh Cheape, who is a leading researcher into the Highland Bagpipe and its origins, mentions in his book The Bagpipe: Perceptions of the National Instrument that 'We have no information about the bagpipe in Scotland, either written, graphic or material, before the fourteenth century' (Cheape, 2007, pg 42). Cheape mentions bagpipes or a similar form of instrument may have been played around Europe from the 12th century until this point.


Bagpipes can be found in many cultures and countries worldwide and in many different forms. I have been to festivals in Spain, playing alongside the Galician Bagpipes, and played the Gaida bagpipe in Bulgaria, which still had the goat's fur attached.



guida goat bagpipe


Originating in Scotland or not, the Scots adopted the bagpipes as their national instrument, and they are deeply entrenched in Scotland's history.


REFERENCES

Cheape, H. (2007). The Bagpipe: perceptions of a national instrument. National Museums of Scotland

Collinson, F. (1975). The Bagpipe: The History of a Musical Instrument. Routledge 2021


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