Are Bagpipes Irish or Scottish? How did Bagpipes Become a Symbol of Scotland?
Are bagpipes Irish or Scottish?
Despite the fact that they are similar instruments with similar sounds, Irish and Scottish bagpipes are not the same. They differ in several key ways, including the number of octaves they can range in, how they are played, and the number of scales they can be played with.
Standing up, Scottish bagpipes are played by blowing into a mouthpiece. Irish bagpipes are played while sitting and are blown from bellows beneath the dominant arm of the player. Uilleann pipes are Irish bagpipes (pronounced ILL-UN).
It’s no surprise that both Scottish and Irish native instruments have the same Celtic Gaelic origins. This is also true of their bagpipes. Let’s compare them and see how they differ.
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The main distinction between the two is the number of octaves and notes that can be played on them. This is due to minor design differences in the instrument itself. Scottish bagpipes have only one scale, the Mixolydian scale, and thus only one octave. Irish bagpipes, on the other hand, typically have multiple scales and two octaves.
The sound of these instruments also differs significantly. Because of the different ways these instruments blow air into their reeds, Scottish bagpipes produce a much louder and more percussive sound, whereas Irish bagpipes produce a much softer and warmer sound.
Distinctive Playing Styles
Both instruments are played in the same manner. They are reed instruments made of wood. The main distinction between the two is how the players direct the wind to the instrument to produce sound.
Scottish bagpipes can be taxing on the player’s lungs. This means that you must have strong lungs in order to play the instrument continuously. In a marching band, this instrument is mostly played while standing or marching.
Irish bagpipes, on the other hand, are inflated by a bellow, which is then contracted by the player’s hand to generate the wind required for the instrument to function. They are usually played with the player sitting because they need a better grip on the instrument to control the bellow.
Because the instrument has more octaves, Irish bagpipes can play a wider range of chords and more elaborate melodies than their Scottish counterpart.
Bagpipes from Scotland are much louder. They have a more intense and percussive sound due to the way their chanter is built from the inside.
The internal bore shape of Irish bagpipes is cylindrical. This produces a much softer and quieter sound from the Irish bagpipes.
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The Bagpipes of Ireland (Uilleann Pipe)
Irish bagpipes are a little younger than Scottish bagpipes. As a result, they are more complex in design and have several key differences.
As previously stated, the wind for the bagpipes comes from the bellow rather than the player’s mouth. To get the air flowing, the bellow is held beneath the player’s dominant arm and pushed with an elbow.
The Uilleann Pipe’s chanters are double reed. They are supposed to sit on the player’s lap. This, along with the bellow part, indicates that this bagpipe is meant to be played while sitting rather than standing or marching, as is the case with Scottish bagpipes.
The chanters’ range has been expanded to include two octaves rather than one. Pipe chanters and drones can also be turned off, giving you much more control over the sounds you play.
The main distinction is in the regulators. Regulators are a distinctive feature of Irish bagpipes. They come in a set of three and resemble chanters in appearance, with holes and reeds, and they sit on the player’s lap alongside chanters.
This means that you can play more complex melodies and chords on Irish bagpipes than on Scottish bagpipes. Because of these differences, Irish bagpipes are typically much more expensive and require more time to construct.
The Bagpipes of Scotland
The original bagpipe, and the one most people think of when they think of bagpipes, is the Scottish bagpipe. They are large, loud, and have a limited playing scale. The main difference, as previously stated, is how they are played—the piper must blow into the bagpipe.
The blowpipe, bag, chanter, and drones comprise the traditional Scottish bagpipe. The blowpipe fills the bag with air, which must be constantly refilled as you play, making it a reservoir of air for the instrument. Both instruments’ bags are typically made of animal skin. Even so, many more synthetic materials are now available to reduce costs and make manufacturing easier.
There is only one chanter and three drones on Scottish bagpipes. The chanter has holes in it and is played like a flute, with the player fingering the appropriate notes. The drones, like the Irish bagpipes, have reeds but no holes and can’t be controlled in any way. They are designed to produce that iconic buzz in the background and are made up of two tenor and one bass drone that sound when you play the bagpipes.
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The Origins of Irish and Scottish Bagpipes
Even though most people associate bagpipes with Scotland, the instrument originated in the ancient Middle East and is now used in traditional folk music throughout Europe and Asia.
The Romans taught the Scottish about the instruments, and they began playing them soon after. There are references to bagpipes as we know them as early as the 14th century, but they took their current form in the 16th century Highlands.
Bagpipers became well-known due to their use in the army and military bands, as Scottish regiments always had bagpipers to represent them, and the noise they made stood out.
Bagpipes spread throughout the United Kingdom, and many variations were created. Irish bagpipes as we know them today evolved around the turn of the nineteenth century as a type that was easier to play and more comfortable for the listener’s ear.
There are numerous distinctions between Irish and Scottish bagpipes. Irish bagpipe chanters are double reed, whereas Scottish bagpipe chanters are single reed. The chanter range is also greater on Irish bagpipes. Both types of pipes have a drone part for bass notes, but only the Scottish pipes have a set of three that the piper controls. Irish bagpipes also have regulators, which allow them to produce a wider range of notes than Scottish bagpipes.
While they appear similar to the untrained ear, Irish bagpipes are more difficult to produce and play. They are significantly more expensive, so the Scottish ones are a better option for beginners or less experienced players.
We hope this clarifies some of the confusion surrounding these instruments. Despite their differences, both types of bagpipes produce the distinctive sound we all know and love!
Why is the Bagpipe so important to Scotland?
Our latest blog is inspired by a recent BBC two documentary series, “Phil Cunningham’s Pipe Dream,” as well as a wonderful conversation with a customer looking for the perfect tartan fabric to re-cover his beloved pipes. Phil Cunningham’s Pipe Dream was a surprisingly informative and entertaining series in which Phil (Scottish folk musician and composer) pursues his dream of composing a brand new piece of music for bagpipes that reflects his exploration of the history of piping both in Scotland and elsewhere.
So, are pipes an essential part of Scottish culture?
The Great Highland Bagpipe has become synonymous with Scotland and a globally recognized symbol of Scottish culture. This is largely due to the Highland Bagpipe’s use in the British military and pipe bands all over the world.
There’s the well-known cliché of the piper on the shortbread tin, but I defy anyone not to fall in love with the bagpipe after witnessing the breath-taking power of hundreds of pipers playing in unison.
I didn’t realize how important the bagpipe was to Scotland until I went on a four-month trip to India. I’d start by introducing myself and explaining where I was from, but it quickly became clear that Scotland was something of an unknown. “Is that England?” and “The Country with the Bagpipes?” were two frequently asked questions in broken English. People knew exactly where I was from as soon as I could confirm no and yes.
There are dozens of different pipes in use around the world, with many more lost to history, but the Great Highland bagpipe is undoubtedly the most visible and, due to its popularity, somewhat overshadows the variety of pipes still in use today.
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What will the future of bagpipe busking look like?
Many bagpiping buskers can be found at popular tourist attractions in the heart of Edinburgh and London, bringing joy to both locals and tourists. Personally, I find it difficult to describe the emotions evoked by the sound of the pipes, which are associated with so many special occasions, my favorite being my newlywed sister and her husband walking from the church to the reception with our friend Pete piping her the entire way. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, effectively banned bagpipes from the streets of London, causing outrage among the piping community. The pipes have been described as a “repetitive loud sound,” and the new rules may mean that once lucrative spots are now out of bounds due to the volume of the pipes. Alastair Campbell, on the other hand, is a big fan of the bagpipe and told the Daily Record:
“Having been a bagpiping busker myself in my student days I am a great supporter of buskers in our towns and cities. They bring so much to life. There will always be good and bad in any instrument, but the dismissive attitudes expressed in this advice reveal an unjustified bias against pipes. I would certainly back any pipers who sought to change it.”
The uproar caused by this story demonstrates how dedicated pipers are to their instrument, and I believe the links to Scottish culture strengthen this bond between player and instrument even further.
We now understand why the bagpipe is so significant in Scotland, but how does it work?
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Bagpipes in Action
All pipes are built around the same basic concept of a bag, chanter, and drone. When these elements are combined, they produce what is known as the sound of the pipes. Although it is based on simple principles, the Great Highland Bagpipe is a difficult instrument to learn and requires a great deal of dedication and perseverance to develop the skills needed to play the pipes well. Having mastered such an intricate instrument, I imagine there must be a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
The process of making the bag is a mysterious one, and it is a closely guarded secret of all bagpipe makers, owing to the special seasoning mixture that treats the leather and seals any sections that may not be completely airtight. The bag is traditionally made of fine quality sheepskin, which is ideal due to its porous skin, which allows moisture to escape while keeping air in. Many people have hypothesized that the perfect seasoning mixture contains honey, molasses, egg whites, glycerin, oil soap, and pine cleaning fluid. Finlay MacDonald, one of the country’s finest contemporary pipers, spoke with the BBC about his craft.
The Scottish pipes have three drones, two tenors that play the same note and a bass that plays an octave lower. Drone reeds, a cylinder of wood split into two pieces for tuning purposes, power the drones. Traditionally made from cane, synthetic drone reeds are now more commonly made from a plastic compound. The tongue inside the reed vibrates against the body of the reed when air passes over it, which does not sound impressive on its own, but when this is placed within the drone, the pipes are awakened.
Anyone wishing to learn how to play the bagpipes should begin with the chanter, which requires many hours of practice before moving on to the bagpipes themselves. The finger holes are similar to those on a recorder, so perhaps your days of learning recorder in primary school will come in handy if you plan to learn the bagpipes in the near future. A small reed made of cane is found inside the chanter, but like the drones, this is increasingly being made of synthetic plastic.
The Future of Piping
Scotland’s famous sound would be lost without the bagpipe. The pipe is so intertwined with other aspects of Scottish culture that losing it would mean losing much more than just an instrument. Pipe bands around the world are doing an excellent job of preserving these traditions, with many eager young pipers eager to pass on their knowledge to future generations. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of piping, as well as what emotions or special events come to mind when you hear that amazing sound.
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How did the bagpipes become a symbol of Scotland?
Dr. Vivien Williams tells us how this iconic symbol of Scotland became so strongly associated with the country.
The skirl of the Highland Bagpipes, possibly performed by the Lone Piper at the Edinburgh Tattoo, Highland Games across Scotland, and even on the battlefield, has become a globally recognized symbol of Scotland.
Despite its strong association with Scotland, the bagpipes, which many experts believe originated in India at least 3,000 years ago, arrived in Scotland relatively late in its history.
According to Dr. Williams, bagpipes spread from India across the Mediterranean and into Eastern Europe.
People and their customs were absorbed into other cultures as a result of trade and general migration.
‘The bagpipes most likely arrived in Britain with the Roman invasion of 43AD and were gradually adopted as an English tradition, though no reliable written reference to them in Scotland exists until the fifteenth century.’
Variations Of Bagpipe
Most people are familiar with the Highland Bagpipe, which is so strongly associated with Scotland, but there have been hundreds of variations of the instrument over the centuries, possibly only a fraction of which are still in existence today.
The instrument has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, as evidenced by the presence of international bagpipe experts who give presentations at events such as the International Bagpipe Conference.
The Northumbrian Small Pipes, Pastoral Bagpipes, Welsh Bagpipes, Cornish Pipes, and Zetland Pipes are among the best-known modern-day bagpipes with a British connection. Outside of Scotland, there are numerous bagpipe societies, including groups in Cornwall, London, and Northumberland.
The Bagpipes As A Scotland Symbol
So, how did this ancient instrument become so closely associated with Scotland?’
According to Dr. Williams, this is still a mystery. ‘However, there are two strong reasons for the popularity: the decline of the bardic tradition in Scotland and Ireland, and the growing association of bagpipes with Highlanders.’
‘During the bardic era, the Celtic Harp was a popular instrument in Scotland and Ireland, but as this tradition faded, the bagpipes gained popularity and became associated with the great bagpiping families and warfare.
‘The Highlander gained international visibility and renown on the battlefield, and as a result, the bagpipe became a recognized symbol – after all, the Celtic harp would never do as a battlefield instrument.’
Bagpipe music was passed down through the generations orally for many centuries. Syllabic notation was one method of preserving the music, and canntairreachd is unique to Scotland.
Topic: Are Bagpipes Irish or Scottish? How did Bagpipes Become a Symbol of Scotland?
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By: Travel Pixy
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