How Do Bagpipes Work?

By Contributing Writer ; Updated September 15, 2017

How a Bagpipe Works

A bagpipe is a member of the woodwind family of instruments and works with a system of air and reeds. Instead of the piper putting his mouth directly on the reed to make music, however, a bag is used to propel the air through the reeds and create sound. The piper blows through a mouthpiece, sending air to the bag, which in turn keeps air flowing through the instrument's four reeds simultaneously. The piper will use his arm to apply pressure to the bag, making sure the sound flowing from the instrument remains steady and solid.

Important Parts of the Bagpipe

The pipe bag itself is the reservoir for the air that powers the reeds. This bag is usually made from leather, although modern bags are often made from synthetic replacement materials. Some bags are fitted with an internal desiccant process, which removes moisture that naturally goes into the bag from the piper's mouth.

The blowpipe extends from the bag, and is the device through which the piper blows air. This pipe is usually made with plastic on modern bagpipes and is fitted with a special valve that allows the piper to blow air through the valve without having air rush back at them when they take a breath.

The drones extend from the chanter and are in many ways the most important element of the bagpipe. Most other parts are interchangeable (between brands and types), but the drones are the heart of the instrument, providing the sound with the clean, dulcet tones needed for fine music.

Chanter

If the bagpipe was a recorder or a flute, all you would see would be the chanter. It is the primary source of music for the bagpipe. It extends away from the bag, and air is expelled through the chanter. The piper uses her fingers to block holes on the chanter, creating the various notes. Bagpipes can either be fitted with single or double-reed chanters.

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