Bagpipe, musical instrument in which wind is supplied to one or more reed-sounded pipes from a bag inflated by the performer, either through a blowpipe or by a bellows. Because the wind supply is continuous, the sounding pipes normally cannot be silent, and repeated melody notes must be articulated by inserting grace notes (notes of extremely short duration) between them. The simplest bagpipes have a cane pipe with a single reed cut in the side; often two parallel pipes are present, one a chanter (melody pipe) and the other a drone (harmony pipe). Bagpipes were generally known in Europe and western Asia by the time of the Roman Empire (from about the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD), often as shepherds’ instruments. Single-reed cylindrical chanters and drones remain typical of western Asian and North African bagpipes and of such Eastern European bagpipes as the Bulgarian gaida. Western European bagpipes, such as the Spanish gaita gallega and the Breton biniou, developed as double-reed chanters of conical bore, but typically retained cylindrical, single-reed drones. Most can play a scale of nine notes.
The earliest surviving Scottish Highland pipe dates from 1409. Except that it lacks a bass drone, it resembles the present-day Highland pipe, which has a conical-bore, double-reed chanter with eight finger holes, and three drones (two tenors and a bass tuned an octave lower). The Irish union pipe, or uillean pipe, is a complicated bellows-blown instrument with a conical double-reed chanter, usually with nine closed keys. The open bottom of the chanter rests on the player’s knee. When all the keys are closed, the sound stops; when the chanter is lifted off the knee, the chanter overblows to a higher octave. In addition to its three cylindrical single-reed drones, it has three “regulators”: conical double-reed pipes that produce chords when their heavy keys are opened with the edge of the player’s right hand.
The bellows-blown Northumbrian small-pipe has seven closed keys on a cylindrical double-reed chanter closed at the bottom, thus permitting silences. Only three of its four cylindrical single-reed drones are played at one time (each has a shutoff valve). Its probable ancestor, the courtly musette of 17th- and 18th-century France, usually had two cylindrical double-reed chanters (the second provided higher pitches). Its four cylindrical double-reed drones were bored in a single chubby pipe. The south Italian zampogna has two chanters and two drones, all double reed.