Loud & proud, bagpipes are an instrument you’ll never forget. Let’s learn more about this unique creation with these facts about bagpipes!
In the world of musical instruments, bagpipes don’t have the best reputation. In fact, the unique instrument’s sound has been described as a dying turkey, a droning screech, and a bag full of sick cats.
But we’re here to convince you differently with the best fun facts about bagpipes. We promise you this instrument is far more interesting that meets the eye.
While bagpipes are most closely associated with Scotland, did you know the instrument has evolved over time from many places including Egypt, Rome and Mesopotamia?
And what about that strange shape? Do bagpipes kind of look like an upside down goat? You’ll want to keep reading these bagpipe facts to discover why.
One of the reasons why the bagpipe’s sound is so fascinating is because there has to be constant air flowing through the instrument at all times. This leads to a continuous drone that accompanies the more complex melodic notes.
Popular at graduations, coronations and funerals, there are few musical instruments that can stir up emotions as deeply as bagpipes. A lone piper in the Scottish highlands can be heard from 10 miles (16 km) away.
What do you say? Are you ready to discover more about the strangest and most misunderstood of all the musical instruments? Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling!
21 Fun Facts About Bagpipes
1. Scottish or not?
Like the bogs of Scotland, the history of bagpipes are quite murky. It’s widely believed that bagpipes existed in Roman and Egyptian civilization well before they made it to the British Isles.
More than 2,000 years ago, however, the Scots took the bagpipe and added a third pipe, putting their own unique spin on the instrument.
2. Game of drones
A set of bagpipes is made up of many intricate parts including the blowpipe, chanter, chanter reed, drone, and of course, the bag. The chanter is the pipe that creates the melody and the drone creates the constant note.
3. Silence of the lambs
The first bagpipes were made of goat and sheep skins. The carcass was turned inside out and hollowed, then pipes were attached where the animal’s neck and limbs used to be.
That’s one of the most disturbing bagpipe facts we uncovered. Thank goodness most bagpipes today are made of synthetic material and metal!
4. You’ll hear them coming
You might want to plug your ears, because bagpipes pack an impressive sonic punch. In fact, a bagpiper can be heard from up to 10 miles (16 km) away and reach over 111 decibels!
That’s louder than a lawn mower, a power saw and a blender. Definitely grounds to complain if your neighbor starts playing the pipes.
5. What a range
For an instrument without volume control or sharp and flat notes, the bagpipes still have a pretty impressive musical range. Nine notes in total make up the bagpipe’s repertoire from G to A.
6. An impressive collection
Danny Fleming, a Scottish police officer, owns the world’s biggest collection of bagpipes. Fleming has 105 different sets that are valued over $150,000. Some of his most valuable pipes are set in gold, silver and ivory.
7. Volume control
While many musical instruments can moderate volume based on how hard or soft it’s played, the bagpipes have no such dynamics.
The only solution is to speed up or elongate the tones. This is why bagpipes have such a reputation for being so loud… they just can’t help it!
8. A warring history
The bagpipes are probably the most prominent instrument used on the battlefield. The first time they were used was in the 1746 Battle of Culloden where Scottish pipers marched their troops into battle.
This tradition was also prominent in World War I, where over 3,000 pipers were killed.
9. Pipes around the world
It’s not just Scotland who have an impressive bagpiping tradition. Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States all use bagpipes for official military and police events, such as marches, parades, graduations and funerals.
10. Bagpipes in the Balkans
In Bulgaria, they have a unique bagpipe called the Kaba Gaida which is used extensively in folk music and at social events.
It is so popular in Bulgarian tradition that there is a well-known saying, “A wedding without a bagpipe is like a funeral.”
11. The World Pipe Band Championships
The highest echelon of pipe band competition has taken place in Glasgow, Scotland every year since 1947. While Scottish pipe bands have won the coveted title the most, pipe bands from Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia and Ireland have all won the competition in the past.
12. Hear the pipes are calling
One of the most popular bagpipe songs of all time is Scotland the Brave. Often used to pipe in Scotland’s teams at the World Cup and Commonwealth Games, the stirring song is often considered one of Scotland’s unofficial national anthems.
13. Where do the bagpipes belong?
While bagpipes produce a unique sound unlike any other instrument, they are still classified into the wind family.
Other wind instruments, also called aerophones, include trumpets, trombones, flutes and clarinets. The requirement to be called a wind instrument is the ability of air to create sound.
14. Bagpipe world records
It just wouldn’t be the best fun facts about bagpipes without some crazy world records! First, the largest bagpipe ensemble took place in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2012 when 333 pipers played the Kaba Gaida.
15. Bagpiping as an endurance sport
The record for longest bagpipe marathon is held by Rikki Evans of Glasgow, Scotland. Evans played the bagpipes for 26 hours, 5 minutes and 32 seconds from August 12 to 13, 2015.
He used this record attempt “Pipe-athon” to raise money for charity. Good on ya, Rikki!
16. Bagpipes make us sad
Bagpipes don’t have the ability to rest between notes and the constant sound has an emotional effect on human ears.
Also, bagpipes are often played solo which leads to a somber or funereal tone that stirs up deep emotions. Definitely one of the most fascinating bagpipe facts we uncovered.
17. The emperor’s new instrument
Roman emperor Nero, is said to have been a skilled bagpipe player. In the popularized version of the great fire of Rome in 64 AD, Nero played the fiddle while the city burned.
But it’s more likely he played the bagpipes, since the fiddle hadn’t even been invented yet!
18. Most hated instrument
Since there’s no rest for the ears, and the pitch of bagpipes has been described as a bag of strangled cats, it’s no wonder the bagpipes are on the list of most annoying instruments.
We’re definitely going to disagree. Though bagpipes can be monotonous, their history, uniqueness, and emotionality are second to none!
19. Death by bagpipes
Yes, it can really happen. Since a piper constantly blows air into the bag, dangerous mold and fungus spores can form on the inside due to the moisture.
The spores are then inhaled by the piper leading to inflamed lungs and pneumonitis, an ailment known as “bagpipe lung.”
20. A new exercise regimen?
Not only are bagpipes played while standing or walking, the amount of air expelled while playing them is also a great workout for the body and lungs. In fact, an hour of piping can burn up to 300 calories!
21. A day to celebrate
Have these fun facts about bagpipes made you curious about hearing some more bagpipe music? Well, get ready to mark your calendar!
March 10th is International Bagpipe Day, where pipers from around the world celebrate this fascinating musical instrument.
Who wants more fun facts?
If you’re looking for some recommendations, these are a few of our favorite fact books to buy. We use these when planning fun trivia nights with family and friends!
How awesome were these facts about bagpipes? Did we take you to the Scottish highlands or did these facts make you cover your ears? Give us your take in the comments below!