Everything you need to know about Bagpipes and Bands

If you are a fan of bagpipes then the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle has to be on your bucket list!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

3 to 25 August 2018

If you have never experienced bagpipes it can give you goosebumps and cause your eyes to tear up with its mournful sound or it can sound like someone stepped on your cat’s tail and it is screeching for you to get the hell off it.  The bagpipes are one of those instruments you either love or hate.

bagpipe parts

The parts of a bagpipe are listed to the left but the main parts are the bag which you fill with air and then squeeze with your arm while blowing in the mouthpiece and covering the holes in the chanter (like a flute) to give you the notes and maintaining a hum through the drones while standing in a kilt*.

You do not start by playing the bagpipes as you will need to build up the stamina slowly in order to play more than a few minutes.

You will start with a practice chanter, which is a small oboe-like double reed woodwind instrument that is very affordable and quiet. You will begin by learning the fingering and grace-noting system required to play Highland Bagpipe tunes. This will take several months.  You can learn on your own but it is better to join a pipeband so that you can learn from others and improve.

Pipe bands consist of pipers and drummers, the number isn’t so important but you should have at least six pipers and a minimum of  two drummers and a bass to carry the sound you want.  You can have as many as 20 pipers or more and a solid line of tenor drummers and snare drummers but only one bass – that is the drum that usually has the band logo imprinted on it and the person is walking crablike sideways so they can see where they are going.

Cambridge Highland games

At competition level pipe bands are judged from Grade 5 through to Grade 1.   Moving to a higher grade requires a bagpipe band to consistently dominate their current grade, sometimes over several seasons. At present day, hundreds of competitions occur all over the world each summer as Grade 5 (the most amateur bands) through Grade 1 (professional-grade bands) compete in their respective categories for trophies, bragging rights, prize money, and prestige.

The World Pipe Band Championships is the most prestigious contest in the world. Every second weekend in August over 250 bands from a dozen or more countries gather on the Glasgow Green in the east side of Scotland’s second largest city. Combined with the other events the week proceeding, it is one of the largest annual Celtic festivals in the world.  Note:  When my husband and I were there, there was a band from Simon Fraser University in B.C. Canada that won.  It was pretty great!


 

Tartan samples

*A kilt is a garment resembling a knee-length skirt of pleated tartan cloth, traditionally worn by men as part of Scottish Highland dress and now also worn by women and girls. Tartan (Scottish Gaelic: breacan [ˈbɾʲɛxkən]) is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours. Tartans originated in woven wool, but now they are made in many other materials. Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland. Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns which represent the different clans (groups of kinship) under a chieftain.

You won’t be an expert on bagpipes after reading this but it should help you take your first gingerly step into the world of bagpipes and if you want to try out something a little less traditional there is the Red Hot Chili Peppers to listen to!

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