Where can Bagpipes be found?

In Western Europe they can be found in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Northern Europe sees the pipes in their better-known locations of Scotland and Ireland but also Scandinavia and the Baltic. They are a cultural feature also in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Malta and Greece. In Southwest Asia they can found in The Gulf States and Iran! Finally they are also embraced in North Africa.

Each country has its own variations on the standard bagpipes and usually knows them by a different name. Just some of the different types of bagpipe around the world include the Biniou of France, the Pijpzak of the Netherlands, the Dudelsack of Germany and the Bock of Austria. As well as varying in name there are slight variations in the basic construction of the pipes that give each version its own uniqueness of its region of origin.

As well as uniqueness in the appearance and construction of the pipes, there is also usually a traditional costume sported by the piper that also varies with the country and can be seen at traditional musical events and celebrations.

Western Europe Bagpipes

Bagpipes, while associated greatly with Scotland, are found across Europe and in many parts of the world and have been for a great many years. In Western Europe there are many well known types of bagpipe that are very similar to either the Scottish highland bagpipes or the related small pipes of the lowlands and Northumberland, and they are often traditional folk instruments still very much used today.

In France the traditional bagpipe is known as the Musette de cour, and this is closely related to the small pipes in being a bellows blown instrument, while another French form of pipes is the Biniou, which has Celtic origins and is a mouth blown instrument in the vein of the Scottish pipes. These are the more popularly found of a great number of French bagpipe variations.

Germany has the Dudelsack, a traditional pipe that is very much like the Scottish classic pipes, while the Bock, an Austrian traditional pipe that is bellows operated and features bells, is one of the bigger pipes found on the European mainland.

It is the UK, however, that is the best known bagpipe country, and in addition to the Highland bagpipes – the version that we all picture in our minds – more traditional instruments such as the Northumbrian small pipes with their mellow tone and bellows operation, the similar border or lowland pipes and a number of now extinct but still interesting regional versions of bagpipes litter the musical history of the country.

Worth a mention also are the Uilleann pipes, the traditional Irish version of the bagpipes still played today in Irish folk music, and a number of other derivations on the theme found in Ireland over the years.

Northern Europe Bagpipes

As with most of the European continent, bagpipes feature frequently in the folk traditions of northern European countries. While there are many different types of bagpipes – and some distinct varieties within national boundaries – it is notable that all follow the same idea of a bag, chanter and drones, with only the blowpipe missing from those versions that are bellows blown.

The Scandinavian countries have a tradition of bagpipes, in particular Sweden where a very popular type of pipe was played until relatively recently. Like many of the localised pipes it has all but died out now, but the Sackpipa – as it was known – remains sparsely and is a relative of the Highland pipes with just one drone.

Other countries such as Latvia and Lithuania feature a very similar bagpipe type known as the Dudas, this being a simple instrument much like the Swedish one with a single drone, and these are still played in traditional folk bands today, while the Estonian Torupill is another variation on the theme and one that can have anywhere up to three drones, or as few as one. These are all instruments that, while no longer found in great numbers, are still played today by enthusiasts.

Worthy mention goes to the Sakkipilli, or Finnish bagpipes, a breed that died out in the 20 th century through under use but which, like many of the lesser known European pipes, has been revived at the hands of enthusiasts and is undergoing something of a revival.

The musical heritage of many Northern European countries includes at least one type of bagpipes, proving that this widespread family of instruments has a greater reach than many may have thought.

Eastern Europe Bagpipes

The immediate association we make between bagpipes and Scotland means that we tend to overlook the many other forms of bagpipes found on the European continent and elsewhere in the world. Indeed, it is thought that the earliest records featuring bagpipes – a few hundred years before they were known in Scotland – come from Eastern Europe.

The Volynka is a prevalent eastern European bagpipe that was primarily found in the Ukraine, but is also found in many areas where the Slavic influence is strong. A familiar folk instrument bearing strong ties to the traditional highland bagpipe, it remains in use to this day.

Romania and Hungary have similar traditional bagpipes, the Cimpoi and the Magyar Duda respectively, and these are unusual in having two chanters and a solo drone. They form a part of a very large family of various bagpipe type instruments still very popular in that region of Europe.

Poland is very much bagpipe country with four varieties of the Koza played to this day in traditional folk music from the country, while Croatia has its own version of the Duda, again very similar in type to many of the pipes found in eastern European countries.

From this brief journey through the pipes of Eastern Europe it is clear that the instrument underwent a rapid spread through many regions, and with such a wide area to cover it is no surprise that local variants of the same theme emerged – just as they did in the rest of Europe, including the British Isles.

Southern Europe Bagpipes

It may surprise many people to find that southern Europe is something of a hotbed for bagpipes; many of the countries in this area have their own versions of what is a traditional folk instrument in many countries, and the similarities between them all are interesting to note.

Indeed, Spain may lay claim to being the home of the bagpipes with greater accuracy than Scotland, for the country – and the Iberian peninsula in general, has a wealth of different types of pipes that can be traced back long before the genre appeared in the highlands of Scotland.

To list them all in this brief passage would mean leaving no room for others, but to be as concise as possible there are at least ten types of pipes found in the Spanish regions and all have certain distinctions; all use the familiar blowstick operation that is similar to the highland pipes, and all are variations on the theme with different pitches and numbers of drones, and still very popular today.

Italy has the Zampogna – this being the Italian name for a bagpipe instrument and which again covers a variety of different versions on the same theme. With certain locations having their own types of pipes, just as the Cornish, Northumbrians, Irish and Scots all have their own versions in the UK, it is no surprise that many very similar yet discreetly differing instruments prevail to this day.

Two other southern European countries that still have a string bagpipe tradition are Greece, where a double chanter pipe without drones prevails, and Malta, where a similar instrument is played to this day.

Southwest Asia Bagpipes

Although many people consider the bagpipes to be a primarily European instrument there are many examples of such instruments in both South West Asia and North Africa. It is easy to believe that these may have been taken there by travellers from the European region, but a bagpipe tradition still prevails in countries such as Turkey, Iran and many areas of the Caucasus.

Turkey has a number of pipes that it can claim as its own, often referred to collectively as Dankiyo. These tend to be double chanter pipes without drones, much as those played in Malta and Greece – most likely the countries from which the designs transmuted. It is interesting to note that the Iranian bagpipe, the Ney anban, is also a droneless, double chanter instrument, and all of these versions have their own local distinctions.

Armenia and Georgia both have proud bagpipe traditions with their own version of the droneless device still being prevalent in local folk music today, and even in some of the Arabic states there is a tradition of bagpipe style instruments. Indeed, many historians point to pipes played by the Bedouin tribes of Kuwait and the surrounding desert areas as being possibly the oldest of all of the bagpipes family.

An interesting point to mention is that in the state of Oman there is a modern tradition of playing a version of the Great Highland bagpipes, an instrument that is not found in the area other than as a ceremonial item. This is most likely a throwback from the links with British military.

North African Bagpipes

There is some controversy as to whether the bagpipes found in North African countries, and there are several versions, stem from European visitors carrying the instruments with them many years ago or whether they came about independently, and possibly before. There is little doubt that European travel to North Africa was frequent, and that European influence are prevalent in the region, but the differences between the instruments is intriguing.

In Libya, for instance, there is a widespread tradition of playing the Zokra, a double chanter bagpipe that bears some relation to those found in Greece and other countries in that area, and one that features – almost uniquely – cow horns as part of its construction. This traditional folk instrument is widely played even today, and remains a staple part of North African music.

Notably, a very similar instrument is found in neighbouring Tunisia – the Mizwad, but the Ghaita, found in Algeria, is notably different from both of these and has its own unique attributes. Many have pointed to the tribal instruments played by many of the desert dwelling tribes as a possible source of reference for North African bagpipes, while others are certain that the instruments are in fact mutations of European versions.

Even so, the presence of a bagpipe tradition in North Africa will perplex many and surprise others. Interestingly, while European bagpipes of the modern traditional style now tend to use bags made from synthetic materials, even the most recent of North African instruments rely on animal hides, a certain sign that they are set in their traditional ways.