The Highland bagpipe is the commonly known Scottish national instrument which has achieved world fame. The bag rests between the piper’s left arm and upper waist and has a blowpipe attached to it through which the piper blows to inflate the bag with air. A valve within this mouthpiece prevents the return of air. The use of the blowpipe to convey air by mouth relates the Highland bagpipe more directly to the original bagpipes that were common in Britain and Europe in the Middle Ages before the advent of the bellows.
The Highland bagpipe made its appearance in the British army during the 18th century with the Scottish Highland regiments. The instrument has a bass drone and two tenor drones, these being tuned an octave apart. The use of drums accompanying the Highland bagpipes gives the unique pipe music its well-known marching character. The Lowland bagpipe is essentially the same as the Northumbrian small pipe, and during the 19th century gave way to the Highland pipe.
English bagpipes have maintained a position in local musical tradition in the north of England, where they are known as Northumbrian small pipes.As with the Irish union pipes, they are bellows-blown. The bellows consists of a small leather bag with a valve for air to enter, this being pumped in through movement of the piper’s arm. The air then passes through an outlet into the main bag, which is smaller than that used with the Highland bagpipe. The bellows was introduced to British bagpipes around the beginning of the 17th century with the exception of the Highland pipe and the Northumbrian and Irish war pipes, which are mouth-blown.
The bellows-blown bagpipes in Ireland developed into the union pipe around 1700. This instrument maintains the use of the bellows to convey air, has three drones and one or more additional pipes with four to five keys that have a function between a chanter and a drone, making this bagpipe a very particular instrument in its complexity.
The two-droned Irish war pipe is mouth-blown and dates back to at least the 16th century. Similar to the ancient English and Scottish war pipes, of which the Highland bagpipe is a model, it is adapt for marching.