The Great Highland Bagpipe
The pipes consist of an air-tight, moisture absorbing hide bag, a chanter having eight finger holes (producing nine notes), a blow stick, a bass drone and two tenor drones. The chanter is tuned by manipulation of the chanter reed, while manipulation of their reeds and moving of the tuning slides tune the three drones. The pipes are crafted traditionally from African Blackwood and are usually adorned with imitation ivory, nickel silver, ivory or silver (and even gold for those pipers who are more well-heeled).
The sound of the pipes comes from the chanter and the three drones. The chanter plays the melody, while the drones provide a two-tone accompaniment.
To start playing the pipes, the piper blows air through the blow stick into the bag to inflate it. The drone reeds are then struck in by squeezing the bag sharply. The piper keeps the drones at a steady, constant tone and volume by alternately blowing air into the bag and squeezing the bag while a breath is being taken. Once the drones and chanter are playing together, the piper is ready to play a tune.
The pipe chanter has only nine notes. So to liven up the tunes, pipers use many embellishments. These range from single, quick accent notes (grace notes) to complex finger twisting movements with even more complex sounding names (can you say “crunluath a mach”?).