The Swedish bagpipes (säckpipa or pôsu) are amongst the world’s simplest – both in construction and playing. Despite the simple construction, it offers a clear, dynamic sound.
The combination of the wide, cylindrical bore, the single reed and the large finger holes enables the player to use almost any fingering; open, closed and crossfingering. This makes the Swedish bagpipes an unsurpassed beginner instrument, that can grow with the player, and develop into an advanced, dynamic instrument with a delicate traditional sound.
The Swedish bagpipes often have only one drone, tuned in the key note of the chanter. Traditionally, the chanter is diatonic, but modern Swedish bagpipes can often easily be re-tuned and played in both minor and major scales via double holes and a minor hole for the right hand thumb. The chanter covers one whole octave, plus a note or seminote below (depending on the construction).
History and background of the Swedish Bagpipes
The true origin of the Swedish bagpipes is unclear. Slender sources and church paintings indicate the existence of bagpipes in most of Scandinavia, back in the Middle Ages. More reliable written sources mention the bagpipes in Sweden from about 1500. Since then, the pipes have been extinct until its revival in mid 1900. Read more about the history of the Swedish bagpipes on riksspelman Olle Gällmo's website.
Another interpretation may suggest, that the bagpipes (or its ancestors) existed back in the Viking Ages. Archaeological findings of chanters, which can be dated to 950-1100 AD, are made in Nørre Snekkebjerg, Falster, Denmark and Lund, Skåne, Sweden. Similar chanters are found several places in The Netherlands.
The chanters resemble the one of a Swedish bagpipe. The chanters typically have between 3 and 6 finger holes. Because of the lack of other instrument remainings, it is hard evaluate the instrument as a whole - because of this, there has been several interpretations.
One interpretation is, that the chanter has been a part of a droneless bagpipe. One end of the chanter was attached in the bag stock - the other was a bell made of cow horn. Another interpretation is, that the pipe has been mouth blown - often reconstructed as an instrument not unlike the Welsh Pibgorn, with cow horn as bell and mouthpiece. The instrument is also reconstructed with a wooden mouthpiece, which makes it easier to play.