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Next: Oh... So, What Kind Up: Galician Bagpipes Previous: Bagpipes in Spain


What Does it Look Like?

As for physical appearance, Galician bagpipes look similar to Great Highland Bagpipes (GHBs). A minor difference is the shape of the bag. A major difference is the number and position of the drones. The gaita galega has from one to three drones. The bass drone always leans on the left bagpiper's shoulder (for a right-handed bagpiper, of course), and its position can range from being almost vertical (à la GHB) to being horizontal (parallel to the floor, pointing backwards), depending on the shape of the bag and the player's preferences. This drone is tuned as the bass drone for a GHB, two octaves below the base note of the chanter.

Some gaitas have also a middle drone. Its lower note is placed one octave below the base chanter's note, but the most powerful harmonic is placed one fourth below the base note of the chanter, i.e., if the chanter is tuned in C, the middle drone will have a powerful G right below the chanter's C -- but it will have also a mellow C one octave below the chanter's low C. This produces a sweet steady harmony line.

Optionally, some gaitas have a small high drone. This gives either a G in the chanter's octave or a C in the chanter's upper octave, using either a small single reed (similar to the one in the drones) or a double reed (like the one in the chanter).

Some makers still use hemp in the junctions; most of them use cork, and some are starting to use a kind of soft rubber which is not affected by humidity. It seems that it is giving good results.


Gaitas can be made of several types of wood. The more traditional is boxwood, which gives a mellow sound, but which unfortunately is becoming scarce nowadays. Gaita makers also use other exotic woods, such as grenadillo, bubinga, cocus wood, ebony and violet wood.

Chanter Tuning

As for absolute tuning, gaita makers give a wide gamut of chanters to suit the player's needs, ranging from G to F. The most usual chanter tunings are:

Gaitas in high E and F are available, as well as gaitas in low G. Some bands play gaitas tuned in different keys. Some makers used to build gaita chanters termed as ``brillantes'' (brilliant). These were tuned between 1/4 and 1/2 of a tone above the basic note: a C brilliant chanter was thus tuned at some point between C plus 1/4 tone and C#.

The current trend seems to be switching to higher pitches.

Scale and Fingering

All (current) Galician bagpipes have as natural scale the diatonic major scale (I have been told that old bagpipes had a scale in between the GHB scale and the diatonic scale). This does not mean that the scale is tempered or non-tempered: bagpipe chanters must always be built and tuned according to a non-tempered scale. Users of automatic tuners must be very careful with what they do, and add/subtract cents where necessary.

Galician bagpipes can have open or closed fingering, depending on the chanter you have (another flavor...). The diagrams below should help. The correspondence fingers/holes is like this:

      o      left hand thumb
       o      left hand index
       o      left hand middle finger
       o      left hand ring finger

       o      right hand index
       o      right hand middle finger
       o      right hand ring finger
      o      right hand little finger

o is meant to be an open hole, * denotes a closed hole. Holes are usually closed using the finger's pad, not the phalanx!

Fingering for an open fingering C tuned chanter. (1), (2) and (3) stand for alternative fingerings.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   o   o   *
 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   o   o   o   *   o
 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   o   o   *   o   o   *   *
 *   *   *   *   *   *   o   o   o   *   o   o   o   o   *   *

 *   *   *   *   *   o   *   o   *   o   o   o   o   o   *   *
 *   *   *   o   o   o   *   o   *   o   o   o   o   o   *   *
 *   *   o   *   o   o   o   o   *   o   o   o   o   o   *   *
*   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o

 B   C   D  Eb   E   F  F#   G   G  Ab   A  Bb   B   C  (1) (2)

Fingering for a closed fingering C tuned chanter.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   o
 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   o   o   o   *
 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   o   o   *   o   *   *
 *   *   *   *   *   *   *   o   o   *   o   o   o   *   *

 *   *   *   *   *   *   o   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
 *   *   *   o   o   o   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
 *   *   o   *   o   *   *   o   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
*   o   o   o   o   *   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o   o

 B   C   D  Eb   E  (1)  F  F#   G  Ab   A  Bb   B   C  (1)

Alternative fingerings for some notes. Although the previous fingerings are the most commonly used, in some chanters (either open or closed) and with some reeds, certain notes might be given more accurately or easily with alternative fingerings. Here are some examples to try out:

  *    *    *    o    o    *
   *    *    *    *    *    o
   *    o    o    *    o    *
   o    *    *    o    o    *

   *    o    o    o    o    o
   o    *    *    o    o    o
   *    *    o    o    o    o
  o    o    o    o    o    o

  F#   Ab   Ab   Ab   Bb    C

G(1), which is the closed fingering position for G, can also be used in most of the open fingering chanters, and it eases the fingering in lots of songs. C(1) might not work in all chanters, but when it does, a clean, limpid, powerful high C is produced.

Note: In general, fingerings are not freely interchangeable between open and closed chanters (excepts on those of lower quality, where any fingering would anyway be out of tune...). Also, minor differences can exist between players, but the fingerings above seem to be the more broadly accepted and used.

To play in the second octave, start by using the C(1) position. To obtain the first D in the second octave you have to press the bag a little bit harder and open the left hand thumb hole (in some chanters it might be needed to open it only partially), then raise the right hand ring finger, and so on. At least you should be able to play this second octave D. The number of notes you can obtain in the second octave and its quality depends completely on your chanter and reed (and skills...).

next up previous contents
Next: Oh... So, What Kind Up: Galician Bagpipes Previous: Bagpipes in Spain