The reedy hum of bagpipes calls to mind tartan attire and the loch-filled lands of Scotland, which is why it might be surprising to learn that the wind-powered instruments weren’t created there. Music historians believe bagpipes likely originated in the Middle East, where they were first played by pipers thousands of years ago. The earliest bagpipe-like instruments have been linked to the Egyptians around 400 BCE, though a sculpture from the ancient Hittites — a former empire set in present-day Turkey — from around 1000 BCE may also resemble bagpipes.
Bagpipes slowly made their way throughout Europe, occasionally played by notable names in history like Roman Emperor Nero, and becoming widespread enough to be depicted in medieval art and literature. By the 15th century they had made their way to Scotland, where Highland musicians added their own influence. By some accounts, they modified the pipes to their modern appearance, by adding more drones, which emit harmonized sounds. Highland musicians also began the practice of hereditary pipers, aka passing the knowledge and skill of bagpiping through families, along with the duty of playing for Scottish clan leaders. All pipers of the time learned music by ear and memorization, a necessity considering the first written music for the pipes may not have appeared until the 18th century. One family — the MacCrimmons of the Scottish island of Skye — was particularly known for its influence in bagpiping, with six generations continuing the art, composing music, and teaching through their own piping college in the 17th and 18th centuries.