bout the Bladder Pipe

Bladder Pipe by Pavel Cip Like the crumhorn, the bladder pipe is a wind-cap instrument. Thus, the reed, which is mounted to the top of the wooden body of the instrument, is not held between the lips. The 'cap' at the top of a bladder pipe that encases the reed is traditionally made from an animal bladder, hence the name bladder pipe. One end of the bladder is tied to the body of the instrument and the other end is tied to a mouthpiece. The bladder functions in very much the same fashion as the bellows of a bag pipe. When you blow into the mouthpiece the bladder is inflated and expands. It is somewhat elastic. Thus when a player stops blowing, the bladder contracts, and the instrument continues to sound for a short period of time. This allows a player to take a breath through his nose while continuing to play the instrument.

The bladder pipe is commonly constructed with a drone, an additional pipe that produces a single tone. You may have have noticed that the instrument pictured at the top of the page has two wooden bodies. The shorter of the two is the drone. It has a finger hole that allows a player to alter the pitch of the drone by a whole tone. (The second hole was created in the process of tuning the instrument.) The drone is another feature that bladder pipes have in common with bag pipes. Given its similarities with the bag pipe, it is not surprising that the bladder pipe sounds something like a bag pipe.

Bladder Pipe by Pavel Cip No bladder pipes have survived from the Middle Ages or from the Renaissance. However they are pictured in various historical manuscripts. Two of the more important sources of images include the the 13th century manscript Cantigas de Santa Maria and the 16th century treatise Musica Getutscht. From these and other sources we know that the construction of the instrument varied. The instruments differ not only in the number of finger holes, but in the presense or absense of drones. The bladder pipe was the primary wind-cap instrument of the Middle Ages. It was supplanted by the crumhorn in the Renaissance.

The bladder pipe pictured on this page is made by Pavel Cip. The cap is made from leather rather than an animal bladder. It is much more durable than a bladder but is not elastic. It is still possible to sustain the sound by compressing the bladder manually, or by pushing the instrument against the bladder.

Page Design Copyright 2010 Michael Berger

Clip Art Copyright 2002 Dover Publications