Swedish bagpipes

The music

Bellows blown Swedish bagpipes
Happy piper (the author)
"Only one for whom life no longer holds anything precious, can find it ridiculous when the Dalecarlian piper with his bagpipe produces the most vicious sounds, but yet looks so happy, turning his eyes to the heavens, as if in prayer. He is now dreaming of his life's happiest moments. The melodies taught to him as a young boy, takes the child of nature back again to the golden days of old. Eden, usually closed, opens up and the angel, who once had to close paradise, lowers his sword for ... the childlike mind."

C.A. Mankell 1853.

Not much is known about the tunes played by the bagpipers of old, nor how they played them. There is a (very short) list of tunes known to have been played by bagpipers, but all of them passed through other instruments on their way down to us.

Consequently, almost nothing is known about how, and to what extent, the old piper's ornamented their tunes. However, ornamentation in Swedish traditional music has never been that strict anyway - it is almost always improvised. So, the modern piper's ad hoc gracing may be exactly what the old pipers did as well.

There is no consensus on how a Swedish bagpipe chanter should be fingered, and most chanters are very forgiving to strange fingerings. Most experienced pipers play in a half-closed manner to facilitate a trick to simulate pauses and staccato notes; The six-finger note (e' on an E/A-chanter) is normally the same, and approximately as loud, as the drone note. So, momentarily closing all six finger holes gives a very convincing illusion of a pause. This can be heard in the music examples below.

You can read more about playing technique, including how to squeeze a few extra notes from your bagpipe, if you follow the link on how to play.

A Swedish bagpipe, by Peter Andersson
Bagpipe by Peter Frodemo
As for the music, the piper must go through the treasure of Swedish traditional music and search for the fraction of tunes that are playable using the cramped scale of the pipes. A lot is discarded, of course, or sometimes rewritten to fit the pipes, while some tunes fit in theory but never play well for other reasons. Some tunes, however, fit so well on the pipes that it is tempting to conclude that they were bagpipe tunes from the beginning. There is a certain thrill in finding such tunes.

The adjoining music example is one of the most well known tunes among Swedish bagpipers. It is a polska - the most Swedish of all Swedish dances (but actually with Polish roots and closely related to the mazurka and polonaise). This particular polska is attributed to Nedergårds Lars - a legendary 19th century piper from Dalarna. Nedergårds Lars was a bear hunter (among other things), which explains his nick name, "Björskötten" (the bear shooter).

Music score
Click the music score to hear the tune (541k, 1:09, mp3)

Here is a video where I play the above tune:

and here is another video, where I play a wedding march, also after Nedergårds Lars:


(GIF score)

Visit my YouTube channel for more videos.

Here are some other mp3 examples of traditional tunes, played by me on pipes made by Alban Faust:

Note that the version played is sometimes quite different from the corresponding music score. Swedish traditional music leaves plenty of room for free interpretation and there are very few 'rights' and 'wrongs'.

There are some more tunes under the section on Tunes for beginners, and also on my Facebook page.

Furthermore, I have collected and edited a set of 25 tunes after Petter Dufva (1756-1836). Petter Dufva was a fiddler but many of his tunes fit well on the bagpipes. The collection is commented in Swedish only, but the written music is of course language independent. Some of the tunes require the more advanced playing techniques described in the section on how to play. Here are four of these tunes, number 63, 101, 128 and 177, in a medley on Swedish bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy (with Göran Hallmarken):

A few recordings

There are only two albums with an explicit focus on Swedish bagpipes - the previously mentioned Säckpipa record (LP) by Per Gudmundson (1983), and my own Olle Gällmo - med pipan i säcken (2008). Gudmundson's LP is hard to find, unfortunately, and was never released on CD.

some recordings
Anders Norudde's solo album "Kan själv!" (also sold under the English title "Himself") contains many very nice bagpipe tunes and is highly recommended.

The quartet Blå Bergens Borduner (The drones from the blue mountains) include three Swedish bagpipers. Their only record, by the same name as the group, include 8 tracks with Swedish bagpipes.

Another classic is the CD Bordunmusik från Dalsland (Drone music from Dalsland) with Alban Faust. Most tracks include bagpipes of Swedish, French, German or Flemish origin. 10 tracks include Swedish bagpipes.

Then there are a number of records where bagpipes are used, but more sparingly. Groups to look out for are, for example, Hedningarna, Lure (Valramn), Faust, Frifot, Dråm and Svanevit. Piper names to look for include Erik Ask-Upmark, Folke Dahlgren, Stefan Ekedahl, Alban Faust, Pär Furå, Per Gudmundson, Olle Gällmo, Per Jensen, Ulf Karlsson, Mikael Lund, Anders Norudde, Anton Olausson, Harald Pettersson, Anna Rynefors, Jan Winter and Jonas Åkerlund.

(Erik, Folke, Alban, Olle, Per J, Ulf, Mikael, Anders, Anton and Anna have received the honorary title "riksspelman" on Swedish bagpipe, which would roughly translate to "piper of the realm")

Olle Gällmo http://olle.gallmo.se olle@gallmo.se