A person holding a recorder and a balloon under their arm.

Can you play a tune on your balloon bagpipe?

Have your parents ever told you to stop playing the recorder because you’re being too noisy? Follow these instructions to turn that recorder into a bagpipe instead!

You will need

  • Balloon
  • Bulldog clip
  • Recorder

What to do

  1. A person blowing up a blue balloon.Blow up the balloon but don’t tie the end.
  2. Putting a bulldog clip onto the opening of an inflated blue balloon.Twist the end of the balloon and put a bulldog clip on it to stop it from deflating.
  3. Taking the mouth piece off a recorder.Twist the mouthpiece end of the recorder off.
  4. Put the mouthpiece of the balloon over the end of the recorder.Put the end of the balloon over this end of the recorder tube.
  5. Holding the balloon instrument under the arm.Put the balloon under one elbow.
  6. Twisting the balloon instrumentWith the other hand, twist the recorder tube so the balloon neck seals the tube.
  7. Taking off the bulldog clip.Take off the bulldog clip. If everything is going right, air should not be able to leak out.
  8. Tilting the recorder to let out some air from the balloon.Slowly tilt the recorder tube to release the seal and let a bit of air leak out. If you’re lucky, it’ll start playing a note!
  9. If you don’t get a sound, try pulling the recorder tube away from the balloon to stretch the rubber, or try letting the air escape a bit faster. It can take a bit of experimentation, and a few balloons full of air to get it to work properly.
  10. Playing the balloon instrument.When you get good at playing your balloon bagpipe, you can try putting your fingers on the recorder holes to make lower notes! To get a good sound, you will need to change how much you stretch the balloon and how much air is flowing, depending on the note you’re playing.


What’s happening?

There are lots of musical instruments that you blow through. Recorders, clarinets, oboes and trumpets look and sound different, but they all have the same basic structure. First, there’s a mouthpiece, which makes a noise. And second, there’s a tube, which lets you change the note you’re playing.

To make your bagpipe, you remove the mouthpiece from the recorder. So there must be something else making the noise your instrument needs. That thing is the neck of the balloon itself! As air flows out of the balloon and into the recorder tube, it makes the neck of the balloon vibrate. Changing the amount of airflow and how stretched the balloon is will also change the vibrations, and if the vibrations are just right, they’ll make a loud sound!

Musicians call this a ‘single reed’ instrument because it has one piece that vibrates to make noise. Other single reed instruments include clarinets and saxophones.

Real-life science

Real bagpipes are a bit more complicated than our balloon instrument. Most have multiple pipes – one is called the chanter and it has holes like our bagpipe does. The other pipes are called drones, and they play the same note, all the time. Each pipe has its own reeds to make sound.

Some bagpipes have single reeds, while others include double reeds with 2 vibrating parts. Some use a combination of single and double reeds, including the famous Scottish Highland bagpipes.

In most bagpipes, there’s also a mouthpiece used to put more air into the bag. Some bagpipes use bellows instead – that way you can sing and play bagpipes at the same time!

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