The bagpipe, of course, is an ancient instrument. What distinguished the musette, a bagpipe popular in baroque era France, was the use of a bellows. In 18th-century depictions it’s possible to see this little bellows tucked under the forearm of the player. Other bagpipes are filled with air by means of a tube that the player blows in repeatedly in order to achieve the necessary air pressure in the bag. This contorts the face of the player, however, so the bellows system was devised as a means of making the instrument more usable in polite society. The musette also has a softer tone than many other bagpipes, so it’s more suitable for indoor use.

Musette player. Portrait of Gaspard de Gueidan by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1649-1743). Aix-en-Provence, Musée Granet.


Musette player (detail). Le Concert Champêtre by François Hubert Drouais (1727-75). Musée Historique, Palais de Versailles.

Musette. Musette de M. Clérambault by Jacques Hotteterre, performed by Shelley Gruskin. Hotteterre: Complete Wind Music. Seon SB2K 62942 (1997). Disc 2, trk 1.


The other unusual characteristic found on many musettes is the barrel drone. Other bagpipes have the drone pipe (or pipes) going back over the player’s shoulder. The barrel drone contains several possible and tunable drone reeds in one compact cylinder.

Musette with bellows detached from Méthode pour la Musette by Jacques Hotteterre le Romain (Paris, 1738).


Two musette players. Title page (detail) from Les deffis, ou, L’etude amusante (Paris, 1740).