I've received several emails lately that all go basically like this:
I bought some pipes on the internet a couple of days ago and I can't seem to make them work. I can't even make a sound. Is there something wrong with the pipes? Maybe the reeds? Is there some technique to learning to squeeze the bag?
Well the answer to the last question is: definitely YES. There's quite a lot of skill in keeping a steady pressure on the bag. It's one of the big hurdles that pipers overcome. Steady pressure means steady tone. The pressure in the bag is maintained by your arm, and you blow into the bag to keep it inflated. So you've got a constantly changing volume of air in the bag and you are trying to keep the pressure constant. It takes lots of skill which comes from good instruction and lots of practice.
But I think the big problem for many of these internet-purchased bagpipes are the pipes themselves. I previously posted about the ebay bagpipe phenomenon -- very poor Pakistani made bagpipe-like objects that are sold cheap and are non functional. It's not like a cheap guitar that will sound very bad but is still sort of playable. The pipes often come with bags that are not airtight and bad cane reeds that simply don't vibrate. If the bag doesn't hold air you've got no air pressure and hence no sound.
(Photo from Henderson Imports)
I once had a student who arrived to his first lesson with a set of pipes like this and he was determined to make them work. We did eventually get them to make a sound, but we had to buy a new bag ($200+) and new drone reeds ($100+) plus it took a couple of hours to get the whole thing set up.