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Blowing and Pressure
most important area to concentrate on for the beginning piper is blowing
the bagpipe steadily. Many pipers never master this, even after years of
playing. The reason for this is that they did not take time in the
beginning to practice it. You must master steady blowing in order to get
good tone from your instrument. Even the best Bagpipe in the world will
not produce good tone unless it is blown steadily.
When beginning on the bagpipe it is a good idea to play the chanter and
drones alternately. First remove the chanter and cork the stock. Also,
cork two of your drones, the middle tenor and the bass. Now practice
blowing the bagpipe. Listen to the drone and try to keep a steady tone.
Keep in mind not to blow too hard as you are only playing one reed. It
should not be hard to blow. The key is the rhythm of your blowing and
controlling the pressure on the bag.
When you blow, relax your arm slightly, feel it being blown off the bag.
When you need to take a breath, increase the pressure on the bag. It is
the transition between blowing/relaxing the arm and breathing/increasing
pressure that you must work on making perfectly smooth. Apply the
pressure to the bag with your elbow, not your forearm. If your bag is
the correct size and your blowpipe the correct length, this should be
comfortable. Remember to keep your arm working. Don't forget about it.
As you get more comfortable with the bagpipe and your blowing becomes
steadier you can add the other drones one at a time.
When you have more than one drone going you will have to tune them
together. The sooner you start tuning your drones the better. The key
here is to listen. Do not expect to be an expert at tuning right away
and to not use a tuner as a substitute for your ear. It will take a lot
of practice. However, tuning your drones without the chanter will be
easier. Make sure you can blow one drone steadily before trying two
drones. Try bringing on the middle tenor next. Move the middle tenor up
or down on the tuning pin until your two tenors sound the same This
should not be too difficult. Turn the drone on the pin as you move it.
Choose one direction for down and the opposite for up. Stick to this
method for all the drones. Blowing the drones without the chanter is a
good exercise for steady blowing and is practiced even by professional
Cork all the drones and blow the bagpipe with the chanter only. Forget
about playing tunes at this point. Play long notes (at least 10 seconds
each), listen to the notes and try to maintain a steady tone. You will
probably find that the higher notes (F, High G & High A) are more
difficult to keep steady so spend more time on these. Also, be careful
not to over-blow the High G and the High A. This is a very common habit.
Listen for a good octave between the Low A and the High A.
You should practice blowing long steady notes on the chanter as often as
possible, even after you are playing the chanter and the drones
together. The more you do this the steadier your bagpipe will be. Do not
worry about playing tunes on the pipes at this point. You will progress
more quickly and ultimately be able to produce better tone by
concentrating on steady blowing from the outset.