By Tara Quailey
When one thinks of bagpipes, they usually imagine a local man dressed in a Scottish kilt playing an instrument with a screechy, ear-piercing sound on the corner of a busy street. However, if played correctly, the bagpipe can be a very melodic and soothing instrument. This is one of the reasons they are often played at funerals. The bagpipe is a complicated instrument that takes years of practice and much strength to play. It also requires lungs and a diaphragm that have great air capacity because this is a wind instrument.
The first step to learning how to properly play the bagpipe is completely knowing and understanding the instrument. This includes all the parts of the instrument, how one takes care of it, and even how it is held.
One must first hold the bagpipe in their left arm with all three of the drones over their left shoulder. Drones are cylindrical tubes that control the pitch of the sound played from the bagpipe. After you have the right positioning of the bagpipe, you then will take the blowpipe to your mouth while still holding the chanter with your left hand. The chanter is the pipe that creates the melody. You will use the blowpipe to fill the bag with air. “It is the sheer force of the lungs that inflate the bag”(How to Play the Bagpipe.) The blowpipe is the air supply that gives the instrument sound. One must constantly fill the pipe with the same amount of air pressure to get sound through the three drones. It is all about perfecting the amount of air pressure through the blowpipe to the drones. If one blows too hard the chanter will stop. If you are not blowing hard enough, one will get a croaky frog like sound. The key to becoming a successful bagpiper is perfecting the exact amount of air pressure the chanter needs.
The bag is like an extra lung. Once you hear the drones chime then you must stop filling the bag with air. When one hears the sound, this means the bag is full of air. Practicing doing this will give the player mouth strength and a strong diaphragm. After the drones chime, you need to tap the drones. This usually does not happen the first time one plays the instrument and takes many hours of practice to learn this technique. The player also needs to keep a consistent tone. The only way of doing this is to keep a constant amount of air pressure.
Besides tapping the drones, one must tap the chanter. Tapping the chanter also takes time to perfect especially since this requires more air pressure than the drones. For one to have clear and melodic notes, the bagpiper has to blow into the blowpipe while holding the chanter with their left hand. It is on the chanter that one will play the melody. The bagpipe’s scale “from lowest to highest is low G, low A, B, C, D, E, F, high G and high A. The C and F are technically sharp” (How to Play the Bagpipe.) To stop playing the instrument, simply let air out of the bag. Since air is the creating the sound, by letting the air out you are stopping the sound. This releases the pressure that once created the melody.
Basic fingering technique and knowing how to properly play the instrument can make the bagpipe a very pleasant instrument to listen to. It is helpful to watch Youtube videos on the subject and read books on bagpipes, but the most effective way to learn how to play an instrument such as the “pipes”, is to practice. I also suggest that you find a good teacher as this is a very difficult instrument to learn by yourself. Do not give up on the bagpipe when at first you have croaky sounds and are gasping for air. It will get easier as you build up your diaphragm and lungs. Eventually you will have clean sounding notes, and you just might be wearing a Scottish kilt at some function.
"How to do things." How to Play The Bagpipe. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr 2011. <http://www.howtodothings.com/>.