Adding another woodwind instrument like the bagpipe to your repertoire can be easier than you think. In this article, you get to learn how to play the bagpipes.
The bagpipe might appear complicated, looking at the physical appearance of the instrument. However, if you can equip yourself with the basics of playing, you will realize that it is not as complicated as it appears to be. Read through this detailed guide to move from being an aspirant to actually playing the bagpipes.
Getting To Know the Bagpipes
It is a woodwind instrument that produces sound through the enclosed reeds by using the air reserved that is in a bag. Bellows inflate the bag of the instrument. This means that when a player blows from the reed, the air goes straight to the bag, where the air is reserved for producing a sound.
The bagpipe contains a double-reed pipe that vibrates together, a bag and three drone pipes. The drone pipes are the low-toned tubes on the instrument. They produce bass, inside tenor and outside tenor sound. The bagpipes also contain a chanter that projects the sound and tuning slides on each of the drones.
How To Play The Bagpipes
Here is a basic guide on how to play the bagpipe.
- Place the bag compartment of the bagpipe underneath your left arm. Wrap your arms around it firmly but ensure that the bagpipe is not pressured with your arm.
- Place both of your hands on the chanter.
- Inflate the bag with air by blowing into it. Next, you blow into the bag through the blow stick. The blow stick is right after the bass drone. Fill up the bag till it is full. Ideally, the bag stays inflated for about 5-25 seconds before deflating through the drones.
- Tune the three drones using the plastic slides around them. The two tenors are tuned 1 octave higher than the bass drone. The drones tune should be aligned to that of the chanter.
- Play a note by using the chanter. Place your finger on the holes on the chanter from top to bottom. There are 8 holes on the bagpipes that produce 9 notes. They include the high-A, high-G, F, E, D, C, B, and low-A notes. The 9th note is the low-G but does not have a hole; it is therefore produced by covering all the holes on the chanter. The notes are arranged from the highest note at the top of the chanter to the low notes.
- Place your fingers on each of the holes to cover it firmly. Then, play a note by releasing your finger from the hole covering the note you want to play. For instance, lift your finger off the D note and keep the rest covered to play a D note.
- Control the pitch of the note by adding or reducing your blowing pressure. You can also do this by controlling the pressure you add to the bag underneath your arm. To create a higher pitch, press the bag harder. For a lower pitch, reduce the pressure on the bag.
- Try playing a chord by lifting your fingers off multiple notes. The 9 notes of the bagpipe can be maneuvered to form a chord. However, adding the high-A note and the low G to the notes is always required when playing a chord. This is called grace noting.
Rudiments of Playing a Bagpipes
Here are the fundamentals to help you learn how to play the bagpipes:
- Becoming familiar with the chanter: It almost sounds impossible to start straight away with the bagpipes. It is recommended that you get familiar with other woodwind instruments like the oboe, clarinet or even a chanter. Starting with the chanter helps you to master fingering and how to play a note.
- Acquaintance to tutor books: These are teachings from books and CDs. These books serve as instructional books to teach you things about the bagpipe. If your instructor is not readily available, this can stand in the gap for the duration.
- Memorizing your songs: Playing the bagpipe requires lots of engagement with your mouth, breath, arms and fingers. Therefore, adding the reading of a music sheet to it isn’t easy, especially if you are a beginner. Therefore, it is recommended always to memorize the song you want to play to give more room to focus on the activities on the bagpipe.
- Steadiness: Playing the bagpipe requires steadiness, most especially in the area of bellowing. The bag needs to be filled up as it deflates constantly. Therefore, you may need to practice blowing exercises for a few weeks. This will get you prepared to be ready to blow the bagpipe steadily.
- Fingering: Fingering, as highlighted above, has to do with the placement of your fingers to play a note or chord. You need to master how notes are played, how to make a grace note, how to cover the hole halfway and completely.
- Getting a tutor: Tutors are vital to learning the bagpipe if you desire to make commensurate progress within a few months. Tutors will ensure you learn the basics right and also teach you how to play a few songs on the bagpipe.
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Can You Teach Yourself How to Play The Bagpipes?
Typically, learning to play the bagpipe on your own is possible. However, it should be emphasized that you may not fully grasp all the bagpipe entails. It is commonly believed that the fingering of the bagpipe is easy, so the instrument is easy to learn. Well, you may be able to play a few notes on your own with the aid of articles such as this and tutor books. Nonetheless, learning the complicated parts of bagpiping like the grace noting will need more guidance and close monitoring.
In short, getting a tutor should be a thing you should look forward to if you desire to go beyond the beginner level. A tutor will teach you in detail how to practice with a chanter, read music, play notes and play some songs.
Is It Hard to Learn to Play the Bagpipes?
The answer to this depends on what you are considering. This is what I mean; learning the bagpipe on its own is not hard, but learning to be steadily blowing air into the bagpipe might not be easy. It all depends on individual strength and ability to play the instrument for a few minutes steadily. You can aid your blowing stamina by taking more time to practice. Outside this aspect, the bagpipe is not hard to learn if you have the right learning resources around you.
Meanwhile, it is harder if you compare the bagpipes to other instruments. This is because it requires lots of engagement with different parts of the body simultaneously. For instance, other instruments might only need your hands or hands and mouth. The bagpipe requires your hands, fingers, mouth, and your arm to play a song. You will also be required to learn an instrument like the clarinet, oboe or chanter to be a better bagpipe player.
How Long It Takes to Learn to Play the Bagpipes
Learning to become proficient in playing the bagpipes will take about 12 months. Here, you would have learned the basics of fingering, grace notes and breaking a note in between a chord. You may also have learned, to an extent, how to manage airflow in the bagpipes. You will learn the intervals at which you will need to blow air into the bagpipe.
However, if you desire to master all the bagpipe entails, you can take it as a lifetime journey where you keep learning and improving. Naturally, the length of time differs depending on individual capacities, practice time and ability to learn fast.
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Bagpipe Tutor?
The cost of getting a tutor differs from one location to another. However, getting one should cost around $40 to $75 per hour. Of course, this depends on the interplay of different factors like location, mode of learning, duration. For instance, an online class will definitely cost less than a physical or a one-on-one class. However, this is a fair price to pay to learn all you need to play the bagpipe.
How Do I Start Learning the Bagpipes?
You can kick-start your learning by focusing on the basics of playing the bagpipes, learning basic blowing exercises, tuning and practicing with a chanter. Then, you can proceed to learn how to play notes and chords on the bagpipes.
Interestingly, there are several places you can get resources to learn from. You can learn on video streaming sites like YouTube, CDs, tutor books, articles and materials.
In summary, learning to play the bagpipes is not so hard for anyone who can master the basics and stay committed to practice. You absolutely will not become a pro overnight, but with consistency and tutoring, you can become one within 1 to 2 years. So keep learning, master all you have learnt here, and you will be sure to see improvements.