Any dopers play the bagpipes?

Time to come out of the closet:


For many years it has been an ambition of mine to play the bagpipes. They make such a great sound!

Given that I already play the tin whistle (badly) will I be able to pick it up fairly easily? Or is it so very different that it won’t make a difference? (if you see what I mean). If you play, how long did it take before you could play without fumbling the notes?

Are there such things as “practice” bagpipes that make less noise than normal bagpipes? The big block to actually taking up the instrument is the certain knowledge that the god-awful noise I make as I learn will inspire otherwise tolerant neighbours to murder me most foully.

The other obstacle is the fact that they cost a mint… it’s a fantastically long shot, but you never know: do any dopers have a set gathering dust in some attic that they’d like to sell?

You can pick up a chanter fairly inexpensively from anybody who sells the pipes themselves. This is what you’ll learn to play on before getting your hands on a full set of pipes - besides saving the hearing of those around you while you learn to play, it also gives you a chance to learn the notes before you start trying to figure out how to fill and squeeze the bag properly…

Unfortunately, I don’t actually play the pipes, but man I’d love to learn how.

I’m learning. It’s a slow process, 'cause I’m teaching myself.

The chanter is definitely your first stop. They come with instruction manuals, and don’t do damage to peoples’ hearing. :wink:

Next stop, a small set of pipes. They make ‘parlor pipes’ specifically for indoor use- I have a very nice set that I got from EBay for under $150, brand new.

It’ll probably be at least a year and a half, two years before you feel confident enough to work your way up to a full set, so you have plenty of time to start saving.

Let me know if you have any other questions!!


I have a friend at school who plays tha bagpipes.

Northern Piper does.

Sadly, I had a relapse (i.e. lack of practice time), and still haven’t got the pipes themselves. I’m now feeling much more confident on the chanter, and am looking into the pipes. (My nickname isn’t deceptive, just hopeful :slight_smile: )

Reuben, I’ve been working on the chanter for two years. I can play the recorder, and have dabbled with the penny whistle, so I thought the chanter would be easy.

I was wrong.

Maybe it’s my own lack of talent, but I found the fingering for the chanter very difficult to learn. The main difference is that the recorder and the penny whistle just play the melody notes, but the chanter uses the “grace notes” - those little trills and pops that you don’t hear unless you’re really listening for, but are actually the epitome of piping skill.

The simple grace notes are singles, doubles, throws, stops, and burls. Then there are the more complex ones, like tachoms, grips, truluaths, and crunluaths. You can’t play the pipes without the grace notes, so just being able to play scales, like on the recorder or the pennywhistle, doesn’t get you very far. My instructor insists that it’s the grace notes that make a piper.

On the positive side, once you get past the hump and feel confident about the grace notes, it’s fun! I’ve recently been practising more, because I enjoy it more. I wouldn’t say I’m a good sight reader, but that too has improved, because the grace notes are coming almost automatically.

Other difficulty about the pipes is that you have to memorise all the pieces. There’s no little clip-on easel with all your music, like there is with marching brass bands. There’s a lot of repetition in a piece as a result, but ultimately it comes down to memory. However, I’ve been feeling much better about that as well.

I applaud those like bagkitty and kilt-wearin’ man for trying to learn on their own. All I can say is that it didn’t work for me. (Again, maybe that lack of talent thing :frowning: ) If you’re interested, I would try to find an instructor. If you’re not aware of any pipe bands in your area, phoning up your local police, curiously, might be the quickest way to find an instructor - pipes and police have a pretty strong connexion, as the Master noted in this column.

Best of luck, and Cha Geill!

Thanks for the advice! Am going to see if I can’t find a chanter this w/end. Bound to be somewhere in London that does them.

Let the cat-strangling begin… :slight_smile:

::bobkitty reaches into her bag of tricks, rummages around for a moment, and pulls out a clean, white glove::

Northern Piper, sir, I would like to point out your grievous error.


It’s bobkitty, not bagkitty.

::throws glove down on the ground::

I demand amends.

That’s not such a bad thing…I have a bagkitty at home. My wife’s tabby. If you hold the cat like a set of pipes and give a gentle squeeze, she emits a noise that sounds very much like the skirl of the pipes, then commences purring.

I have to applaud Norther Piper on his powers of observation - I didn’t mention that I was actually trying to learn to play, but yep, I am, off and on when the mood strikes…

I played (as a drummer) with the NC State University Pipes and Drums a bit while I was in grad school. We competed in the world pipe band championships in Glasgow as well as the Scottish national pipe band championships and a few other local competitions in Scotland that year.

As Northern Piper and others have said, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to pick up. The bagpipes are unique in that they are (AFAIK) the only instrument on which it is impossible to play a “rest” or use dynamics. The drums help make up for some of this deficiency; pipe band music calls for more intricacy of patterns and use of dynamics by the drummers than any other style of music I’ve seen.

The series of grace notes, such as throws, are the other method the pipes use to provide division between notes. Think about a song like Jingle Bells, where you have one note repeated several times in sequence. This is not problem for traditional wind instruments, as you just tongue each note to provide a division between notes. You can’t do that on pipes, however, as the airflow is continuous. That’s why the throws and such are crucial.

They’re also sort of complicated to learn. You have to have nimble fingers, and it takes a lot of practice. I think it would be hard to pick it up on your own because the patterning is so intricate. This is one instance where a good video, or at least a good book/recording combination would be a great help. Plan on spending a good bit of time practicing on the practice chanter before you move up to the pipes. (Not necessarily a bad thing — it’s a lot less hassle to pull out the chanter than putting together and tuning the pipes.)

Since you’re in the UK, try attending a pipe band competition some time, and chatting up the perfomers afterward to see if they have any advice on where you could learn. (Warning: if the first person you talk to is no help, try another. Pipe banders tend to be an eclectic bunch. Most are delighted to find someone else with enthusiasm for the pipes, though.)

BTW: You should have heard our band play “Calypso Piper.” Truly a bizarre juxtaposition of musical style and instrument, but oddly compelling.

Let’s see: we could have steel cage, dueling chanters match-up, fastest fingers wins…

or I could just say “Whoops! sorry.”

[sub]Piper repeats five times before bed: "bagpipes, bobkitty. bagpipes, bobkitty…[/sub]

Kilt-wearin’ man, you mentioned it once in a previous thread on bagpipes, about a year ago.

YWalker, my instructor just gave me a piece in 9/8 time (Battle of the Somme - seemed appropriate for this time of the year).

I’ve never heard of that time signature before. He said it’s quite common with pipe music, but he mentioned that drummers hated that time signature - is it because of the odd number of beats?

My roommate had a cat, and we’d do the exact same thing. We referred to it as playing the flabpipes.