Teach Yourself Bagpipes by Lindsay Davidson

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Transition to smallpipes - good blowing technique

The principles behind blowing a smallpipe are fairly simple. You monitor the efftect by listening carefully to the 'colour' of the sound, the quality  or timbre of the sound.

The way to learn this is to strap yourself in and play low A for a long, long time, until it is completely smooth sounding and your actions are essentially automatic. Once you feel fairly secure in the basic action, start to do very simple tasks and exercises and keep doing them until you forget about your elbow. You can do this firstly only with the chanter and then add the drones.

Firstly, make sure the bellows are strapped to your body and arm such that they do not move around excessively. They should be firm and tight, but not painful. It is important that no power is lost to useless arm wafting.

The key to stable and steady blowing is that the bellows work against resistance. The bag needs to be full enough that the bellows form part of a single air system that is full.

To get this sensation to work try blowing the bellows with your finger blocking the connecting tube. This will let you feel what the resistance is like, and this is the sensation you are after. You can get used to this by letting a little air leak out of the connector tube when your finger is covering it, and use this to train yourself to  pull out your elbow and refill the bellows when you need to, as quickly and smoothly as possible. There should be very little time when the air is not hissing past your finger partially blocking the connector tube. The less time, the better as this reduces the time you need to correct the pressure in the bag with your other elbow.

When the system is full you can be remarkably gentle with teh bellows. This is an ideal situation.

The bag needs to be full of air. The reeds will not work under the kind of pressure needed to stretch the bag, so you have to accept that you need to hold the bag under your left arm with a tiny amount of pressure - enough to feel the bag is full, but not so mch as to be squeezing it. Imagine you are a dog holding an egg with your teeth - enough grip power but not breakage..

In these monents when your right elbow is filling the bellows, your need to apply a tiny amount of extra pressure on the bag. This should be as close to the same as you were applying with your right elbow when 'pumping' the bellows. Listen carefully to make sure the sound quality stays constant, and even.

Please be aware, all the clever stuff happens with your right elbow - it is the pressure applied there that defines the correct sound of the reeds and sets you up for a correct, even maintenance of that sound colour.

As with any bagpipe, you need to be extremely sensitive to air leaks. These wreak havoc on your ability to control. If you are pumping madly and the bag never seems full, it is likely that either you are not letting the bag fill up (squeezing your left arm all the time), or you have a leak.

Patience is needed to get used to blowing the smallpipes. It is advisable to return to a basic long low A and delight in the sound for many months of learning.

Return to smallpipes course index.

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