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PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 8:29 am 
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I just got my set of border pipes yesterday. I have never used bellows before. Any advice on posture, bag pressure or anything would be very helpful! Thank you!

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:01 am 
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I have Uilleann pipes and Scottish small pipes, not Border pipes, but the issues should be similar. As for posture, keeping your back relatively straight will affect in a positive way your endurance. Leaning "into" the chanter tends to transfer stress to your forearms and hands, resulting in "the grip of death". For me, finding a comfortable posture was a function of finding the best position of the bag such that I could hold the chanter comfortably. Regarding bag pressure and bellows action, that's something that requires practice and patience in order to reach a point where you don't even think about it. I tend to keep my bag pressure pretty high and tend to pump the bellows a lot. Others will "take deeper breaths" with their bellows, pumping more air, less often. Some of that is also a function of the capacity of the bellows. Again, the goal I think is to make it feel natural for you.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:49 am 
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I think the main thing is initially isolating the practicing of the bellows from playing tunes on the chanter.

Might be best to take out the chanter, cork it off, and begin by playing with only one drone. This has the advantage of you not being tempted to noodle on the chanter when you need to be 100% focused on the bellows.

Then, after you can hold that one drone absolutely steady for a few minutes straight (which could take weeks) add a 2nd drone. If you're new to piping this is invaluable learning time, because you can practice tuning the drones to each other, getting your ear used to listening to the beats.

Then get all three drones going. It's much more difficult to tune all three drones together than just two. Once again time practicing tuning the drones is invaluable to your development as a piper. (Some very good pipers don't have a good enough ear to tune their drones while all three are going.)

After you can keep the drones going dead-steady and tune them to beatless perfection, I would shut them off and start using the chanter alone. If you're not an experienced piper you'll get all sorts of squeaks due to imperfect finger placement leading to leaks around one or more of your fingers. Bag-pressure fluctuation also can create squeaks which is exactly why you should be able to play your pipes with dead-steady pressure BEFORE you begin playing upon the chanter.

Chanters are much more finicky about pressure fluctuations than drones (which is why I advocate doing drones first) and Border pipes chanters are much more finicky about pressure fluctuation and fingering precision than either Great Highland or Scottish Smallpipe chanters- if you're new to piping you've chosen the most difficult instrument first (like the person who goes for his Doctorate before getting his Bachelors). So you should start with a note which requires fewer fingers on the chanter, say F# (only requiring the thumb and one finger) and try holding that note for a few minutes with no fluctuation. Then you can play various Long Notes, holding E for a few minutes, D for a few minutes, and so on, working your way down the chanter. Low A, on Border pipe chanters, can be finicky and can squeal or change pitch with a relatively small change in bag pressure.

It's critical to ONLY play Long Notes until you can hold any chanter note dead-steady for as long as you wish. Once this is mastered it's time to bring in one drone, practicing tuning it to the chanter, and when that's mastered a 2nd drone, then eventually the 3rd drone, training your ear as before.

When you can hold any note on the chanter perfectly steady, with all three drones going and everything in tune, and operating the bellows is a completely autonomous activity, it's time to start playing scales and simple tunes. Jumping the gun and having fun blasting through reels and jigs before you know how to blow and tune the pipes will lead to being an unsteady and out of tune piper.

About bellows technique, the main mistakes beginners make are:

1) using short choppy or jerky motions, not using the full capacity of the bellows, and

2) trying to control the bag-pressure from the bellows.

The bellows are ONLY there to fill the bag. All of the pressure-control comes from the bag arm, just as it does with mouth-blown pipes.

Before a bellows-stroke you lift the elbow of the bellows-arm so that the bellows fill to their capacity (like taking a deep breath) then do a smooth but forceful stroke to fill the bag. The bag-arm has to lift to allow the air to enter the bag without making the pressure spike.

The air is coming into the bag from the bellows intermittently; the air must be fed to the reeds steadily; and the bag-arm is the pressure-regulator that makes this possible.

If your bellows have decent capacity and your bag, pipes, and reeds aren't leaking you don't have to do bellows strokes very rapidly; it' a relaxed purposeful action, not a jerky one.

With both mouth-blown pipes and bellows-blown pipes the beginner's first stage of bag steadiness is learning to even out the tone of the bag-arm-squeezing period and the blowing-air-into-the-bag period. First the two periods will be at different pressures, like this

_____--------______---------_______

Once these two are evened out a more subtle problem usually becomes evident, that of having a spike or drop in pressure at one or both of the junctures between the blowing and squeezing portions, perhaps like this

_____^_____^______^_____

where perhaps there's a spike in pressure during the transition from squeezing to blowing (due to the bag-arm not coming off the bag soon enough, in this example).

Or the opposite, the bag-arm coming off too soon, leading to a drop in pressure at the same point in the cycle.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 07, 2017 11:29 pm 
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Thank you SO much!!! You have helped me a lot. The bellows pumping is getting easier and I'm not squeaking as much. I am playing some tunes and have been trying to teach myself things about pressure, posture and ornamentation.

This advice is immensely helpful! Thank you for typing out all of this information! Thank you very much!

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LOOKING FOR ADVICE ON PLAYING SCOTTISH BORDER PIPES! ANY HELP WILL BE GREATLY APPRECIATED! THANKS!


Help me go to a Trad Irish Music camp!

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THANK YOU!


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2017 6:21 am 
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You're welcome! Richard

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2017 7:25 am 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
The bellows are ONLY there to fill the bag. All of the pressure-control comes from the bag arm, just as it does with mouth-blown pipes.

Most important sentence of all - I keep telling my students that all the time! :thumbsup:


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:13 am 
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What's curious is how sometimes a Highland piper who blows very even tone will take up bellows pipes and do it all wrongly, as if all their bag-arm skill suddenly goes out the window.

Sort of like the trumpet player who plays beautifully in tune who takes up bagpipes and plays out of tune... how can their "ear" abandon them?

The most stunningly perfect bellows technique I've ever heard was, oddly enough, from a guitarist who had fairly recently taken up the Border pipes.

As he was playing I became aware of a slow beat coming from his drones- one drone was just a tiny hair out of tune. So I listened to that beat, and it never varied, never got any slower or faster.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 25, 2017 4:05 pm 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
What's curious is how sometimes a Highland piper who blows very even tone will take up bellows pipes and do it all wrongly, as if all their bag-arm skill suddenly goes out the window.

Sort of like the trumpet player who plays beautifully in tune who takes up bagpipes and plays out of tune... how can their "ear" abandon them?

The most stunningly perfect bellows technique I've ever heard was, oddly enough, from a guitarist who had fairly recently taken up the Border pipes.

As he was playing I became aware of a slow beat coming from his drones- one drone was just a tiny hair out of tune. So I listened to that beat, and it never varied, never got any slower or faster.


I kinda think you're right in that GHB experience can be a hindrance when it comes to bellows-blown pipes. In the middle of week 4 on uilleann pipes for me, and I definitely can get in ruts when I use the bellows to change pressure. I bet it's because I am used to a regular, constant pressure in the bag, and therefore, any dynamic changes have to be produced somewhere else. Subconsciously, and incorrectly, that is.

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PostPosted: Wed May 17, 2017 6:19 am 
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Flutulator wrote:
In the middle of week 4 on uilleann pipes for me, and I definitely can get in ruts when I use the bellows to change pressure. I bet it's because I am used to a regular, constant pressure in the bag


I hadn't thought of it that way (probably because I learned the uilleann pipes 40 years ago!) but you're right. Highland pipes want dead-steady pressure, and on the uilleann pipes you have to tailor the pressure for each note, more or less.

It's why I have people just play a single note (say B or G) at first until they're blowing dead-steady.

Then I have them play in a range of notes that use the same (or nearly the same) pressure, say, from G in the low octave to Back D.

Because you can't do the subtle pressure changes required from an uneven base. First must come absolute steadiness, then can come the controlled tiny sophisticated changes in pressure that playing in tune requires.

Beginners, especially those coming from Highland pipes, misunderstand the differences in pressure required to play the octaves. (Beginners coming from flute and whistle have an advantage here.)

Highland pipers seem to always imagine that there's a constant pressure at one level for the low octave (just as on the Highland pipes) and a constant pressure at a different level for the 2nd octave.

Hence they tend to underblow the low octave and overblow the 2nd octave.

It's not like that. Rather, the uilleann chanter has a range of notes requiring around the same pressure (which spans the octave jump) with outliers above and below.

So on my chanter the notes from G in the low octave up to F# in the 2nd octave blow at around the same pressure.

Down below, I have to back off a bit for Low F# and Low E and blow very strongly for the Hard Bottom D.

Up above, I have to give a little boost for High G, a bit greater boost for High A, and an even greater boost for High B.

Ironic that the lowest and highest notes require the most pressure (taking High B to be the highest note that regularly occurs it ITM). On my chanter High C and High D (done with keys on my chanter) require less pressure than High B.

Add to that the tricky E's. Many Concert Pitch chanters have around an eighthtone to quartertone differential in pitch between Low E and High E. How one handles it varies from player to player. What I do is tune my E right in the middle, with Low E a tad sharp and High E a tad flat. On long Low E's I back off on the blowing and shade the holes with my two lowest fingers. On long High E's I give a pressure boost. On fast tunes they're just off a bit.

The B's are similar, but opposite, in that High B tends to be sharper than Low B. Many pipers tune Low B "just" (-16 cents) which makes High B at around its ET value.

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1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
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