Thanks to Gary White for putting this FAQ together and thanks to everyone whose responses on this board ended up, in one form or another, in this FAQ.
#1) What are Uilleann Pipes (UP)?
The Uilleann pipes, also known as the Union pipes, are a type of bagpipe native to Ireland, although they may have not been developed there originally. Most people know only of the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe, but in fact bagpipes of various kinds are played in almost every country in Europe, and much of North Africa and Asia as well, as far east as India.
A full set consists of a bellows, a bag, a chanter, three drones and three regulators. The bellows supplies air to the bag, and the bag is used to maintain the air flow to the chanter, drones and regulators.
The chanter is used to play the main melody. It has a range of two octaves, and keys which enable the playing of semitones in the scale as well. The drones supply continuous tones for accompaniment, the smallest drone, usually called the tenor drone, playing the bottom note of the chanter, the next largest, usually called the baritone drone, playing an octave below that, and the largest, usually called the bass drone, playing an octave below the baritone drone.
The regulators are built like chanters, but with keys which only sound a note when pressed by the piper with the heel of the hand, or with the fingers of the hand lowest on the chanter (right for right handers and left for left handers) when it is not needed to play the chanter (usually in slower music). The keys of the regulators are arranged in rows to provide a simple chordal accompaniment to the chanter's music. The regulators, like the drones, are usually labeled, in increasing order of size, tenor, baritone, and bass regulator. The drones and regulators are fitted into a large cylinder, the mainstock, which is tied into the bag.
A practice (or starter) set consists of a bag, bellows and chanter.
A half set is a bag, bellows, a chanter and three drones.
A three quarter set is a bag, bellows, a chanter, three drones and two regulators.
For a more complete explaination with photos, please follow these links...
If you want to know more about the origins of UPs check out this link....
#2) How are UPs different from Great Highland pipes?
Uilleann Pipes (UPs) are bellows blown where as the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipes (GHBs) are mouth blown.
UPs also play two full octaves. The GHBs only play a single octave and a note.
GHBs are usually played standing up, outdoors with drums in pipe bands at Highland games or played alone for solo competitions and recitals. GHB performances often require Highland dress.
UPs are well suited for playing with other melody instruments (contrary to the opinions of most fiddle players) and are often played sitting down, inside, preferably in a pub.
Most people don't know that there are many types of bagpipes from all over the world. Checkout this link....
#3) How do I get started?
The first step is to find another piper near you and talk to them. See if you can make arrangements to hear their pipes. Also, try to attend a Tionól (pronounced chunnole) or piper gathering and listen to as many different pipes as you can. Decide what you like/don't like.
If you can't do either of these things, then try to amass as much piping music as you can and spend a lot of time listening to it. The videos from NPU http://www.pipers.ie
, while no subsitute for one-on-one teaching, are a good start.
As well, try finding Irish clubs or Celtic music societies in your community and play penny-whistle with them. Playing whistle will give you a grounding in the music in general and will also help to prepare you for playing the pipes.
When you finally decide to purchase a practice set (take a deep financial breath, they're expensive), try to remember that these pipes are stupidly complicated and frustrating anywhere in the world, and in isolation it's a touch harder because there's nobody you can complain to who's got a chance of understanding what you're going on about.
The conventional wisdom is to start with a practice or starter set (bag, bellows, and chanter). Then add drones when you are comfortable with the chanter. Once you are comfortable with chanter and drones, then add the regulators. This allows you to grow your set as your skills increase, and also to spread the cost over a number of years. By only investing in a starter set at the beginning, you also limit the expense if you find this instrument is not for you. Do not buy one of the practice chanters that are mouth blown, and see the section below on finding a maker for other things to avoid.
Modification to the conventional wisdom would be to start with a half set. After getting proficient on a starter set, it can feel like you are starting all over again when you add drones and regulators. Also, when you add the other bits to your set, you will have to send it back to the maker and be without your set for a period of time.
How you get started is a decision you need to make based on your situation, financial as well as learning style and dedication.
#4) I'm ready to buy a set of pipes, where do I find a list of makers?
Uilleann Pipes are hand made and generally a maker only builds to order..or on rare occasions, may have some extra time to build a few sets for stock. As a result, the wait time is usually 3 months for a practice set, 6 months or longer for a half set.
While everyone has a different opinion about who makes the best pipes, UPs generally fall into four categories:
a) Rubbish. Don't waste your time or money.
b) Budget pipes. Low cost pipes which are intended for the beginning player.
c) Standard pipes. Well crafted pipes that don't have a lot of decoration.
d) Fully mounted or deluxe. Same pipes as the standard pipes, but have more decoration, keys, etc.
As for which pipes fall into each of the above categories, you will need to form your own opinions. Here are some thoughts on what you might want to avoid...
Regarding budget pipes, several makers offer a low cost way to get started. Some of the more popular options are the following:
Some thoughts on inexpensive pipes...
Here are some pipe maker lists...
Many of these makers produce pipes that range in price from budget through deluxe. It is best to find a maker who is as close to you as possible. This makes it much easier to resolve any problems that may develop with your pipes.
Know that most people do not want to say anything negative in a public forum, and the Chiff and Fipple has rules about how you go about reporting bad experiences (i.e. be specific). Therefore, if you post a question along the lines of "tell me about so-and-so" you may get a set of answers which are generally positive and won't tell you everything you want (or need) to know.
Listen to as many sets of pipes as possible, ask questions, search this site for past comments about a maker you are interested in, call them and talk about options, ask more questions....then form your own opinions about what you like/don't like and make an informed decision.
#5) What tutor book/CD should I get?
Four tutors that are the most popular, none of which are complete, but taken together will help you cover a lot of ground:
1) HJ Clarke's Tutor "The New Approach to Uilleann Piping" - book & companion CD
2) Denis Brook's "The Union Pipes: A Workbook" - book from Irish Piper's Club-Seattle
3) Mad4Trad - Uiilleann Pipes Tutorial - CD-ROM with video clips
4) NPU - 3 videos
The books will give you the dots and the cross-fingerings. The CDs and videos will let you see/hear what its supposed to look/sound like.
What none of these sources helps with is the physical reality of wrestling with the octopus. That's where an articulate instructor can be of the most assistance.
Once you have the basics down you can branch out into some of the NPU books of transcripts of the masters like Patsy Tuohey, and Willy Clancy. Also, Ennis' own tutor book 'The Masters Touch' available from NPU. Quirky terminology, but useful and entertaining.
For a complete list of all known tutors...
For a "required" reading/listing list...
Discussion of Mad4Trad, NPU and Clarke tutor...
Sources for tutors, etc...
#6) I'm travelling with my pipes, can I carry them on the plane?
Yes, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) has negotiated with the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to secure the right for any musicians to carry on their instruments on airline flights.
You also need a case which is appropriate for carry on luggage (see next topic).
The AFM recommend that you print a copy of the letter of agreement and carry it with you, being prepared to show it to security personnel should there be a problem. Below is a link to the AFM website. Go to that page, and click on "AFM wins right to carry on instruments" to download a copy of the agreement in Adobe Acrobat Format.
See this thread for details...
#7) Where can I find a good case for my pipes?
#8) I have small hands. Will I be able to span a flat chanter?
A: It depends on the maker. Some flat chanters require a wider reach, especially on the right hand, but some do not. It has been reported on this forum that many of the historic flat chanters have spans no wider than concert pitch.
A concert D... right
A C chanter... left
THANKS AGAIN TO GARY WHITE AND CONTRIBUTORS!