When we are new to the bagpipes (and sometimes even when we're not!), there are a million variables to consider when we attempt to get our pipes going:
- Watch out for crossing noises
- Get good gracenotes
- Don't make note mistakes.
- Play clean embellishments.
- Express beautifully!
- Keep the tempo steady.
- Blow steady.
- Don't surge in my blowing.
- Get tuned up.
- Stay in tune.
- Don't over blow the reed.
- Don't let the reed choke
- .... and the list goes on and on.
To have any hope of gaining ground on these items, and actually improving, you're going to need a game plan. There's just too many things that we need to worry about when playing... how do we keep it all straight?
Well, the first step is a well-functioning bagpipe. How can you play any tunes, focus on your tonal quality, or tune yourself if your instrument isn't working properly? That's where I ultimately put together my super-quick-4-questions system to literally guarantee my instrument is set up perfectly before I get into practicing anything on the pipes.
If I ask myself these 4 questions every single time I play, I know without any doubt that bagpipe maintenance problems are not going to interfere with my playing.
Question 1: Is my bag airtight?
Question 1 seems obvious, sure.
But, the one time you overlook this detail, your practice session will be a MESS! You won't be able to get a steady sound, you certainly won't be able to get yourself in tune, and you'll be so winded that none of your tunes will come out musically either.
So, make sure you ask this question every time you get your pipes out of the box: Is my bag airtight?
And, if you're not 110% sure that the answer is "Yes, my bag holds air as well as an NBA regulation basketball" - Do something about it!
If it's leaking even a tiny iota of air: Hide Bag players should season their bag. Synthetic Bag players (if you're leaking air) need a new bag post haste.
-----> Click here to check out our newly updated Transitioning to the bagpipes course, where we go through all the basics of bag airtightness, and the 4 key questions.
Question 2: Are all of my joints airtight?
I physically test each joint before I even lift my pipes out of the case to test this (yep, every single time I play).
The hemp on these joints tends to swell and contract (without notice) all the time, due to the huge moisture fluctuations that occur during day-to-day bagpiping. That's why this step is so important - if the joint is loose, you're going to LEAK AIR!
So, ask yourself this question every time you play. Test the joints to make sure.
Question 3: Are all of my reed-seats airtight?
Where the reed meets the bagpipe - this is an oft-overlooked detail that can leak a lot of air.
Think about it: If the reed is wiggling around in the reed-seat, that means there's gaps there where air could leak through.
You guessed it - do that every time you play.
Question 4: Are my drone reeds calibrated? (i.e. - are they taking the perfect amount of air)
This last question is extremely important. If your drone reeds are taking too much air, you're going to have trouble blowing steady, tuning yourself, staying in tune, and maintaining stamina.
How do you know if your reeds are taking the perfect amount of air? Well, that's where calibration comes in, and that's a whole other topic in itself.
Let's just say for now that it's a technique that we use to set each drone reed to take the perfect amount of air. You can check out our Transitioning to the Bagpipes course where we calibration in depth, if you'd like.
The Result? A Reliable Bagpipe for Every Practice Session
Download our free guide detailing the 4 basic steps you need to master to make your bagpipe fully efficient (i.e. easy to play!!!)