There is probably no piper anywhere who can play through an entire four-parted 2/4 march, or even a two-parter, in a single breath on the practice chanter without needing an intake of air or three to keep going (nevermind an entire piobaireachd). For most pipers, that means stopping the playing while you breathe in and then continuing on normally. Many pipers everywhere play their practice chanter just like that: play until you need air, stop, inhale, continue playing. Well, pretty much all other woodwind players the world over do not play like this and employ the technique of “circular breathing” to keep their playing going throughout an entire piece of music without stopping for breath. For clarinet players, oboists, saxophone players, etc., it is probably an essential skill. For some reason, bagpipers are never taught this explicitly, despite the fact that we play quite a bit on our practice chanters without any bag reservoir of air to help keep the sound going. Is it an essential skill to have as a Highland bagpiper? Probably not, as we’re technically not “practice chanter-ers” but “bagpipers.” But it does make the playing (and listening) of continued bagpipe music work on the practice chanter that much better and efficient. You’ll better hear the subtleties of expressing your music as you rehearse without the annoying breaks— breaks you would not have on the bagpipe. Lucky thing for all of us, circular breathing is relatively easy to learn on your own and just gets better as you practice.
In this short video, this fine musician who calls himself “Earspasm Music” runs through the basic technique of circular breathing to learn it in under 10 minutes. Application to your practice chanter playing is immediate. Have fun!