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Forget Blowing Steady!
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Forget Blowing Steady!

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One of the biggest downfalls of "mainstream" bagpipe instruction (in my opinion) is the idea that the main goal when you're playing your pipes is to blow steadily. I almost never tell my students to blow steadily. Right now you're thinking "Wait -- what?" Let me explain.

Manometer Tonal Production Diagram lo resTo me, the most important thing you should strive for when learning the pipes is to achieve a great tonal quality. You see, depending on how much air is put through a chanter reed, it offers different levels of "richness," or harmonics. To achieve a great tonal quality, we want to maximize those harmonics, so they can resonate with the harmonics that our drones produce. The more harmonics and resonance, the more musical our bagpipes are (unless you dislike harmonic richness, in which case...). Got me so far?

So - the big question is no longer "how steady can I blow?" Now, it's "how do I find the blowing pressure that produces the maximum harmonics and resonance?" Even though this sounds complicated, it's actually pretty easy.

The rule of thumb is - the more energy (air) that we put through a reed, the more harmonics will be produced. Therefore, we should be constantly shooting for the maximum amount of air to be put through the reed. Of course, there is one catch - if we blow too hard on the reed it will squeak and squawk. So, the name of the game in finding the "sweet spot" is: Put the maximum amount of air through the chanter reed as possible, without your reed producing undesirable sounds.

Now, going back to blowing steadily - what will happen if we succeed at finding the chanter reed sweet spot at all times? Won't steady blowing be a natural byproduct of that? Of course it will! And that is why I hardly ever talk about steady blowing. Strive for the harmonics, and the technique of blowing steadily will follow suit.

Be sure to check out all of the tonal quality materials at the Dojo by clicking here.

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Here's to some good tone!

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Andrew Douglas Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, having been active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He's also the founder and creator of Dojo U and of PipersDojo.com

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