4 Simple Checks for Better Bagpipe Blowing
Much talk, discussion, heartache, and pipe band judge scribbling is spent over the simple issue of “blowing.” Many pipe majors and band pipers will complain that it is their band’s single biggest weakness when it comes to performance on the competition circle.
So what is it? And why can’t it be good all the time? Is “good blowing” simply blowing and squeezing to get a steady sound out of the bagpipe that does not waver? I would argue that good blowing is not just a term for steady playing, but all the elements that go into that steadiness as well. It comes down to mechanics. And not unlike playing a good 6/8 march, it is a skill influenced by many factors.
Now that the “off-season” is starting up in earnest here in the eastern US, it is a good time focus on the nitty gritty of your personal playing. But rather than dwell solely on the physical act of blowing the bagpipe and squeezing the bag, spend an equal amount of time on the physical aspects of holding and using your instrument.
It may seem obvious, and it is worth stating, but the physical aspects of holding the instrument, your comfort, and the fit of your bagpipe, all have an affect on “blowing tone.” Personal comfort is essential. You must be aware of your own comfort thresholds and work within them. Good blowing will depend on your personal comfort in order to control your instrument.
Some simple items to examine and address:
- Holding the instrument. You should be standing comfortably straight when playing the bagpipe—not hunched, not leaning forward. Your shoulders should be even and relaxed. Your body cannot maintain an unnatural position for long. If you feel strain in any part of your body as you play or after playing for a while, examine your position in a mirror to see where your body is creating the strain and endeavor to correct it.
- Bag Size. Make sure you have a bag that is the right size for you. A bag that is too large for you will not help your blowing and will only cause discomfort and limit your movement.
- Mouthpiece. Make sure that the mouthpiece of your blowstick is the correct length for your height and position. Your head should comfortably face forward and straight up when playing. You should not have to crane your neck forward, down, or sideways. Take some measurements and have your mouthpiece adjusted or acquire one of the many adjustable length blowsticks out there.
- Blowstick bore. The inside bore of your blowstick should be as wide as possible. A larger bore will eliminate resistance when you blow. Your bag will be filled quicker and with less effort as a result. Many pipemakers/suppliers will bore out your blowstick and insert a metal or plastic sleeve and, in fact, most new makes of pipe already come with this feature off the line.
Be sure to check out “4 More Simple Checks for Better Bagpipe Blowing.”