Highland garb, years of tradition, and the lure of heritage tempt many to learn the bagpipes. The first challenge on this path will be mastering the bagpipe practice chanter. Once a musician has settled on a quality practice chanter, he can learn to play his first notes.
Playing the First Notes on Bagpipe Practice Chanters
The practice chanter is designed to play like the bagpipe chanter. A musician blows into the thin mouthpiece and his breath is channeled across a double reed housed inside. As the practice chanter reed vibrates, the instrument makes music. Before attempting a sound on the practice chanter, a musician should make sure he’s seated comfortably with his back straight and the chanter’s sole resting on his knee.
A musician will quickly discover that breath pressure is key when learning to play the practice chanter. Too much pressure, and the reed chokes; too little pressure, and the instrument croaks.
How to Blow Into the Bagpipe Practice Chanter
When a musician first blows into his chanter, he’ll probably hear notes that are low and growling. By increasing the pressure behind his breath, he’ll transform the croaking note into a purer and higher tone.
The experience of blowing into the practice chanter is likely to surprise a musician who’s played other woodwinds. Unlike many instruments, a chanter’s pitch is bent up or down significantly as the player changes the pressure of his breath. This means a musician will need to get a feel for the right amount of pressure, and then practice to maintain this consistently.
When experimenting with different breath pressure, a musician will find a sweet spot where the practice chanter sounds best. Ideally, a musician shouldn’t feel he’s blowing too hard to obtain the most desirable tone.
How Practice Chanter Reeds Affect Breath Pressure
Each make of reed for the practice chanter requires a slightly different amount of pressure, but not all brands of reeds work with all brands of chanters. For this reason, a musician should talk with an instructor or knowledgeable pipe shop owner before making a purchase.
To adjust a double reed which requires too much breath pressure, a musician can carefully twist a small dental rubber band around the lower portion where the reeds meet. He can slowly slide the band up to bring the reeds closer together taking breaks to test the chanter’s sound as he goes. This tinkering will affect the amount of air the practice chanter requires as well as the chanter’s pitch.