Strike up – mystery solved!

Striking up the pipes was very much hit and miss for me, until recently.   I can now get 9/10 success rate 🙂

I used to think that the strike up was about pressing the right hand ( if you are a right handed piper) against the bag while keeping the left lower arm steady and using is a kind of anvil which doesn’t move. Wrong! At least for me. The solution is to press both the right and and left lower arm into the bag at the same time. Simple.

Now back to warming up those pipes for tuning practice.

Long time gone but now am back again

My last post was over a year ago. Wow, time flies when you are studying and working and struggling with the pipes.

That does not mean that my pipes lay sadly in their case slowly gathering dust and drying out.  Nope. Not quite. But almost at one stage.

I’ve re-acquainted myself with my old friends over recent weeks and am now pretty much where I left off.

My main goal right now is to learn to tune the buggers. I don’t want to be dependent on someone else in this regard.

I read a few articles on this ‘black art’, and the first thing I did was to learn about chanter tuning using my chromatic tuner.  With the help of this little tutorial,, I learnt to adjust the reed up and down to align the tuning. So far so good.

The next step is to tune the drone to the chanter, right? I dust off the Complete Pipers Handbook by Brett Tidswell.  It instructs me to blow high A and listen to the wavering. I can’t hear it. FAIL.

I gave up on that and started reading some old Chanter publications produced by Bruce Campbell from the where I came upon an article about tuning pipes. I am instructed to play the pipes for an hour to warm them up before attempting to tune them. That is a big challenge for a beginner piper like myself! I will give it a try today though, as  I simply have to learn to do it.

We shall see how it goes 🙂

PS: I still haven’t found a way to get my butt to an instructor to help me progress.  In the past it was studies interfering with regular times for practice and now it’s work schedules that can be unpredictable at times and I hate to have to perpetually cancel tutoring sessions.



That monster!

So, just when I was at the point ( again) of tuning my pipes, the chanter reed started squealing big time and every time on low G and D. Ugh! So, in went a new reed, easy enough. But this reed was a bit harder than the old one and that was my downfall and backsliding with my pipes progress.

It took me two weeks to get strong enough to play that reed. No about of licking and squeezing was helping much.  I am now also making sure that I have at least two reeds on the go so that I will have one ready at any time if the other goes squealy.

The win for today was: I played The Dark Isle on the pipes. Very nice 🙂 To my biased ears anyway :P.

Back to those drones!

In the last few months I’ve been awfully busy with work and study. Now that the study part is temporarily out of the way, I can devote a little more time to my pipes, rather than just paddling along in maintenance mode.

I really need to learn to tune those pipes. Back to square one.

Frist, I tuned the tenor drones to each other.  Then, I made sure that the two drones shut off at the same time when I apply maximum air pressure. That’s the easy part. The first recording below starts with the drones already tuned to each other, then I move them out of tune and back in. The change in sound from in-tune to out-of-tune to back in-tune is very noticeable.

Next, comes the bass drone. It is the most difficult for me. I have set the top section to expose about 10mm ( or 3/8 inch) of hemp, and the lower section started off with the being about two finger widths apart.

Does that bass drone still sound flat?

On to the pipes!

I’m finally feeling some progress is being made with that octopus. A few hurdles needed to be overcome, however. Being stuck in a part of the world where face-to-face access to experienced pipers is extremely difficult, learning to jump those hurdles was a hit and miss affair. But, in the end I managed to clear most of them so far.

The hurdles took the following shape:

1. the blowpipe that came with the original set of McCallum’s was about 50% too long. I figured that out after watching numerous youtube videos of accomplished pipers. If they were right handed, their lower right arm was generally parallel to the ground, while mine was at about 45 degree angle! I could just about scratch my knee. Something was amiss. I also had trouble tucking that bag comfortably under my armpit without feeling my head being skewered by the blowpipe. A bit research indicated that there was such a thing as a length-adjustable blowpipe. Out went an order for the airstream telescopic blowpipe. It duly arrived and finally my bag could settle under my arm. Problem 2 arose.

2. that oval mouth piece was supposed to be much easier to deal with than the round one. It was, but I still didn’t have the lip-power to keep a seal on it. A bit more research led me to Garry Gifford’s website, and the flat mouthpiece. I ordered two. They felt absolutely natural in my mouth. No seal problem. No lip fatigue ( sounds like an ad for lip balm). Next problem.

3. there was a leak between the blowpipe and the mouthpiece insertion. Fixed that with a bit of blu-tack and a hose clamp.

Looks ugly, but it works. What more could an aspiring piper want? Ok, to be able to play like a Grade 1 piper, yes. Sure. One day… maybe… can I order that online somewhere? No. Next problem.

4. i had a set of medium resistance chanter reeds from PipeDream Reeds. They were pretty good, but I wanted to try the low resistance reeds. One sweet week later, I had one installed, struck in the bag and WOW! What a beautiful tone! It was something to behold, even for a bleeding raw beginner like me. I was floating.

Buoyed by all this technical progress, I played through Amazing Grace. Kind of apt. I admit that it was not perfect. I was not able to maintain consistent pressure on the bag, however it was not bad at all.

I’ll make a recording of it soon and post it here for posterity.