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Promoting the Bagpipe Revival since 1986

The Bagpipe Society

Calls and Responses

From time to time, Ian Clabburn (as the recipient of the website e-mail address) responds to questions sent in from members and non-members on a wide variety of piping issues. These can range from the simple “Where do I get a bagpipe from”, through to more complex style or technique related questions. Therefore, to relieve the pressure on Ian, I thought of opening this up to all members. Put in your call for help and hopefully a response from other members will follow! Calls can be on any bagpiping related topic and I look forward to printing some responses. These will also be put on the Facebook page to allow for a more immediate reaction. Any Calls or Responses should be sent to me at Here are a couple of questions recently received and there are some more at the bottom to get you going!

Call: How do you know when to season a bag?

Response: (from Sean Jones) It depends on the leather and the dressing/ seasoning which is already inside. Bags slowly stretch over time and with playing, making them porous. The dressing/seasoning fills the gaps and, at least for mouth blown sets, allows the bag to breath. Keeping the bag airtight is more important than you may think. A leaking bag makes the instrument difficult to control as well as tiring to play. The best way to check for leaks is to plug the stocks, blow the bag up tight and squeeze. There will be some small loss of air but it should stay tight. Bellows sets generally use a wax and oil mixture whilst wet bags need a more complicated mixture usually based on glycerine and the like.

Call: I’ve just taken delivery of a set of bellows border pipes in G and I’m having great difficulty at present. I’ve tuned the drone to the chanter by blowing into the blow pipe and got a tune out of it although it’s difficult keeping the blow pipe in my mouth. However, when I connect the bellows it’s awful, screeching, etc. or not being able to get any notes on the bottom three holes. I don’t know if I’m not pumping hard enough or too hard. The drone sounds OK all the time.

Response: (from Ian Clabburn) First of all, I would not recommend blowing directly into the bag of a bellows set for more than a very short time because the seasoning may well be moisture resistant, which means that the inside will stay damp. One bag inflation will be OK, but more than that is not advisable. Bellows require more initial practice because here are lots of extra muscle groups and movements coming into play when compared to mouth blown. Try this: Fill the bag using the bellows. With drones plugged, aim for a steady C then bring in the right hand, note at a time down to the G. Squealing is either a slipped finger or, more likely, too much pressure. Always leave some slack in the bag and aim for a regular, slow steady bellows motion. Look at muscle groups - which ones are tense? Can you consciously relax any without the sound breaking up? Now try your simplest tune, the one you can play without thinking. If this is all successful, unplug the bass drone and repeat the above. Now 2 drones ditto. Finally 3 drones. Perseverance is the key. It may take a couple of weeks or more before bellows use becomes automatic.

Call: Can a closed fingering chanter be played half closed?

Call: Having replaced a reed, how do I get the chanter back in tune?

Finally, this letter was received from a member:

Dear Jane, I am enjoying the Winter 2015 edition of Chanter. I was intrigued to learn of the potter John Astbury, who “allegedly learnt his craft by masquerading as an idiot…” I have pursued this strategy with single-minded determination for nearly 30 years with no measurable success. What am I > doing wrong?

Yours utricularly, Jim Parr.>