Blowing Steady Pressure
You will never be able to tune a bagpipe properly unless you know how to blow a very steady pressure or, as some would say "Blow Tone". Picture the sound from a professional piper's chanter as a column of air pressure looking like a straight line ---------------.
Anywhere he tunes the drones along this straight line the pipe will be in tune. Unfortunately, many amateur players' chanter air pressure varies in intensity and looks more like a wavy line ~~~~~~~~~~~~~.
When they tune the drones to the downward dip in pressure they are flat, and if they tune to the upward rise in bagpipe air pressure they are sharp, so they never get the drones and chanter in tune. Let's work on getting this straight-line pressure or blowing tone.
Remove the pipe chanter from your bagpipe and cork up the pipe chanter stock. Then cork the bass and the inside tenor drone tops and inflate the bag. Check that the pipe bag fits under your arm with almost no space between your underarm and the bag. If there is space there, the bag may be too big for you. Pull the bag as far back as it will go so that the drones and stocks rest on your arm and shoulder at about 80 degrees. If you can't get the drones into this angle, the blowpipe may be too long for you.
1. Your head should be straight, blowpipe in the center of your mouth, with only about 1/8" of the blowpipe behind your teeth. You should not be leaning forward or have your head pushed back by the blowpipe. If you are - change the length of the blowpipe.
2. Your back and shoulders should be straight, although you will probably find the shoulder with the bag under it slightly higher than the other.
BREATHING & ARM PRESSURE:
Once you have the correct posture, inflate the bag sounding the outside tenor only. Blow from your diaphragm - not from your chest, and don't try to blow for as long as you can then squeeze the bag. Rather, your breaths should be about 3 to 4 seconds apart (remember to breathe from your diaphragm). Now think of your arm as a big spring, it always has some pressure on the bag, when you take a breath this spring (your arm) automatically squeezes inward. The arm pressure should be with your elbow, (not your forearm) inward towards your ribs. When you blow into the bag don't lift your arm, again think of it as a spring and you have to blow this spring (your arm) outwards. Your blowing pressure and squeezing pressure MUST be smooth and identical. Listen to the drone and try to achieve this straight-line sound. It will take some practice.
HOLDING A NOTE:
Replace the pipe chanter into the pipe bag, cork off all three drones. Sound the pipe chanter, play Low A, hold this note for 20 seconds alternating between blowing and squeezing, listen to the sound and try to keep it consistent. Move onto the scale holding each note for about 20 seconds, as you play up the scale you will have to apply a little more pressure to sound the top hand notes, and this is where many pipers' tone falls apart, they tend to overblow the top hand. Practice playing High A with a bagpipe manometer, ease up on the pressure till the reed starts to "crow"; now blow just enough for that "crow" to just disappear, that's all the pressure you need for the top hand. Try going from Low A to High A, C to High A, E to High A in each case when you get to the High A back off on the pressure till you hear the reed "crow" then increase just enough to remove the "crow" and no more. With practice you will start to blow to this pressure automatically. When you can play the scale with a steady tone move onto a simple tune, something you have memorized, and play through the tune concentrating on your blowing technique, listen to the notes. They should all sound steady. Practice reducing pressure on the High A's till you hear the reed "crow" then just blow enough to remove the "crow".
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