Alternate Fingerings

Alternate Fingerings
Oh you NAUGHTY boy!!!

You know them, you love them — the purists who tell you that there is one and only one way to finger a note.
Simply, this isn’t true.

There are ‘alternate’ pitches that can be played on a Highland bagpipe chanter. They’re part of the music we can play, but that which largely gets suppressed — and by suppressing these notes we limit the music we can make &/or compose, ultimately limiting us as musicians — that’s right, we are “musicians”, not wind-up robot monkeys on a box with two little cymbals slapping together, mindlessly executing and re-executing the same tune that someone else composed decades and centuries earlier. In recent years we’ve seen more & more of our peers ‘breaking the rules’ through using these notes — oh yeah, and being as so audacious and composing even though their name isn’t Donald Mcleod … because, you know, he wrote ALL the music for Highland bagpipes.

I believe a few things around this matter…
1) You’ve probably heard the saying “That which does not grow, dies.” I believe that we should both be preservationists and innovators — preserve the old music through studying it and playing it, it is the source of what we play … and at the same time remember that this is a living heritage, let the instrument and the music it can make live and breath.
2) Only break the rules if you can do so well — use good technique or don’t play it. Break the rules only if you’re breaking them right.

My understanding and experience is that to make the following pitches you need a reed* that will support them — it doesn’t always work with every reed(/chanter), and it won’t necessarily work with the same chanter and two different reeds of the same brand/model … and producing these notes may not work when your reed is old. (* and a chanter with the inner dimensions that will support/produce the sound when so-fingered — but technically to say this is obvious)
ALSO… I do not claim to be an expert on this topic. The following information is what I have collected from others … so, blame them.

If its not clear already, or you haven’t run into it before, here’s how the following diagrams work — “X” indicates a closed hole, “O” is an open hole. The 8 holes on our chanters are listed vertically…
1) X/O – top-hand thumb-hole
2) X/O – top-hand ‘pointer’ finger
3) X/O – top-hand middle finger
4) X/O – top-hand ring finger
5) X/O – bottom-hand ‘pointer’ finger
6) X/O – bottom-hand middle finger
7) X/O – bottom-hand ring finger
8) X/O – bottom-hand ‘pinky’ finger

Andrew Lenz does a very good job of covering this information on his site BagpipeJourney.com employing high quality photos, diagrams and descriptions. Respectfully, I have a few different bits.

C-natural
X
X
X
X
X
O
X
O
(Note that our normal “C” is actually a C-sharp)

E-something
X
X
X
O
X
O
X
O
(I think it’s like this)

F-natural
X
X
O
X
O
X
X
O
(Note that our normal “F” is an F-sharp)

G-sharp
O
X
X
O
X
X
X
O

Piobaireachd or old D
X
X
X
X
O
X
O
O
While this may not be the D that is used in piobaireachd in modern day, my understanding is that this is or may be how it was played in antiquity.

Piobaireachd High-G
X
O
X
O
X
X
X
O
While this may not be the High-G that is used in piobaireachd in modern day, my understanding is that this is or may be how it was played in antiquity.

Piobaireachd High-A
O
O
X
O
X
X
X
O
While this may not be the High-A that is used in piobaireachd in modern day, my understanding is that this is or may be how it was played in antiquity. I throw this into my playing from time to time to bring out an effect or screw with other pipers in that I can play both.

Effect notes from Tim McCarthy
These “O/X” markings indicate warbling your fingers on and off the indicated holes
O/X
O
X
O
O/X
O/X
X
O/X
My notes on this are old — I think what I meant by this when I wrote it was that … okay, actually, I’m not sure … I’m going to have to play around with this and re-post.