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Piper's Corner
I'm a piper, You're a piper -- wouldn't ya like to be a piper too???
Resources for Highland bagpipers from BagpiperDon

In the past it seems that the Dropkick Murphy's had a section on their website I believe titled "Piper's Corner" -- a place where we could download sheetmusic for pipe sections in their tunes, whistle charts, etc etc.  There wasn't much there, but it was handy if you like the band &/or are covering their tunes with a rock band.  I aim to do something similar with this page.

All in good time, I would like to post hopefully useful tid-bits here -- perhaps notation of my own compositions &/or arrangements, how to finger "alternate" pitches on your chanter, etc.

If you're a piper, and you've found this little 'corner' of my website, check back soon and hopefully you'll find something interesting &/or useful.


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BagpiperDon's piping hands


Piping Ideas & Tips
Some Ideas To Consider

I'm cautious to give tips -- not because I don't have any, but because of the ever-so-fun debate that all too many people in Highland piping get into.  If someone has a different opinion, fine, let them, and get over it.  That said, following are a few ideas to consider.  If you have some tips you think I should know about &/or add to this page, please contact me.
  • I attended a series of workshops at SFU called Highland Arts Festival (2004?).  These workshops were lead by the likes of Bruce Gandy, Neil Dickey, and members of the SFU pipe band.  It was an invalueable weekend indeed; if you get the opportunity to attened something of this sort, go for it.  While in a workshop with Jori Chisholm, I adopted his suggestion of using highlighter-pens to colour-code the parts of the pipe-tunes that have the same phrases.  This seems to help speed learning; further, when you're playing the tune from memory, you can tend to remember the tune visually by its chunks of colour.
  • Around 2005, out of having a lack of a personal printer with my computer, I started notating my sheet music by hand.  As a side benefit, I found I gained a better understanding of the tunes I was learning.  It can take a lot of time, but I believe its worth it.  In the cell to the right, you can download a file I've used for blank staff paper -- what I do is print one and then photo-copy it (usually costs less).  Noteooks of blank staff paper are often available through normal-instrument stores.  You may find through hand-notation that you start to compose (hopefully more) of your own music.  I carry a small supply of blank staff around in my sheet-music notebook -- if inspiration hits me, I'm ready to go.
  • When seeking an instructor I suggest considering the following...  Often enough its possible to find someone who is a very good piper who is available for instruction; remember though that just because someone is a good player and teaches doesn't mean that they're also a good instructor.  Some instructors don't teach much during lessons -- instead they get distracted by telling you about &/or braging about their piping accomplisments over the course of your lesson; remember that it is YOUR lesson and that they need to be teaching you how to play, not telling their stories about this ribbon & that trophy.  It is 160% okay to stop working with one instructor and start working with another -- it can be awkward to leave one since this tends to be a small community, but pull up your kilt and go for it.  Its 160% okay to work with multiple instructors at the same time.  Whenever you get the opportunity, get a lesson with a different instructor as they may & probably-well introduce new ideas to you and/or introduce something you're already familiar with in a different way and open things up better to you.  Make sure that there is a good fit between student & instructor -- you're going to spend a lot of time learning piping, and likely a ton of money, so be sure that you and your instructor can communicate -- if you find that there isn't a fit, feel free to move on to another instructor.  If this person is the only instructor in town, you're stuck, but if you're really passionate about piping you'll look for work-shops you can travel to and attend &/or move to a different place where you can get good instruction -- no, I'm not joking about moving.



Under Construction, Please stand by

Blank staff paper
The same as what I use when composing, arranging &/or hand-notating my music
(Word document in RTF)


5 Books I Think Every Piper Should Own
Rhythmic Fingerwork
by James McGillivray

The Complete Pipers Handbook
by P/M Brett Tidswell

The Piper's Primer
by Russ Spalding

The Book of the Bagpipe
by Hugh Cheape, ISBN-10: 0809296802

The Highland Bagpipe and Its Music
by Roderick D. Cannon, ISBN-10: 0859765490


Under ConstructionOriginal Compositions & Personal Arrangements
Music I've Composed &/or Arranged *

Humbly, I've composed a small number of tunes.  Like my recording endeavours, I recommend that every musician -- more specifically, Highland bagpipers -- work on composing if they don't already.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.  Located here is some of the music I've composed or arranged; also some of the music from other composers I know who have given me permission to play and post their tunes.


* NOTE The music I ha've posted here is probably under my copyright, meaning it is legally protected by me ... which in basic legal terms as I understand them means you may learn it, you may play it for your own interest, however you cannot record it and sell your recording &/or perform it for pay without paying me my due royalties.  However, if you want to use my music in these ways, please contact me to tell me what you're doing and ask if you may use it -- because I'd probably be happy for you just to use it -- other musicians (Highland bagpipers) have done this with me when I contacted them, most were pretty cool about it.  Just be mindful of applicable national and international laws -- don't make assumptions on law(s).  Too often I've run into musicians who assume that because a living composer's tune has been popular and played many times it is therefore in the public domain -- in otherwords, they feel the tune is in public domain because they say so ... but laws, lawyers and lawsuits will likely tell them otherwise, so protect yourself.  Remember that music compositions do not enter the public domain until 70 years after the year the composer died.



Personal compositions and arrangements coming ... sometime?

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 surpressed -- and by surpressing these notes we limit the music we can make &/or compose, ultimately limiting us as musicians -- thats 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 inovators -- 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 actaully 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.


Under Construction
Recording Tips
Things I've begun to learn

Making recordings or albums is a lot of work and a lot of fun.  As I've gotten into making albums I've begun to learn about how to record.  Frankly, I think too few Highland bagpipers record; because of this there is limited experiene/knowledge on the subject.  To date I still have limited experience, but I have collected information from as many pipers as I can -- the likes of Mark Saul, Aaron Shaw and others -- on how to record, the type of gear that works, and what to do with getting your album mixed.  Frankly, this could stand to be a page all on its own ... not to mention I could make a whole page on how to make an album -- ghesh!

I am in the drafting stage of this section, let alone this page, but here's a few things off the top of my head that I've picked up...
  • Respect Copyrights -- It is a TON of work looking them up, but it will be worth it -- it respects the artist and potentially protects you legally later on.  What I found to be the least work is to use tunes that you know are Traditional/Public Domain tunes -- more simply put, if you have a book of compositions and the word "Traditional" is part of the information found with the title/composer/etc tune-information, then you're good, you'll need to take this information to your CD manufacturer later on.  Using your own compositions is nice if you have them, because you don't have to pay anyone for using them and you can do whatever you want with them, but do be sure to copyright/register your work.  Remember, just because a tune that was composed 10 years ago and its been played many times by other musicians does not mean its in the Public Domain -- some people like to take the 'because I say so' approach when it comes to tunes that are actually under copyright, but that doesn't make it so.
  • Develop a way to keep your notes organized -- You are going to be dealing with a lot of information and communication, keep it manageable. Personally, I developed a series of worksheets using Excel (I'm working on a blank copy with examples that will be posted here for download), a particular set of file folders on my hard drive (including thing such as sheet music, album art concepts, etc), and a folder to keep communications relative to each particular album project.
  • While it is possible, it is not advisable to do punch-ins/outs of pipes when recording.  Usually you'll have to record each track with the piper/s playing the song non-stop -- this shouldn't be a leap seeing as how many of us prepar to perform &/or compete.  However, mistakes happen, so roll with them while in a recording session -- beforehand, try to get your songs to where you can play them how you want to record them so while in studio you can do them within 3 to 5 takes ... which doesn't always happen, but its a good aim.
  • Some pipers record with their drones shut off -- just their chanters -- and then record their drones separately, recording a strike-in, shut-off, and droning (building the drone-sound behind their chanter looping the droning between the strike-in and shut-off).  For most players this is unadvisable -- to achieve it you need to have a very good ability to control the air pressure of your instrument without drones, and most of us aren't used to this ... so record everything all together.
  • Bring copies of other artists' tracks that you want your tracks to sound like to the person who mixes your album -- if you have 12 tracks for your album, you should have 12 other artists' tracks.  These tracks need to represent the sound you want to achieve, they do not have to be the same tune-style that you are recording in (reel, jig, march, air, etc).  If the person mixing your album rejects this in principal or doesn't listen to your example tracks, drop them immediately and find someone else to mix your album.
  • When your album is complete get it mixed by someone who plays pipes and mixes -- they'll have a better idea of what your album should sound like.  Since our instrument is a-typical, usually most audio engineers don't know much if anything when it comes to recording or mixing bagpipes. Someone who mixes that doesn't play pipes will likely mix your pipes (particularly if you're playing in a rock band) as a horn (eg saxaphone) and can mess up your album.  When it comes to mixing, my understanding is that pipes need to be mixed more like a vocal track than as an instrument/horn.




This page last updated 23February2011
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