Blowin’

Much talk, discussion, heartache, and pipe band judge scribbling is spent over the simple issue of “blowing.” Many pipe majors and band pipers will complain that it is their band’s single biggest weakness when it comes to performance on the competition circle.

So what is it? And why can’t it be good all the time? Is “good blowing” simply blowing and squeezing to get a steady sound out of the bagpipe that does not waver? I would argue that good blowing is not just a term for steady playing, but all the elements that go into that steadiness as well. It comes down to mechanics.

During the “off-season” is a good time to focus on the nitty gritty of your personal playing. But rather than dwell solely on the physical act of blowing the bagpipe and squeezing the bag, spend an equal amount of time on the physical aspects of holding and using your instrument.

It may seem obvious, and it is worth stating, but the physical aspects of holding the instrument, your comfort, and the fit of your bagpipe, all have an affect on blowing tone. Personal comfort is essential. You must be aware of your own comfort thresholds and work within them. Good blowing will depend on your personal comfort in order to control your instrument.

Initial checks to start off:

Bag: Make sure your bag is completely airtight.

Hemp: All the joints on your instrument should be freshly hemped and snug.

Chanter reed: Your chanter reed should not be too hard for you to play. Spend the time to find or work in a reed that is comfortable to play.

Drone reeds: Make sure your drone reeds are set to a good balanced strength in line with your chanter reed.

Next, some items to examine and address:

Holding the instrument: You should be standing comfortably straight when playing the bagpipe—not hunched, not leaning forward. Your shoulders should be even and relaxed. Your body cannot maintain an unnatural position for long. If you feel strain in any part of your body as you play or after playing for a while, examine your position in a mirror to see where your body is creating the strain and endeavor to correct it.

Bag Size: Make sure you have a bag that is the right size for you. A bag that is too large for you will not help your blowing and will only cause discomfort and limitations on movement.

Mouthpiece: Make sure that the mouthpiece of your blowstick is the correct length for your height and position. Your head should comfortably face forward and straight up when playing the instrument. Any restriction on head position and your mouthpiece or blowstick is too long or short.

Blowstick Bore: The inside bore of your blowstick should be as wide as possible. A larger bore will allow you to eliminate resistance when you blow. Your bag will be filled quicker and with less effort as a result.

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