Smallpipes

Smallpipes

Can anyone tell me about Fred Morrison A/D Bellows blown small pipes, or others? Are they tuneable. Do they play with other trad instruments, as in flutes and fiddles? Is there a reasonable learning curve for a flute player? I know nothing about them except that the few small pipe players I’ve come across ( a grand total of 2) couldn’t play in the keys we played in ( mostly 1 or 2 #’s). I am intrigued by them. Are there other makers with reasonable prices and wait times (I’ve only so much cash and so many years left in me)? Thanks for your advice!

Re: Smallpipes

Ross -

Probably a good idea to post your inquiry on the Dunsire Bagpipe Forum. You’ve asked several questions, all of which require some detail. On Dunsire you will get comprehensive answers, many of which are already in the archives.

My very brief take: The Morrison pipes have a decent/good reputation, and may be available without a wait period. I have no personal experience with them. Higher end smallpipes, e.g. Hamish & Fin Moore, Nate Banton, etc. wait time is approximately 1-to-2 years. Smallpipes are fine with fiddles and flutes, and entirely tunable. As to keys, they are problematic re: ITM. Buy them for STM, not ITM. The learning curve is quite doable.

Re: Smallpipes

Hi Ross,
Are you talking about Northumbrian smallpipes? If so (I would really like to learn them), it seems like, despite being a great instrument, it would be really difficult to find someone who can give lessons in the US. I’ve tried looking up variations of "Northumbrian smallpipes" and my state, and there are not really any relevant results. One of the first things you’ll get is a Kathryn Tickell introductory video and she is definitely not from here!

Apologies if these are not the smallpipes you’re talking about.

Re: Smallpipes

@TW, for reference, if he’s talking about A/D smallpipes, these are Scottish smallpipes. VERY different from Northumbrian smallpipes which are written in G but play in F# or F, etc., etc. Playing technique is also very different.

Re: Smallpipes

Yes, Northumbrian. Are there other kinds (my ignorance shows up here)? And thanks Terv, you gave some good clues.

Re: Smallpipes

Ok sent . These are Scottish small pipes not Northumbrian. There are a set of cheap simple system , no keys available on eBay st moment and a set of complex too.

Re: Smallpipes

Morrison pipes are Scottish . Northumbrian pipes are much more complex and expensive , unless simple system for learners.

Re: Smallpipes

Internet glitch there ! couldn’t find those simple system pipes anymore on eBay but a full set new…. not cheap !

Re: Smallpipes

Ross,

What I would do is buy a basic practice chanter (MacCallum & Hardie both make a plastic one for around £30-35 that is ideal) and make some headway with that before committing to a set.

There are two things a flute players is adapting to: one is the challenge of making music with no dynamic or airflow control; the other is the "covered" fingering system, that adds technical difficulty in exchange for expressive power. A bagpipe has quite a lot of moving parts, in both a metaphorical and literal sense, and mastering them all is not a small undertaking.

There is also the question of whether someone in your position should attempt to learn the full palette of GHB technique. My answer is that you should, for several reasons - it is adapted to the nine note scale, it gives you a decent sense of what is possible, and frankly there aren’t many people who can’t use it who sound any good. In addition, although some of the embellishment doesn’t work as well on the smallpipe, it will transfer across naturally to Border pipe if you take that up in future.

As for playing Irish tunes, it is limited. Some tunes in A and D do fit, but I’ve never really seen the point. If you want to play Irish music, play the Uilleann pipe.

The northumbrian pipes, in a nutshell: take a Scottish smallpipe. Close the end, so you lose the lowest note (with all fingers down, you get silence). Change the key so that the basic scale is G major (not mix). Now change the fingering to be one finger per note, rather than the SSP semi-open system. Now add keys for other notes that you want, anything up to 20-odd if you’re feeling bold. These are all played with the left pinkie and right thumb.

NSP: https://youtu.be/HiuMwskhsGk?t=85

SSP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxiriNzkVEw

Posted by .

Re: Smallpipes

> it would be really difficult to find someone who can give lessons in the US

One of the nice things about the NSP is that it is probably the easiest member of the bagpipe family to self-teach, especially if you already have a grasp of the basics of music. There are a couple of good tutors out there and the playing community is incredibly friendly and helpful.

Posted by .

Re: Smallpipes

Thanks, Calum, for your information about the NSP being easy to learn. When you mention an NSP community, are you talking about online, on here? It seems there really aren’t a lot of people in the US who play. The only people with NSP albums from the US that I know of are Dick Hensold and Andy May.

Re: Smallpipes

Online, but there are a fair few people in the US as well. I believe they do the odd formal and informal meetups from time to time. There’s a Northumbrian piper’s group on Facebook - maybe start with that.

Posted by .

Re: Smallpipes

Is Andy May American? Never knew that.

Posted by .

Re: Smallpipes

Whoops, it appears he’s not! I thought I read something about him being from New York once, but I looked him up again and it does seem he is actually from the UK.

Re: Smallpipes

I am aware of at least 2 Andy Mays: the Northumbrian one who plays pipes with Kathryn Tickell and other Northumbrian-based bands. The there’s the Edinburgh Andy May, who plays and teaches bodhran, and knows a thing or two about reed instruments such as clarinets. Both UK (as it stands at present!)

Re: Smallpipes

I wonder if he thought to create a Wikipedia disambiguation page with that info…

Re: Smallpipes

You’re right, it does look like a Wikipedia disambiguation page.

Re: Smallpipes

Ha-ha - now that is our Edinburgh Andy May!

Re: Smallpipes

I used to play sessions with Edinburgh Andy May in the Antiquary about ten years ago.

Northumbrian Andy May is still around Newcastle, as far as I know. He’s making and playing uilleann pipes as well.

@Ross, someone who actually plays Scottish smallpipes will know more than me, but I can tell you that they are not tunable, and if you want to play a repertoire outwith the Highland piping repertoire, they are somewhat limited because they only have nine notes and very few have keys for accidentals (though I’ve come across the odd set that has). There are no shortage of Highland piping tunes, for sure, but if you’re playing Irish sessions say, or trying to shift most of your flute tunes to the pipes, you’ll find a lot of tunes out of their range. There are very, very fine small pipers and border pipers who can play Irish tunes on them by changing the keys or folding, but most are great whistle players as well (and in a few cases, uilleann pipers or flute players), and if a tune can’t be adapted to the Scottish pipes, they play that.

The fingerings don’t translate straight from flute /whistle (or uilleann pipes, which are similar to flute/whistle). Your bottom note on a chanter in A is a G. There’s also getting your head around the fact that they make noise all the time. You can’t stop the chanter. If you’re used to playing things where you can stop it from making a noise, for even a split second, this feels very weird. That’s why Calum is right — it’s worth learning the full palette of Highland piping technique because it enables you to control that and sound good.

The Northumbrian pipes, on the other hand, require you to play with closed piping technique all the time. You can’t play open rolls and have to close off the chanter between every note. This also feels strange, coming from flute/whistle or even uilleann pipes, the latter of which most people play closed sometimes, but virtually no one does for every note, all the time. The fingerings don’t equate directly to flute/whistle/uilleann pipes, and a lot of them are in F.

Re: Smallpipes

"… someone who actually plays Scottish small pipes will know more than me, but I can tell you that they are not tunable …"


Just what do you mean, not tunable?

Re: Smallpipes

If it’s in A, it’s always in A. You can’t make an A set into a D set. Same as any bagpipe, really.

Re: Smallpipes

There’s a set on fb bagpipes buy and sell group at moment …. Northumbrian

Re: Smallpipes

"If it’s in A, it’s always in A. You can’t make an A set into a D set. Same as any bagpipe, really."

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. With an A chanter, you can of course in play A and D. And with an interchangeable D chanter (it takes just seconds to make the change), you can play in D and G. Many players of Scottish small pipes have A/D convertible sets, myself included. But, having said that, I agree that Scottish small pipes are the wrong instrument for ITM. It just doesn’t work well, and there are significant limitations.

Regarding keyed Northumbrian small pipes, the range of notes is greater, but standard sets play in F (well, between F and F#) and C, so even more problematic than Scottish small pipes when it comes to playing with others. There are also D Northumbrian chanters. They are not common, and are a bit of a stretch, but can sound great in the right hands. Jimmy Young of Rua, for example, made great use of a D Northumbrian chanter.

Re: Smallpipes

Okay, I didn’t know they were that interchangeable. Obviously you can stick a B uilleann chanter (or whatever) on a D set, but you wouldn’t be able to run the regs or drones with it. So most people don’t do that.

Northumbria Andy May has an NSP chanter in a session-friendly key. I can’t remember what it was (probably D), but I’ve sat in a session with him playing Northumbrian pipes, so it most assuredly wasn’t F.

Re: Smallpipes

The set for sale is 7 key 4 drone in F so yes not session friendly unless your playing in east Clare !!

Re: Smallpipes

Scottish smallpipes of the types you mention are not particularly great for playing ITM. The D pipes may well be in a pretty standard key for it but the 9 note range is not generally speaking wide enough for the majority of the common repertoire. Ironically enough the A pipes are probably more centred on the standard range of this repertoire but once again the 9 note range is very limiting. Fred Morison, Moore and the majority of the main makers rarely fit keys for accidentals. Kinnear does, fitting a Cnat and G# to some chanters on request. These keys along with a high B on an A chanter give the Scottish smallpipe the best range available from this type of instrument to play the standards, even then though you will find there is a lot of fudge factor involved.

Scottish pipers get over some of the limits of their instrument by complicated ornamentation which trick the ear into thinking the pipe is playing staccato or beyond the range of the chanter. Unfortunately because of the bore shape of the smallpipe chanter there is no opportunity to cross finger or otherwise develop accidentals.
This is why it is a good idea if you are considering learning them to get hold of a practice chanter and a decent highland pipe tutor book and get practicing the fingering from that.

There is however a wealth of Scottish music to which these pipes are eminently suited. They fit perfectly with the scale and are regularly played in sessions, when you go to the right places. The trouble there though is that contrary to how it might seem to distant fans much Scottish session music is actually fiddle led and those darned things have a much wider range than the smallpipes and a room full will leave a smallpiper floundering and struggling to be heard and play along.

The borderpipes have a much broader range in terms of available accidentals but a very distinct timbre that can be very harsh particularly in the hands of the less adept. They still rarely sound great when pushed beyond the octave even in skilled hands.

If you want to play ITM on the pipes you either need a set of uilleann or a whistle. If you want to play from the wealth of brilliant Scottish pipe and folk tunes that are out there and are unlikely to be stomped on by rooms full of fiddle players then the Scottish smallpipe are a wonderful instrument and worthy of the dedication it takes to learn them.

Re: Smallpipes

> Northumbria Andy May has an NSP chanter in a session-friendly key. I can’t remember what it was (probably D), but I’ve sat in a session with him playing Northumbrian pipes, so it most assuredly wasn’t F.

I suspect Andy could quite happily play in any key he very well pleases on any chanter, but you’re right, it was probably a G chanter, which sits quite nicely in the 1/2 sharps zone. G chanters were historically unusual but have become far more common as they Just Make Sense.

Posted by .

Re: Smallpipes

Last time I saw Andy’s pipes in a vid they had more keys than a prison warder. That suggests a large range whatever the basic key. The op was looking for info on Scottish smallpipes though which are indeed a very different beast

Re: Smallpipes

Thanks for the responses. I had no idea the question would be so complex, wow. I learned a lot. My first thought is to get a practice chanter (Northumbrian) and see how it fits. I will for sure admire the pipes and the players even if it turns out to be from afar. I may, at this point in life, play to my strength but we’ll see what happens.

Re: Smallpipes

"My first thought is to get a practice chanter (Northumbrian) and see how it fits."

Ross -

It seems like there is still some confusion as to Northumbrian small pipes vs. Scottish small pipes. There is no practice chanter w/Northumbrian small pipes. You will have to buy a set if you want to play is Northumbrian. The fingering system for Northumbrian very different from Scottish small pipes, so a practice chanter will do you no good. Are you clear on what it is you want?

Re: Smallpipes

Tervs I guess I’m not as clear as I hoped. My ignorance is showing here. It could be my best bet is to play the tunes on my flute. Not all endeavors are successful. Thanks again all for the advice.

Re: Smallpipes

Ross, what kind of music is it you want to play?

Posted by .

Re: Smallpipes

Right now it’s ITM and maybeFrench Canadian. All mylife it’s been a moving target with blues, jug band, jazz , in their turn. I am intrigued by other styles and that leads me to my original question. As an aside I am putting together a vaudevillian type show with tenor banjo and trombone. At my age I’m starting to understand that maybe I can only be stretched so far.

Re: Smallpipes

Hmmmm. ITM is perfectly *playable* on the Northumbrian pipes, but it won’t come close to sounding Irish unless you completely change the way the Northumbrian pipes are played - perfectly possible, but then why not play Uilleann pipes?

Scottish smallpipes, with their narrower range, are not suitable for those kinds of tunes, at all.

So, my new advice is to try and seek out opportunities to see these instruments in person and talk to players of them, to try and make sense of whether you want to pursue this. I’d just add that any bagpipe is a big commitment to make serious progress on. Quite a few multi-instrumentalists take it on and struggle to make headway with it.

Posted by .

Re: Smallpipes

ITM on NSP sounds like it would be great.

Re: Smallpipes

Ross, I play uilleann pipes, the fullsize Scottish pipes, and Scottish smallpipes so I can probably answer most of your questions.

Somebody rightly asked "what music to you want to play?" and you said ITM. Without question the best pipes for ITM are uilleann pipes!

The thing with Scottish pipe music and ITM is that the mechanics/physics of how the Scottish chanter works and how the uilleann chanter works are inextricably interwoven with many of the tunes themselves.

It’s a current fad, in the Scottish pipe world, to play ITM tunes, and the Scottish pipes rarely have the range and/or the scale to play the ITM tunes properly. It grates on me to hear lovely Irish tunes distorted and mangled.

Also, I’ve heard a number of uilleann pipers have a go at certain Highland pipe tunes and likewise the mechanics/physics of the uilleann chanter prevent the Highland pipe tunes to be properly rendered.

Now, Scottish smallpipe chanters have very different physics than the fullsize Highland chanters: Smallpipe chanters are oddly disinterested in what fingerings are used, and will render the same note regardless. This makes SSPs far easier to learn and play.

Most SSP players were Highland pipers first, and have transferred their Great Highland Bagpipe fingerings and style and ornaments onto the SSP. But this isn’t necessary, and you could approach the SSP in a way quite different from the GHB, and play in a more ITM-like style. I’ve seen it done. It’s one of the great advantages to the SSP, the number of different and equally legitimate approaches that players use.

Though it must be said that the SSP chanter to too limited in range and available notes (crossfingerings don’t really work) to tackle more than a relatively small amount of the ITM repertoire.

So I would say if you want to play the GHB repertoire in its usual style the SSP is excellent, but if you want to play ITM in its usual style the SSP is too limited, and you really need to look into the uilleann pipes.

Re: Smallpipes

So here’s a good GHB player playing The Gold Ring. Highland pipers don’t know any better and think they’re playing the tune; people coming from ITM who play the tune know the GHB version comes up short (jump to a bit past the 1 minute mark)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhOT23nN6Ls


On the SSP you’d be likewise limited.

Re: Smallpipes

Now the shoe is on the other foot, a good uilleann piper playing what he regards as The Clumsy Lover, but what he’s playing has little relation to the tune. The tune is intimately tied to the unique physics of the Highland pipe chanter and can’t be effectively rendered on other instruments IMHO

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ab_92C5xDA

Re: Smallpipes

Here you can hear it better, with just one bagpipe!

Listen at 1:22 there’s a critically important ornament, the Edre, that’s unique to the GHB.

And also listen at 1:51 where it’s critical to the effect of the tune the way that the highest note of the GHB chanter is softer than the low notes and disappears into the drones, giving the illusion of staccato.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px0G3F7gj8Q

Re: Smallpipes

Interesting. That 3-3-2 is almost never heard in Irish trad I think? Maybe once in a while for fun. How common is it in Scottish? A common thing, or just this tune?

Posted by .