Easy and fun pipe tunes?

Easy and fun pipe tunes?

I am a piper who for the last couple of years has focused most of his energy on playing highland pipes in competitive pipe bands. I got a set of small pipes two years ago and started taking those to sessions a lot. Since most of the competitive pipe band season is now cancelled I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to dust of my set of uilleann pipes that I have not played in probably 3 years. They are a really nice set, and I felt bad not playing them for some time now. There are a few things that need fixing but to my surprise my fingers where way less rusty then I expected. Probably because I kept playing the Scottish pipes a lot.

So I am now planning to start (re)learning some tunes on the uilleann pipes and maybe take them to some sessions after all the virus madness is over. Although I am a decent highland piper (decent gr 2 level, not sure if anyone knows what that means here). I don’t think it would be wise to jump in the deep end straight away and try to play tunes that are way to difficult for me at this point.

So are there any pipers who have some suggestions for fun tunes that are not too demanding to play on the Uilleann pipes? I would prefer a couple of reels but other suggestions are very welcome too!

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

Not a piper myself but quite like hearing "The Lark In The Morning" on the pipes.
Fella in this video does a terrific job playing it.
https://youtu.be/nZTHs7eQSKc

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

None of the most popular "session" tunes on this site are that difficult at all. Just look through the lists and find the tunes you like. No finger gymnastic gracings, no cutting and dotting, simple 8 bar/ 16 bar melodies mostly.

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Get you a copy of the Heather Clarke tutor and work your way through it, and listen to as much recorded piping as you can as well. Then you can get to work on a list of well known session tunes.

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Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

I’ve been brushing up on the old session standards (now that I’m stuck at home all day) and as Steve said these are nearly always uilleann pipe-friendly and lie nicely under the fingers.

Be aware, though, that for many common session tunes the uilleann pipes have their own distinctive versions. Usually the pipe version is easier on the chanter than the session version, because often a session version is somewhat fiddle-centric. (That’s my take on it, anyhow.)

Yes Grade 2, that’s the highest grade of Pipe Band I’ve played in. For a number of years now I’ve played in a band that’s regularly floated between 4 and 3.

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A case in point is Hand Me Down The Tackle.

I learned a pipe version off an uilleann piper’s album, the local fiddlers’ version is almost entirely different, though the two versions mesh in an odd way.

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For those with ABRSM grades in their mind, it seems Grade 1 is the highest grade of pipe band?

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That’s right, it’s not really a grade of player, but a grade of competition for bands, but it’s a useful proxy to an extent (though you can have a huge range of standards within a grade). There are between three and six grades depending on where you are in the world, plus sometimes juvenile grades as well.

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Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

" That’s right, it’s not really a grade of player, but a grade of competition for bands"

Well, of course in the States we also have specific solo grades. i.e. Grade 5 (entry level) through Grade 1 and then Professional. The solo grades do not necessarily correspond directly with the level of band grades. For example, a Grade 3 solo player could compete with a Grade 2 pipe band.

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

The Armagh Pipers’ Club Tutor also has many fine tunes and a recording to go with it, I recommend it in addition to the Heather Clarke tutor. The Leo Rowsome Collection is also full of classic piping tunes, many of them session favorites, although your mileage may vary with settings, as always : )

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Two tunes I recommend to newer pipers are Song of the Chanter and Jimmy Ward’s. Both live in the first octave.

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NPU (www.pipers.ie) have a bunch of tutor videos on their website where an instructor goes through the tune and then some technique/ornamentation. Worth a look!

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About the NPU tutor DVDs, several years ago a beginner came to me who had one of those DVDs (I can’t remember if it was Vol 1 or Vol 2) and was getting confused and frustrated trying to follow along with the guy playing while looking at the written version in the booklet.

I carefully listened and watched the fingers of the guys playing on the video, comparing them to how the tunes were written in the booklet, and I discovered that with Nollaig MacCarthaigh there was a perfect 3-way match between
1) the way the piper described what he was doing
2) the way the tune was written in the booklet
3) the way the piper actually performed the tune and ornaments

with Gay McKeon there was not. The way he described his techniques matched what was written in the booklet, but he played differently.

To aid the beginner I wrote out transcriptions of Gay’s actual playing, and only then could the beginner follow what Gay was doing.

The only specific example I remember is a tune that had a Short Roll on G in the 2nd octave written in the booklet version of the tune, that is, an A cut on G followed by an F# pat on G.

What was actually played on the chanter had the same timing, but from the standpoint of fingering and technique quite different: Gay played a quick staccato G, then a second G. There was no initial cut, and the pat (a closed pat) produced silence rather than F#.

I’ve been attending Uilleann workshops since the late 1970s, taught by a wide variety of big-name pipers, and in my experience people often create a mental construct of their own playing technique which doesn’t match how they actually play. So as someone learning the uilleann pipes, be aware that you might encounter that.

About Highland pipe levels, yes in Scotland they have Novice Juvenile, Juvenile (which can be very good, even Grade 2 level), and the numbered Grades 4a, 4b, 3a, 3b, 2, and 1. The lower Grades need an a/b split because at the bigger contests you might have 0ver 50 bands in Grade 4.

Here in the USA some Associations have added a Grade 5, equivalent to 4b more or less.

Our USA solo levels are numbered the same 4 3 2 1 then Open.

About solo levels and band levels, I played in a Grade 3 band where nearly the whole pipe corps had extensive Grade 1 band experience, were Open solo players, and two of the pipers were piping judges. Our Pipe Major had won the Worlds in a Grade 1 band. After being promoted to Grade 2 the band fell apart when most of the pipe corps left for a Grade 1 band. (The drum corps had similarly high talent.)

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

For Hand Me Down The Tackle

https://thesession.org/tunes/800

go down to the 9th version to see a nice uilleann pipe version. Note that it avoids the back D to bottom D jump that all the fiddle versions have, which on the pipes can squeal unless your pressure control is very good.

The 11th version was added by myself, a decidedly non-pipe version that often drops below Bottom D. It’s the way I’ve heard fiddlers play it.

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Shane T -thanks for that first video, ‘The Lark in the Morning’ I’ve been looking for the name of that tune for years since recording it on a free irish music website a long time ago. Even Tunepal couldn’t help me!

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

Back D to bottom D jump that all the fiddle versions have, which on the pipes can squeal unless your pressure control is very good

I’ve found that reed setup is important for this transition - you need to be able to apply the same pressure to both Back D and Hard Bottom D…if my back D sinks under normal (for my chanter + reed setup) hard D pressure, I either open it up a bit or toss the reed and get a new one with slightly thicker blades near the tip and/or properly sealed edges (!) for a stronger, more pressure-tolerant back D. If my Bottom D squeaks…I make sure all holes are closed and sealed properly, assuming the hard bottom D is working normally and the reed is sufficiently opened at the aperture. Maybe I might rub a drop of bore oil on my fingers to help with sealing, sometimes my fingers are just dry.

Regarding technique: I found this works for my setup: starting with a thumb - only back d (no shading of the c hole in front unless the chanter requires it, which is a pain in the ass and undesirable for playability reasons IMO), I leave the back D vented and lift the chanter early…then seal the back D with my thumb after the bell is clear of my leg…assuming correct reed setup and everything is sealed, it goes directly to hard bottom D. A simple FG or GF cranning movement is all that’s needed after that to match the fiddle.

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

I’m sure all of that is true and valid, and on my chanter it’s not so much of a problem, yet I’ve heard some of the big names in piping play A there instead of Back D, which makes the tune far more pipe-friendly.

You can’t beat going from A to a cran on Bottom D! I was just now looking at a pipe version of The Silver Spire that does just that while the fiddles are scraping away on the low string.

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

I was just playing through some Easy & Fun reels which lay so nicely under a piper’s fingers.

The Hunter’s Purse
Rolling In The Ryegrass
Father Kelly’s
Toss The Feathers (E minor)
Farewell To Ireland (D Major)
The Sunny Banks
Sporting Paddy
Boil The Breakfast Early

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

“Itchy Fingers”

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Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

Is Itchy Fingers easy on pipes? I understood some pipers struggle with the last phrase.

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

Well it’s easy and fun on the various Scottish pipes. It was written for those.

I’ve not played it on uilleann pipes so I don’t know how easy, or fun, it is on them.

The original is in A Mixolydian, I looked at the versions here and there are 2-part versions in A and D.

I just now added a 4-part version both in the original A, and in D (which is probably more friendly to some Irish instruments).

https://thesession.org/tunes/3931#setting37570

The second and fourth parts have that thing that really only works on the Highland pipes, where low notes are interspersed with the thumb-note "High A". Due to High A being quiet and sort of disappearing into the harmonics of the drones it creates the illusion of silences between the low notes, which then sound staccato.

This effect is lost on Scottish Smallpipes due to the thumb-note being as loud than the low notes. Ditto when I’ve heard this type of tune (Clumsy Lover, etc) played in D on the uilleann pipes.

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Right enough Richard. Jim McGillivray has the two part version as easy.

We usually follow it with The High Drive (four part version).

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Thanks for reminding me about The High Drive, what a brilliant tune.

Loads of "hornpipe triplets" and birls, I’ve heard it many times in the Grade One circles.

I was just reading on the notes to the tune here that there’s some controversy about the 3rd and 4th parts being part of the composition. Just like Itchy Fingers, good 2-part tunes will inevitably acquire new parts!

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Thanks for all the tune advice everyone! Especially for the Irish tunes. The whole point of this is to start playing some uilleann pipes again. I was getting very bored of practicing msr’s they can feel like a chore to practice sometimes…. Since the gr 2 season in Scotland this year would mainly have been msr focused, and the seasons is now more than half canceled and likely all canceled I felt some freedom to start doing some fun stuff again. I know plenty of highland pipes tunes so no need for suggestions there! Itchy Fingers indeed is nice and simple on the highland pipes. But I think probably not so much on uilleann pipes. They definitely don’t translate one to one since fingerings are different and both instruments are in different keys. Besides, the whole point of this is to learn new Irish tunes.

Re: Easy and fun pipe tunes?

In general the popular common session tunes will fit well under an uilleann piper’s fingers, just keep an eye out for settings and/or tunes that are for the fiddle/box/banjo and stay with the uilleann pipes/flute/whistle settings/tunes.

One thing to be aware of, you probably are, is how often on the uilleann pipes low-octave passages involving quick alternation between Bottom D, low E, and low F# can be far easier to play fast and clean if you use the open/off-the-leg fingerings for low E and low F#. I’ve seen beginners struggle with tunes due to them sticking with the on-the-leg fingerings meaning they’re having to move the chanter up and down every other note.

Just to make up an awkward bit, here’s the difference in fingering between the two

on-the-leg
x xxx xxxx o (bottom D)
x xxx xoxx x (low F#)
x xxx xxxx 0 (bottom D)
x xxx xxoo x (low E)
x xxx xxxx o (bottom D)

Try playing that as fast as 8th notes would be in a reel and you’ll see it’s a workout.

off-the-leg
x xxx xxxx o (bottom D)
x xxx xoox o (low F#)
x xxx xxxx 0 (bottom D)
x xxx xxox o (low E)
x xxx xxxx o (bottom D)

I really became aware of how useful this is when I was watching Paddy Keenan play The Mountain Road and leave his chanter off the leg for most of the first part. I was making it way more difficult for myself!