Beginner

Beginner

I am just starting to learn the Uillean pipes and have a practise set, my query is.
I am just seven weeks in and it is slow, now I did realise that this would not be easy, I am a self taught concert flute player so have some musical knowledge.
My question is, how long have other novices found that it takes to get some sort of tune from the pipes and how do they get to the second octave easily ( does the Reed need to be played in.).
Thanks for any comments/help.
Ian.

Re: Beginner

They say the first seven years are the toughest 🙂

Re: Beginner

What kind of set do you play? I’d say at least a half year before you can enjoy a tune. Not saying you cannot do it faster but depend on your gear.

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Re: Beginner

The uilleann pipes, I think, are the most difficult instrument to learn without in-person help because a problem a beginner is having can have a number of completely different causes. Though the causes are unrelated the problem sounds exactly the same over the internet or over the phone. This means the only way for an experienced player to diagnose the problem is to play the beginner’s chanter. Without playing the beginner’s chanter the most experienced pipers/teachers are reduced to mere guessing.

The example you give is one of those things. You say the 2nd octave is difficult. There is no way anybody can know why it’s difficult without playing your chanter.

An experienced piper might play your chanter and find that the 2nd octave plays like a dream! Sweet and easy, no problem whatever. The problem could be 100% technique-related, say, not sealing the finger-holes well enough, or not sealing the bottom of the chanter well enough, or not pushing on the bag hard enough, or pushing the bag too hard, or not maintaining an even-enough supply of air to the reed, or using incorrect technique to obtain the 2nd octave, or possibly other things.

Or, an experienced piper might play your chanter and find that the problem is 100% instrument-related. The reed could be incorrectly adjusted, say, the bridle not at the right place or not at the right tension. Or the reed could be far too stiff, with too much cane left on it, and needs to be shaved down. Or the reed could be leaking at the sides, or leaking at the bottom because it’s not properly put into the chanter, or a number of other reed problems.

Or it might not be the reed at all! Perhaps a key is leaking, or the chanter has a crack that leaks (unlikely but possible). Or maybe your bellows and/or bag are leaking so it’s impossible to maintain a steady enough pressure to maintain the 2nd octave.

So just there we have over a dozen possible causes.

I do need to caution you to not force out high notes by using very hard pressure. A friend who is an excellent Highland piper turned down meeting up with me and decided to learn the uilleann pipes on his own. The 2nd octave was very stiff, and him not knowing any better thought that it was supposed to be that way, so he kept at it. He ended up injuring his shoulder which knocked him out of playing both his uilleann pipes but also his Highland pipes. It took months to heal. He gave up learning the uilleann pipes.

Thing is, had we met up I would have instantly known that the reed was far too stiff. No piper who knew anything about the uilleann pipes would try to play a reed like that for a minute. All that was needed was a simple bridle adjustment. But Highland pipe reeds don’t have bridles and this guy didn’t know about them, didn’t know what the purposes of bridles were.

About tunes, I wouldn’t worry about playing tunes until I had command over the whole range of the instrument. Before tunes, before even playing scales, comes learning how to blow the pipes rock-steady. S0 your first weeks of playing should be holding ONE NOTE ONLY, probably the best is G, A, or B in the low octave, which are the most forgiving notes. Until you can blow a single note for a few minutes with no variance in pressure whatsoever, playing scales is premature. Until you can cleanly, reliably, and fluently play from Bottom D to High B, playing tunes is premature in my opinion. When you do start tunes, the tunes should be carefully chosen to build basic competence on the chanter.

I think the old book Learn To Play The Uilleann Pipes With The Armagh Pipers’ Club presents tunes in an excellently graded manner.

Re: Beginner

ho.ho.
Thanks, I heard someone say 25 years, but as I am about to enter my 75the year I hope to get to grips with things before then. I use several sources including O’Neills 10001 and Northumbrian pipers tunes, I sight read (slowly!) and have not managed to get to a session for many years. I initially started playing the Flute by ear and when I retired started learning the dancing dots.
I have a Chris Coe practice set which I am assured is very good and am extremely happy with it.
Ian
Richard,
Thank you all most useful, I am at present just working on pressure and consistency and have managed to get some of the second octave and I am working on easing the ‘death grip!
All good fun

Re: Beginner

Slide up to the nigher notes …..
Should have “the masters touch “ bySeamus Ennis
With your thumbs use the side , not the pad . This can help with the death grip and lack of thumb mobillity . Also the waist belt …..goes around the waist ….where is the waist….

Re: Beginner

Yes, you should be able to play the second octave easily as long as your set is airtight and the chanter reed is set up so it is not too hard to blow. As for playing a tune you should be able to practice playing a simple tune as soon as you can sound the notes of the scale properly. I assume you do not have access to a experienced piper nearby.
Are you aware of Gay McKeon’s lessons for beginners on Na Piobaire Uilleann’s site?
https://pipers.ie/source/section/?sectionId=2041

Adjusting the chanter reed for beginners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eASohKTla8

Extreme caution is advised when removing or replacing the chanter wind-cap, so that you do not catch, or knock the end of the wind-cap on the lips of the reed. By moving the bridle down towards the binding the lips of the reed will close down making the reed easier to play. All the best.

Re: Beginner

Steamwilkes.
Thanks for that, at present I think it may be more to do with my technique than any thing else,
My Engineers hands are well hardened and I have difficulty locating my fingers over the chanter holes, but practice is improving things.
Again thanks to all for their help, it is much appreciated.
Ian.

Re: Beginner

"My Engineers hands are well hardened and I have difficulty locating my fingers over the chanter holes, but practice is improving things."

Yes, do practice. It will get easier. Many pipers use a hand cream on the parts of the fingers that cover the holes of the chanter if the have dry skin on the hands, especially in the winter months. Some like Mickey Dunne just lick the joints of their fingers before playing. This makes for a better airtight seal of the finger holes when playing. Gay McKeon shows how to place ones fingers on the chanter. Don’t grip the chanter too tightly though.

Re: Beginner

Hi I am also 75 years old
I have been at it for 5 years I make my own reeds and have made 2 sets under the mentoring of Craig Fisher
and there is your answer Get to know a reputable maker player sit play and listen.There are so many facets, get to know the mechanics of the instrument. When you inflate the bag check every possible joint for leeks and the valves, seams of the bellows . Try different reeds. I could list many many ways to improve your equipment
BUT get a teacher you cant do it alone. You are on the trip of a lifetime I will stick my neck out here and state
"the pipes really only consist of Chanter and reed get the right marriage and the rest falls into place eventually"
All the best