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Beginning the Smallpipes

Posted by Griffin Hall on

Our Smallpipes are a great addition to your bagpipe collection. These instruments require the same fingering as the Great Highland Bagpipes so there is no need to learn new scales or notes in order to play this instrument. They are a much quieter alternative to the Great Highland Bagpipe that are perfect for more intimate gatherings and sessions involving other instruments. We currently carry two models of Smallpipes:

McCallum Bellows Blown Smallpipes in A:

This style of smallpipe does not use a blowpipe to get air into the bag. Instead, you'll be using a set of bellows that fit underneath the right arm to inflate the bag. For this action, both of your arms will be involved in the inflation of the bag. While this may be new to many pipers, this method of getting air into the bag involves no moisture control system and is virtually dry air flowing through the pipes. Learning the bellows is not very difficult with proper instruction and is also a great opportunity to learn a new skill. These pipes play in A (440) so that you can easily play with other instruments like guitar and piano. This set sports three drones (2 in A and 1 in E) and a drone switch which allows you to bring the drones in all together without the need of striking the bag. These drones are all combined into a main stock that allows the drones to rest across the chest of the player and not on their shoulders. The drones come fitted with Ezee Drone Reeds and a Cane Chanter Reed in the chanter. We offer 4 different engraving patterns including Celtic, Thistle, Victorian Scroll, and Zoomorphic. This is a fantastic instrument that will give you great pleasure in mastering the art of the bellows blown smallpipes. 

McCallum Folk Pipes in A:

This style of smallpipe is much like that of the Great Highland Bagpipes in that it involves a blowpipe to inflate the bag and 3 vertical drones that rest on your shoulder. This is a very simple instrument to set up and begin playing as it is almost exactly like a highland bagpipe. The pipes play in A (440) so that you can easily play with other instruments like guitar and piano. The drones come set-up with Ezee Drone Reeds and a Cane Chanter Reed. We offer this instrument in both plastic and wooden models as well as plain and engraved metal ferrules. This set is available in 7 different engraving patterns including Celtic, Fire Department, Irish, Police, Thistle, Victorian Scroll, Zoomorphic. These pipes come with a synthetic bag, water trap, bag cover, reeds and drone cords. 

Both of these instruments DO NOT come with a carrying case which will need to be purchased separately. 

Smallpipe Maintenance: 

For bellows pipes, there is very little that needs to be done after playing. Since there is no form of moisture being blown through the instrument, you'll just want to be sure that your bores are visibly clear of any debris. The wood on these pipes does not require any oiling since the pieces are small and thin. Concerning the chanter, you don't have to remove it and place it in a cap as the cane reed will enjoy being in a consistent environment of it's wooden stock. Avoid blowing on the cane reed with your mouth as this can change the behavior of the reed. Another thing to remember is that these smallpipes have a lot of pieces that all look very similar. It's a good idea to keep the individual drones separate from one another as to not confuse the parts.

The folk pipes require a little more maintenance. Like the highland pipes, these are mouthblown and will have moisture running through the instrument. These pipes come with a water trap but it is always a good idea to let them air dry after a long playing session. Especially if your instrument is made of plastic, you'll want to let the pipes, reeds and bag all dry out. After the instrument has dried out, reassemble the pieces and set them back in it's carrying case. Make sure to take extra care to thoroughly dry and clean the moisture control system. Like the bellows pipes, the wood on this instrument does not require oiling since the pieces are small and thin. 

Making the Change:

Beginning the smallpipes can seem like a huge undertaking at first. With the bellows blown pipes, it'll take some time to master the art of blowing air into your pipes. For this, you can use the drone switch to shut the drones off and focus on your technique with just the chanter. Slow airs and other simple tunes are great for practicing stable tone. Just like the highland pipes, it will take some time before you are fully competent on your new instrument. The folk pipes are easier to play as the blowing technique is the same as the highland pipes. It should be noted that both of these pipes are far more sensitive to unsteady blowing than the highland pipes. If you receive your pipes and it sounds as though they won't stay in tune or the drones keep changing, this could be the cause. 

After mastering the smallpipes, you'll find great enjoyment in playing with other instruments like piano, whistle, guitar, and more. This instrument is very melodic and is a great way to bring Scottish music into a more intimate and acoustic environment. The folk pipes are also a great practice tool for transitioning from a practice chanter to the highland pipes as they are easier to play but will still give a beginner some experience with a pipe bag underneath the arm. The bellows pipes bring a lovely harmonized E drone to the mix which give a very mellow and warm tone to the instrument. Both sets of pipes are a great addition to your bagpipe ensemble for your own enjoyment and for any occasion.

Feel free to get in touch with us about any questions or comments!