Yet another "help me get started" thread

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Yet another "help me get started" thread

Postby Mooncoinin » Sun Nov 09, 2014 3:38 am

Hi Everyone,

My first post here! Finally, I think I'm ready to try my hand at the pipes and I'm looking to get a practise set as soon as I can decide which is the best one for me. After reading through various threads on here (like the newbie thread) and on I still have a few questions. My goal would be to play pipes with a band, something like a cross between Planxty and Steeleye Span in their heyday. I consider myself an accomplished guitar player, having played most of my life, but my passion for British/Celtic folk of the 60s and 70s has always had me wanting to learn a more traditional solo instrument. So if I had to pick a style I'd like to learn in, it would be Liam O'Flynn from the original Planxty days. The practise sets I'm considering right now are the BC Childress and the Patrick Sky sets. If anyone has any other recommendations (US makers or a US distributor) in that price range, please let me know. The one thing is that the Childress doesn't have a C key and, from what I've learned, it seems like this is the one key I would want and should invest in. So, assuming the extra cost is no object, is that C natural key preferable on a learners/practise set? My other question/concern is regarding fingering. Are all chanters made equal as far as what fingerings are available (without extra keys)? Obviously, I would contact the maker before ordering, but, are there any other "preferences" or the like that I should bring up with them or discuss before ordering? It would be nice to be able to upgrade the practise set later on, but that's not a necessity. I'm guessing that, if I continue seriously with the instrument, it would be nice to have the smaller practise set around for travelling or, well, "practise". Thanks!
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Re: Yet another "help me get started" thread

Postby djm » Sun Nov 09, 2014 4:40 am

Distributor? Maybe we can settle that one first. There are no distributors per se like there are for mass-produced instruments like guitars or keyboards. Pipe makers put out a couple of sets per year. There are few makers and few pipers, so you are looking at dealing directly with the maker or buying used from another piper. Yes, the uilleann piping world is that small, though it is growing larger as the years go by.

As regards additional keys, you will get constant arguments from all sides as this is strictly a matter of personal preference. Strictly speaking, you do not need any keys, as all traditional music for the pipes can be played without them. Some people like to have a key as a fast method to grab a note in tune, but they are not absolutely necessary. If you start going outside of the traditional repertoire you may find keys for notes that are not easily or quickly reached by half-holing or cross-fingering to be a help. Leave keys for a future purchase once you have some experience and get a better feel for what you want.

You also asked about differences in fingering from one chanter to another. These are relatively few and should not be an obstacle. In fact, I suggest you get yourself a tin/penny whistle, probably in the key of D as most piping is done in D, and start learning tunes on that. The differences in fingering between whistle, flute and pipes chanter are not very great. You have to try it to understand the similarities and differences to see what I mean, and a whistle is a fairly inexpensive introduction to playing.

Getting a set from a name maker like the ones you mentioned is always a good bet, but the top-tier makers have waiting lists extending to years. Getting a used beginner's set by a name maker is usually a better way to go. Something you definitely will want is to find a maker near to you who can help you with learning to mess with reeds, which are the bane of most pipers' existence. If there are no makers near you then find an experienced piper if you can. Lessons are really important in the beginning. I tried to teach myself for a year, only to be told, once I got in front of a real piper for a lesson, that I needed to start everything over from scratch as I had it all wrong. Get some input from an experienced piper right away.

I'm sure others will want to wade in on this topic as it comes up again and again, and everyone has some good points to add.

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Re: Yet another "help me get started" thread

Postby tompipes » Sun Nov 09, 2014 2:26 pm

Strictly speaking, you do not need any keys


as all traditional music for the pipes can be played without them.

I wouldn't agree but you wouldn't want to limit a repertoire by not having keys.
You mentioned Planxty. They recorded a great version of Tabhair dom do Laimh. So, for example, you'll need an F key to play that tune.
You can learn to half-hole the note but i would think it's easier for a beginner to operate a key than trying to accurately half hole a note.

As DJM said, there's lots of opinions on keys!

I presume you are in the US.
Shop local!
There are lots of good makers around the country with reasonable prices and waiting lists too,
Kirk Lynch, Tim Benson, Me, Nick Whitmer to name a few. Pat and Bruce you mentioned.

Pick your budget and contact a maker and see what they can offer for your price range.
Honestly, even though you have experience with other instruments it's going to be years of playing pipes before you really can hear and feel the difference between a $750 chanter and a $2500 chanter.

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Re: Yet another "help me get started" thread

Postby Mooncoinin » Sun Nov 09, 2014 5:07 pm

Thanks for the great responses guys. I'm in southern California, so there is a good community here that I'll have access to for lessons and tips once I get an instrument. I can't believe how many makers there are out there really. It seems like almost everyday I learn about another half dozen or so more that I hadn't previously heard of. With so many, and so many highly recommended, would I be as well off just choosing one from a name maker that I like the look of, has a reasonable wait time (or used), and is in my price range?

Actually, I have been playing the whistle for just under 3 years (in fact, tompipes I have one of your Ds!). I was supposed to have mentioned that in my original post, but I had copy/pasted it from an editor and made changes and parts of that post didn't make it in! So I realise my comment about "wanting to learn a more traditional solo instrument" was out of context in my original post... Anyways, as far as the whistle goes, I had issue with the "breathing" aspect. Practise or recording is fine, but playing for an audience (with a band), everything goes out the window. The distractions, excitement, and alcohol involved in a performance affect my breathing too much to really be able to play the whistle live with any sort of consistency. Additionally, I found it nearly impossible to hear myself over a live (amplified) band regardless of how much I hound the poor sound guy: it would always become an "ordeal" during sound checks. So, apart from a desire to learn pipes on their own merit, the whistle wasn't quite working for me in the context I'd have liked. But I still love to play!

After some more searching of makers, I see that a few offer chanters with blocks so that keys could optionally be added later. Would this be the best of both worlds? Would the blocks absent the keys affect the chanter's playability? I'm becoming more inclined to get a practise set without any keys. Especially if half-holing is an option the way it is on the whistle. I've learned a couple of non-traditional tunes on the whistle that required half holing to play in G so I understand the challenge (assuming its similar on the pipes).
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Re: Yet another "help me get started" thread

Postby outofthebox » Mon Nov 10, 2014 7:28 am

I'm not really convinced about the desirability of keys on chanters - apart from for cosmetic reasons. I think that they can cause more problems than they solve - keypads, weak springs can cause leaks and that can have a bad effect on the overall control of the chanter. Also the way these keyed notes are played is quite different from the norm. It's a bit like chalk and cheese - moving from an unkeyed note to a keyed note and back again. So my inclination is not to have any keys on chanters - and it can be interesting to experiment with half-holing, chanter off knee, varied pressure to feel for these 'accidental' tones on the chanter.
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Re: Yet another "help me get started" thread

Postby Mooncoinin » Mon Nov 10, 2014 8:54 pm

After a great long conversation with Bruce (BC Childress) over the phone today, I went ahead and ordered his student model practice set. For me, many elements were just right such as the price, aesthetic of the set, and his upgrade "Special Offer". Not to mention the time he took to answer many questions and offer advice. And last, but not least, the set was ready for immediate shipment! Thanks again to everyone who chimed in here and helped me get the ball rolling.
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