Playing Single Intervals

Learning to play Single Intervals is the first step one takes when learning to play the Bagpipes. Once you have mastered these basic notes you can start playing other notes. Essentially all the other notes that you will learn to play are a combination of two or more of these notes.

  • You may attempt each single interval a few times without blowing/sounding to become familiar with the movement.
  • Practice correctly regularly and daily to progress well. It also impresses upon the brain most importantly.
  • When blowing make the sound clear (not croaking). Over-blowing or placing your tongue on the top of the mouthpiece causes the sound to stop.
  • Maintain a constant sound when repeating each movement and in future exercises.
  • Repeat each single interval many times correctly, listening for clean/clear sound each time.
  • Learn to recognize the name of notes on the stave (a series of five lines and four intermediate spaces showing the height and depth of musical sounds). You will notice as we progress upwards that we name notes in alphabetical order from low “A” up to high “G” with the eighth sound (octave) being the repeat of low “A”, but higher and called high “A”. Our lowest note is called low “G”, and is the extra note.
  • Adopt the position of low “A” when picking up the chanter each time before commencing to play.
  • The height of fingers when lifted would be about 2½ to 3½ cm., or 1 to 1½ inches above the hole/s.
  • The video clips show fingering motions for the single intervals with sound, and relevant stills.
  • Always think primarily of the lifting of fingers to avoid unwanted extra sounds. See below “B” to “C”.
Listen to Bill's Audio Instruction
Playing Single Intervals

Lower Hand Single Intervals

Low G to low A

Low “G” to Low “A”

Place the lower hand little finger on the bottom hole to start on low “G”. Hold for about 2 or 3 seconds then lift the little finger smartly (no lazy fingering) above the hole for the low “A” held for 2 to 3 seconds. Replace the finger smartly to low “G”. After a few repeats without blowing, recommence, with constant steady blowing, repeating the exercise many times correctly and listening all the time for the two clean sounds each in even/equal duration as you should apply to all the other interval exercises.

Playing Low A to B on the bagpipe practice chanter

Low “A” to “B”

Sound low “A” for those few seconds then lift smartly the next third finger to sound the “B” and hold it equally for those few seconds. Repeat much as before many times to gain proficiency.

Playing B to C on the bagpipe practice chanter

“B” to “C”

From “B” lift the next second finger, then replace the little finger almost at the same time to sound “C”. Return to the “B” after a few seconds by lifting the little finger and replacing the second finger. Repeat often enough correctly. Hint — when an interval has more than one finger in the movement such as this one, think initially of the lifting motion first with the replacement action a fraction later until able to accomplish cleanly together at the same time. Early replacement causes unwanted crossing sounds.

Playing C to D on the bagpipe practice chanter

“C” to “D”

Simply play “D” from “C” by lifting the forefinger smartly while keeping the little finger on its hole. Return to “C” and repeat steadily with equal time on each note of 2 or 3 seconds. Reminder - The right hand thumb should still be in its correct position behind the second finger.

Low G, A, B, C, D Sequence

Low “G”, “A”, “B”,“C”,“D” sequence

Return to low “A”. Sound low “G” to commence this sequence of each note from low “G” through to “D” steadily with each note of equal duration. Concentrate and remember — each note should sound clean and clear without any hint of crossing sounds. Any weak or uncertainty intervals should be analyzed, corrected and practiced more often correctly.

Upper Hand Single Intervals

  • Play with basic smart fingering similar to that of the lower hand and in steady even time.
  • When playing upper hand notes remember to always keep the lower hand fingers on as for the position of low “A”, little finger off.
  • The “D” to “E” will be left for a little later because of extra difficulty.

Playing E to F on the practice chanter

“E” to “F”

With fingers in the starting position of low “A” lift the third “E” finger of the upper hand to sound “E” a few seconds. Lift the next second finger smartly to sound “F”. Repeat often enough.

Playing F to high A on the practice chanter

“F” to High “G”

Sound “F” then lift the next forefinger to sound high “G”. All three fingers should now be evenly and quite straight, not stiff, above their three holes. Repeat as before.

Playing high G to high A on the practice chanter

High “G” to High “A”

From high “G” position lift the left thumb the recommended distance from the hole at the back while the left third finger is replaced on its hole to produce high “A” our top note. Return by lifting the “E” finger and replacing the thumb on its hole cleanly. Repeat as usual. Hint — think of the initial lifting motion — the thumb going up to high “A”, and the third finger lifting going back to high “G”.

Playing E to high A on the practice chanter

“E”, “F”, high “G”, and high “A” sequence, with high “A” low “A” test.

Return to the position of “E” then play steadily the sequence from “E” through to high “A”. Play from high “A” with the reverse sequence down to &“E”. Repeat. When on high “A” hold it a few seconds then close the chanter from high “A” to low “A” to test that all fingers especially on the lower hand have remained covering their holes. Repeat. Hint — listen carefully for clean change each time without any extra sounds. When going to high “A” make sure the thumb lifts first if anything.

Playing "D" to "E"

Playing D to E on the bagpipe practice chanter

“D” to “E” Open

This, like the “B” to “C”, the high “G” to high “A”, and high “A” to low “A”, needs much practice. Play “D” for a few seconds, and lift the third (“E”) finger of the upper hand together with the little finger of the lower hand above their holes. Then replace as soon as possible the remaining three fingers (first, second, and third) of the lower hand together on their holes to correctly sound “E”. Remember that these three lower hand fingers remain on these holes when playing top hand notes. This is necessary to have the correct sound on the top hand notes.

Return from "E" to "D"

The reverse procedure applies. After sounding “E” long enough to think, lift the three lower hand fingers together, especially the “D” forefinger, then as soon as possible replace the “E” finger and lower hand little finger to sound “D”. Hint — With each change the lifting motion should be uppermost in your mind to make clean changes without any unwanted crossing sounds. From “D” to “E” if the lower hand fingers are replaced too soon a crossing sound/s will occur. Likewise, when playing “E” to “D” if any lower hand fingers are late or not all lifted together cleanly, crossing sounds are heard. It is often the “D” forefinger which is late in lifting, so make sure it lifts well with the other fingers with no hint of a slur or drag.

Playing the scale from low “A” through to high “A” sequentially.

Before commencing the single interval scale, play a number of times low “G” to low “A” back and forth to maintain confidence in playing the low “G” when required. Play the scale steadily, low “A” through to high “A”, giving each interval/note equal value of say about two seconds each for some time, then about one second each when ready to advance. Remember correct and clean fingering with each interval. Play downwards from high “A” sequentially to low “A”. Repeat as necessary.

Playing Scale, low A to High A

This lesson is an extract from Bills "Interactive Beginner Bagpipe Tutorials. 

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