Learning to play with a Practice Chanter

There are many different types of bagpipes, contrary to many people's belief, and they range in size from the great Highland pipes – the traditional version that we associate with Scotland – to the mellower and somewhat different Northumbrian Small pipes, an instrument with much in common with the bagpipes but with a different method of playing. Each will be learned on a practice chanter, for it is the accepted method of learning how to play the pipes of any kind.

Buying a practice chanter is a matter of personal choice, and there is much information available in books, on the internet and from pipe teacher on the subject but the general consensus – as with many such choices – is to buy the very best you can afford.

Until recently practice chanters were relatively specialist items manufactured by a few select makers of pipes, but as with most areas of consumer goods and musical instruments the influence of cheaply made Far Eastern products is to be seen today.

Many of these practice chanters will be perfectly good, but this is a personal instrument that is going to be used extensively by the learner piper, and having the right one means being comfortable with it.

One thing to remember when buying a practice chanter is that looks are not everything; beneath a glossy and attractive exterior may lie a poorly made and cheaply put together instrument, and bagpipes – like all instruments – come in many different levels of quality. It is the sound that matters, after all, with a musical instrument of any kind, not how it looks.

Take your time to handle and try practice chanters before buying, ask questions of the seller and get recommendations from your tutor or a shop, and you will end up with a practice chanter that is fit for the purpose.

A point to look for is to make sure the practice chanter you choose has sunken finger holes, for these will undoubtedly be present on your eventual purchase – the full set of pipes – and make sure that you feel at one with the shape and size of the chanter. Also, take care to buy quality reeds – you will pay more, but it will be well worth the money spent in getting the right practice chanter for prolonged use.