Common Bagpipe Mistakes

Oct 23, 2023
Common Bagpipe Mistakes

When it comes to playing the bagpipes, I’ve done a lot of stupid things throughout the years. I’ve broken reeds, cracked drones, lost equipment, etc. But despite the occasional mishaps, I’ve also had a ton of fun and shared some awesome music. So my purpose for writing this blog post isn’t to necessarily focus on the bad, but instead to talk about some things that could become unfortunate distractions and take away from your ability to play great music on the bagpipes.

Neglecting Routine Bagpipe Maintenance

Bagpipe maintenance is critical to creating great music. If your bagpipes aren’t in proper working order, playing great music will be MUCH HARDER. I’ve met a lot of extremely talented pipers who are only able to play mediocre music due to poor pipe maintenance.

Which is why you should take a moment and think about the last time you:

  • Re-hemped any loose fittings
  • Checked the bag for leaks
  • Cleaned inside the drones and chanter
  • Sewed up any rips or loose strings
  • Checked for any cracks
  • Tightened any loose stocks

It really doesn’t take very long to make sure your pipes are in good working order and the payoff is huge. If you need more guidance on how to perform these maintenance procedures, I have some videos about pipe maintenance in my All-Access Membership that can help you out:

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Feeding the Mold

Nothing is more disappointing than getting out your pipes only to find that your favorite reed is covered in mold! It almost feels like losing an old friend. If you find yourself in this situation, you may catch yourself saying “How could this have happened?” Fortunately, if you follow these three rules you should have very few mold issues:

  1. Never feed the mold. Don’t eat food or drink soda while you play the bagpipes. The food will make its way into your bag and onto your reeds creating a terrible mold monster. I even know a lot of pipers who never lick their chanter reeds because they want to keep mold and bacteria at an absolute minimum. I also usually don’t lick my chanter reed for this exact reason. Instead, I will just lightly blow through the reed for about 30 seconds to moisten the reed before I put it in the pipes and start playing.
  2. Always make sure your pipes are dry before you put them away. Now I am not saying that everything should be bone dry since some moisture is good for the wood, leather, and reeds. However, you shouldn’t have excess moisture trapped in your bagpipes. You will have to experiment depending on how wet of a blower you are, your environment, and your setup. In my case, I’ve found that if I pull my chanter out of the pipes while leaving the reed in the chanter and then just let it air out for about 2 minutes before putting it away, then that prevents most mold issues.
  3. Don’t leave your chanter in your bagpipes. When you’re done piping you should pull out the chanter from the pipes, let the reed air out, and then place a reed protector over the reed end of the chanter. The reed protector is nice because it will help reduce the moisture level your reed is exposed to by not being enclosed in the bag, but at the same time gives you the ability to leave your reed inside the chanter, making tuning your chanter much easier the next time you play.

Exposing Bagpipes to Extreme Conditions

I recognize that inevitably most pipers will have to play their fair share of scorching hot summer parades or freezing cold funerals, but that doesn’t mean that you should make those kinds of conditions the norm for your bagpipes. When you’re done performing, you should never leave your pipes in any weather condition that is too hot, cold, humid, or dry. You should also try to keep them in more ideal circumstances for as long as possible prior to the gig.

When I recently played for my Grandpa’s funeral it was raining outside, so I made sure to arrive at the cemetery early and park as close as possible to where I would be playing so I could keep my bagpipes dry in the car for as long as possible. I would recommend you do your best to avoid any of the following situations:

  • Leaving your pipes in the car for long-term storage or in severe weather conditions
  • Storing your pipes in an attic or garage
  • Exposing your pipes to extended hours of sunlight
  • Storing your pipes next to a stove or furnace
  • Putting your pipes away wet

As a rule of thumb, only leave your bagpipes in an environment that you would feel comfortable. Otherwise, you risk permanent damage to your drones, reeds, bag, etc.

Not Asking for Help

While it’s good to be independent and figure things out on your own to some extent, it seems like sometimes pipers make things harder on themselves than they need to be. When it comes to learning to play the bagpipes, mentorship is so important to help speed up the learning process. Without proper mentorship, pipers will most likely waste time on the wrong things or they will simply give up on piping altogether. I always say that in an ideal world, the best course is to find an instructor who can help you one-on-one so they can see your unique struggles and help meet you where you’re at in the process. However, if that is not available to you there are a lot of other helpful resources that can also be great for keeping you motivated and teaching you to play, or even if you are taking private lessons it could be good to access other supplemental resources to make the process even easier.

  • Here are a few examples of ways you could gain additional help and mentorship:
  • Contact a local bagpipe instructor
  • Purchase an online course like my Learn to Play the Bagpipes Course
  • Join a local bagpipe band
  • Check out an online forum (like the Bagpipe Master Facebook Group)
  • Read books about bagpiping
  • Attend local bagpipe events like festivals, concerts, or workshops

Leaving Bagpipes on the Couch

This may seem strange, but I’ve actually personally seen more than one bagpipe casualty occur from the old “camouflage couch” mishap. You can’t blame someone for not seeing a black set of pipes on a black leather couch, so you shouldn’t be surprised if you put your pipes on a couch at band practice and your bandmate accidentally sits on them. This goes for anything that is made to be sat on, it’s probably not a good idea to set your bagpipes on it. When you need to set your pipes down, take the extra 20 seconds and put them somewhere safe, or ask someone you trust to hold them for a moment (and show them the right way to hold them.) If you respect your bagpipes and treat them with common sense and like the fragile, valuable instrument they are then you should be able to get good use out of them for years to come.

Not Using Earplugs

According to the National Institute on Deafness website “Sounds at or below 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA), even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause permanent hearing loss, and the louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for noise-induced hearing loss to happen. So exactly how loud is 85 dBA?

  • Normal conversation = 60-70 dBA
  • Movie theatre = 74-104 dBA
  • Motorcycles and dirtbikes = 80-110 dBA
  • Music through headphones at maximum volume, sporting events, and concerts = 94-110
  • Sirens = 110-129 dBA
  • Fireworks show = 140-160 dBA
  • Bagpipes outdoors = 90-105 dBA
  • Bagpipes indoors = 95-111 dBA
  • Snare drums = 100-120 dBA

If you currently don’t have any ear protection, do yourself a favor and buy some earplugs.

Treating Bagpipes Like Normal Luggage

When traveling by airplane you should ALWAYS keep your bagpipes as a carry-on. While it might seem a little more convenient to check your bagpipes with the rest of your luggage, don’t do it. The luggage crew will NEVER handle or care for your pipes the way you would (or should.) If you are traveling often you may want to look at investing in a special case that will offer greater protection for your pipes.


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