Description of The Uilleann Pipes
A Practice or Quarter Set consists of a chanter, a bag and a bellows for inflating. The "chanter" is the melody playing part of the pipes. It is held in both hands, bag side hand on top, with the fingers laying flat across it to cover the holes. The chanter on the uilleann pipes plays two octaves and on a good instrument will play one or two notes above that also. The chanter can also have keys included to make it fully chromatic ie. capable of playing a scales tones and semitones.
A Half Set consists of the above with drones added. The drones provide continuous accompaniement which, on the uilleann pipes, can be turned off and on with the use of a switch. This can be used to great effect eg. Johnny Dorans playing. The uilleann pipes usually have three drones each tuned an octave apart. In some cases a fourth drone is added which is tuned to play either a fourth or a fifth in a similar fashion to the Northumbrian smallpipes.
A Three Quarter Set consists of all of the above with the addition of the tenor and baritone regulators. "Regulators" consist of stopped chanters that connect into the main stock. The "main stock" is a cylinder which connects drones and regulators to the bag. The stopped holes are covered by keys that are depressed with the fleshy part of the lower hand (bellows side hand) on the chanter. The tenor and baritone regulators play the same notes that are on the chanter minus the E. The purpose of the regulators is to provide harmony, punctuate rhythm and create "lift" in a tune.
A Full Set consists of the above with the inclusion of a bass regulator. The bass regulator adds the same notes as the tenor, minus the F#, but an octave lower.
  • To see a finger chart click here».
  • To learn about the regulators click here»
  • To learn about flat pipes click here»
  • To learn about reed making - Patrick Sky's Reedmaking Booklet:
  • A Cross Section of Uilleann Piping Technique
    & Terminology

    Technique gives music on the pipes soul. This is where the "nyah", "draíocht" or magic comes from. These are all essential techniques that all Irish musicians on all instruments have to learn to make their music true to the tradition and interesting to listen to. On each instrument they can be called something different but they are essentially the same thing. These patterns may appear complicated and hard to execute in the beginning but with practice and repetition you will master them in no time at all. These are by no means the extent of technical achievement on the pipes so don't limit yourself to the few examples here.

    For excellent reading on the subject get a copy of "The Dance Music of Willie Clancy" by Pat Mitchell, "The Piping of Patsy Touhey" by Pat Mitchell and Jackie Small and "The Master's Touch" by Séamus Ennis.

    The Techniques

    Cut: A regular cut breaks a note into two rhythmically. Also sometimes called a grace note. In it's most basic form it's most commonly played on the pipes with the A finger for the bottom hand notes the C finger for the upper hand notes and back D thumb for the C note. A cut can also be played "on" or before the beat/note. Once comfortable playing this technique, it can be expanded on by cutting with any finger particularly the finger over the note being played. Once comfortable at that level try to play several cuts in a row thus becoming a form of trill, this can be achieved by bouncing the finger on the hole.

    Pat: A pat can be used in the same way as a cut. A pat is executed by playing a note then closing off the note briefly thus inserting a rhythmic silence in the same way a cut would have been played.
    Long Roll: Most commonly, instead of three notes in a row or a three-note value replace with a roll, i.e. Note-Cut-Note-Pat-Note. Rolls can be used as a variation in a tune but be careful, over use can simplify the tune out of recognition.
    Short Roll: The short roll is played in the space of two notes. Almost like cramming what would have been played in a long roll or three note musical space (above) into the space of two notes. It is a faster movement but is well worth the practice, i.e. Cut-Note-Pat-Note
    Pop/Bark: Popping is a wonderful characteristic unique to the uilleann pipes. It is achieved by very briefly playing a hard bottom D then bending the finger off the note you want to emphasize with this technique. I like to roll the finger off the note thus creating a bend in the note as it is played. The notes of the bottom hand are most commonly used for this effect but the upper hand is possible too with practice.

    Triplet: This is the practice of playing three notes closely together in the space two notes would normally fill, e.g. instead of playing BD, play BCD. These notes are commonly played in a staccato (closed) way but legato (open) is also common. To mix open and closed triplets is most desirable thus introducing musical taste and variety. Technically a lot of the time the middle note is the only one that is played strictly staccato but we can debate that at a later date. The idea is to get a nice rhythmic pop sound from the chanter. A good tune to practice this technique is the great piping jig "The Gander in the Pratie Hole".
    Cran: This technique fills the same space a long roll would and can be played also as a short cran in a similar way to the short roll and like the cut "on" the beat. It is an effect exclusively played on the bottom D and E notes. Some players have adapted it to be played on other notes also in a similar fashion to Highland Piping…. that's for Highland piping. There are many ways to play a cran, here are my examples: (each note in a cran only takes up the time of a cut) If sung it might sound like "Diddle-Um-Dum", i.e. D-g-D-f-D-g-D-a-D OR D-a-D-f-D-g-D-a-D. Every piper will tell you a different way but the more notes generally means the better the cran. These examples are a good place to start.

    Backstitch: Played as an effect after a note, ie. note/pip/pip. Usually played in the space a roll would fill but can vary depending on dexterity on the pipers part. I've heard it used to great effect in jigs also. Listen to Mick Coyne aswell as the pipers listed on the graphic below for excellent examples of this tricky little turn.

    Trill: See "Cut".

    Back D: The note played with the top hand thumb when removed from the hole. Also, middle D as there is a D below and a D above on the uilleann pipe chanter. On some chanters it is necessary to open the C hole and or another hole, commonly the G, to bring the back D into tune. As a guide, these fingers can be used to vibrato the back D. Once you get used to the instrument you can use any finger combination that suits your particular chanter.

    Hard D: By lifting the chanter off the knee, applying a tiny bit more pressure and cutting the note with the A, hard D is achieved. It gives the note a harsh edge that is loaded with harmonics and is desirable for piping. On most chanters the hard D is more in tune than the "soft" D.

    Hard E: The Hard E is played in the same way as the Hard D. The little finger is still on the bottom hole of the chanter with only the bottom hand ring finger raised.

    Ghost D: or Eb (E flat) is played by lifting only the little finger of the bottom hand. It is a nice effect as a grace note when moving between 2nd octave E and back D and vice versa.

    Off The Knee: To add colour to your playing, try adapting these techniques to work with the chanter off the knee occassionally. This will add volume to the notes played off the knee as well as flattening them to a degree. It is common practice to leave on the little finger when incorporating this technique; it helps in keeping the chanter in tune and assists you to return safely back on the holes your fingers belong on.

    General Observations

    Humidity: Get yourself down to RadioShack and invest the cashola in a hygrometer... they won't know what that is [I didn't either until I got into this stinking mess] so ask for a humidity meter. There are all sorts, just get the smallest and cheapest one they have. They usually give temperature and humidity. Here's a link to their site»

    Most reeds are happiest over 45% and under 75%. What I've found to work best is to adjust the reeds to the environment rather than the other way around. By this I mean squeezing the bridle open on dryer days and closed for more humid days.... NOT scraping or clipping etc.

    If conditions are very dry - under 40% - just put the pipes in the case and play the whistle or the glockenspiel. If it is consistently under 40% you'll need to get into reedmaking or move near a large body of water. Reeds tend to work well in conditions more humid than those they were made in, but badly in conditions dryer than what they were made in. Therefore to have a reed made by a good reedmaker under dry conditions is a great advantage living in a dryer climate.
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