Practice Chanter Information Page and Links
Below on this page we discuss the basics of what a practice chanter is. If you are a beginner, please take a few minutes to read this page before moving on to the pages of chanters. If you already know all that, then see these links:
Standard, Long and Child's Practice Chanters
For a list of method books and recordings on learning to play the practice chanter, and a video tutor, see our page of piping books.
Practice Chanter Carrying Cases
The practice chanter (the "ch" is pronounced as in "child") consists basically of the blowpipe and chanter from the bagpipes pipes stuck together to make a wind instrument (i.e., it's a set of pipes without the bag and without the drones). It comes apart in the center at the band; the double plastic reed is inside. Many practice chanters are made of wood and have a plastic mouthpiece; however, some are made entirely of high-grade plastic (these latter are not the cheapest ones). A new chanter on the market is glass-filled nylon, which is not expensive. Wood is traditional, and is a favorite material with many pipers; however, it should be noted that the plastic has certain advantages: it gives a constant tone whatever the weather, with no expanding, contracting or splitting.
At left is a typical wood practice chanter. This one has a sole, the name given to the plastic disk on the end. The sole does not affect playing of the instrument.
This is a typical plastic practice chanter. This one does not have a sole; instead it has bulge at the end, which we call a button sole.
This view shows a chanter pulled apart to show the reed inside.
At left are shown two styles of practice chanter reeds, short and long. The short one is just over 1 3/4" long. The longer one is 2 1/4" long. These can have a plastic sleeve or tape that holds the two plastic reeds together, or they can have thread wound around to hold the reeds together.
The two styles of practice chanter reeds are interchangeable and can be played in any practice chanter; which you play is a matter of choice.
Practice chanters come mostly in two sizes: standard and long (there is also a third kind, smaller chanters for children; see the bottom of this page).
The standard practice chanter's blowpipe and chanter pieces are somewhat shorter than those on a full-size set of bagpipes, and the distance between the holes is very slightly less; however, this is a convenient size to manage, and the standard practice chanter is the one traditionally played by the majority of people. It's usually about 18-19 inches long overall.
The long practice chanter's chanter piece is the same size as this piece on a full-size set of bagpipes, and the hole spacings are the same as well; a long chanter is 21-23 inches long overall, depending on the brand. People who play the long chanters like the fact that they feel the same as the pipes. Which size of practice chanter you will play is entirely up to you; if you have short arms, you will probably find that a standard chanter works better for you. If you are tall with long arms, you would be comfortable with a long chanter, and could play either size.
The woods used in both practice chanters (and bagpipes) are dense, hard woods. The best are African blackwood and ebony; cocus (a figured light beige wood) and rosewood are also used. Note that rosewood comes in different grades; generally our cheapest chanters are made of an inexpensive type of rosewood, obviously a wood that is in plentiful supply. A popular material for practice chanters these days is plastic.
Prices of practice chanters vary a great deal, and here, again, you must make a choice. Some people feel that they are better to buy an inexpensive one until they see where they are going on this, and then get a good one later on. Others figure that if they are going to play this for the rest of their lives, they might as well get a good one right up front. As with everything else, you pretty well get what you pay for in quality of workmanship, tone, intonation (i.e. keeping in tune), ability to stand up to moisture from your breath and climate changes, and long-term durability.
A practice chanter will play at a different pitch with different reeds; it is not a precise-pitch instrument. If you try ten reeds in your chanter, you will get ten variations in pitch.
This means that in group lessons, where the students play together, the teacher has to try to get the chanter reeds fairly close to playing the same pitch, but this is not easy.
Also: the three different sizes of chanter (standard, long and child's) all play at a different pitch with the same reed. The long chanter plays about half a tone lower than the standard chanter; the child's chanter plays about a tone higher than the standard chanter.
In group lessons, the students need to play the same size of chanter if they plan to play in unison, and pretty well the same style of reed, chosen/trimmed very carefully.
If you are not taking chanter lessons in a group class, none of this matters, and you can play whatever chanter and reed you wish.
Practice Chanter Reed
This reed will probably not wear out from playing for a very long time. Practice chanter reeds usually die because the string wound around the double reed unwinds from handling, or the dog gets a hold of it. (Well, sometimes the dog gets the whole chanter; it's just the right shape to make it really great to chew on.) However, we have found that beginners often have reed trouble at first until they get the hang of handling them; you may want to consider ordering a couple of extra reeds with your chanter, in case of anything. Our practice chanters all come with a tested reed included in the price.
Please note that when we ship practice chanters we normally put the chanter reed into a tiny plastic bag and attach it to the packing slip, so that the reed will not be lost.
The sole on a practice chanter is the round disk on the end; it is an optional feature that has nothing to do with playing the chanter. Chanters that do not have a sole are described as having a button sole, which is really just a bulge of the wood or plastic of which the chanter is made. Purists claim that the button sole is the more traditional style. Others claim that the disc sole improves the sound. We do not have an opinion on this.
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