Birls – rapid pinky passes over low G – are embellishments that you’ll have to learn to play in a band or as a soloist.

Although they can be quite difficult, they’re also very common in bagpipe tunes.

But there’s more than one way to play a birl, and it can be confusing to know which one to use or switch to.

So which did you learn? And is there a “best” one to play?

Types of Birls

Birls come in many forms, including the sideways seven, the side-to-side tap, the upward swipe and downward swipe, the double tap, and the tap drag.

The sideways seven is the most common – where you swipe down with the finger and quickly snatch it back up, producing the note.

The sideways seven is the most popular birl among bagpipers. The name comes from the way your pinky moves on the chanter, swiping down and curving back up –nresembling the number seven when turned sideways.

The sideways seven is the most ergonomical and flexible birl, allowing for quick finger movement. It’s the most commonly used birl for fast, complex tunes, making it the go-to birl for many pipers.

Many pro-level pipers play with all different types of birls. So if you’ve been playing another type of birl, and it works for you, there’s no need to switch.

But the sideways seven is the most ergonomic and flexible, making it the best birl for quick finger movement and complex tunes. So if you’re struggling with speed and agility, switching to the sideways seven may help.

The Importance of Ergonomics in Birl Playing

Playing the birl involves quick, repetitive finger movement, making ergonomics crucial. The sideways seven is the most ergonomic birl, allowing for quick finger movement and minimal lateral motion. Lateral movement can cause other fingers to move, leading to mistakes and slower playing. So it’s essential to choose a birl that’s comfortable for you and doesn’t cause discomfort or pain.

Whether you’re a seasoned piper or just starting, experimenting with different types of birls can help you find the right one for you.

The Piper’s Dojo Weekly Show brings you weekly advice about how to be a better bagpiper. Tune into our weekly livestreams on our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on this topic. However, as with everything in piping, there are many schools of thought, and I’d love to hear yours! Leave a comment below to keep the discussion going…

About the Author

Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He was 2017 & 2019 World Champion with Inveraray and District Pipe Band, 2017 Winner of the USA Silver Medal for Piobaireachd, 2008–2013 Pipe Major of Grade 1 Oran Mor Pipe Band, multi-prize winner of Silver Medals at Oban and Inverness, and the 2004 B-Grade Winner Strathspey/Reel at Oban. 

Andrew published his debut and award-winning book, Finding Bagpipe Freedom, in 2021. He's also an Accredited Bagpipe Teacher and Examiner (Scottish Qualifications Authority) and holds a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts from Simon Fraser University.

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