When you were first taught to play, I’m guessing one of the first things you learned was the “right” way to hold a chanter.

Yet, if you examine their technique, some of the world’s best pipers seem to hold their chanters differently to how most of us are taught. They may even have unconventional posture, or unusual arm and hand angles on their instrument. And yet… they’re still winning world championships, while most pipers struggle to play well even with the “right” hand positioning.

So is there a “right” or “wrong” way to hold your chanter?

Andrew and Jim (Heritage Bagpipes, Droning On Podcast) do a deep dive on finger position, posture, and much more in this week’s episode of Dojo Conversations.

Perpendicular vs Angled Hand Position

Beginners are usually taught to position their hands “perpendicularly” – where the fingers are generally straight and placed on the holes. That’s how I learned, and I’m betting it’s how you did too (or at least, how you were told to do it).

This is for a very good reason. To play tunes (and especially embellishments) at full performance tempo, our hands need to be relaxed and easily able to cover the holes on the bagpipe chanter. For the majority of players, this means that having your fingers resting gently on the first pads of the top hand. And the middle pads of the bottom hand fingers (except the pinky) will be the most effective position. Plus, it feels a bit unusual to play this way when you’re used to holding a recorder or other woodwind instruments in the past. So learning this way from the outset is a good way to ingrain those good – but unusual feeling – habits early in your piping journey.

However, some pipers find it more comfortable and ultimately successful for them to rotate the hand upwards to a 45-degree angle, as shown in the video above. Several other world champions and very good players also use this technique. And in fact, this method may actually have some additional benefits for some players, because it can help your squeezing arm achieve a slightly more natural position when you’re playing on the full bagpipes.

So should you try to change the way you hold your fingers on the chanter? My advice would be no, because…

What’s Actually the Best Position?

I’ll answer this question with a question. We all know that being tall is usually a prerequisite for playing professional basketball, right? But if you’re in the NBA (that’s American basketball, for the uninitiated), is anyone going to care how tall you are if you’re scoring 51 points a game? Probably not. But while a shorter guy may be able to shoot some serious hoops, we know that for the majority of players, a taller height is definitely an advantage.

The point is, there’s not just the one way to do it well – but there might be a best way for the majority of players.

And starting with what works best for the majority of people is a more solid place to start. That’s why bagpipe tutors everywhere teach the perpendicular method. From there, though, once you’re comfortable with that “mainstream” way, you can trial some others to see if something works better for you.

So ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to hold your chanter. Find a technique that works best for you, and allows you to produce the best sound possible.

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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