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I would like to learn to play the Scottish small pipes. Before I invest in a set of pipes I would like to start out with a practice chanter. Can I use a practice chanter for the highland pipes or is there a different type of practice chanter that I would need?

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There seems to be a lot of information online about Scottish smallpipes, practice chanters and Highland bagpipes, but having looked for quite a while, I haven't been able to find a definitive answer to your question (and I don't play bagpipes myself…) As your question hasn't yet had any answers though, I thought I'd collect together the information I have found, to get you pointed in the right direction.

The bobdunsire.com bagpipe forum seems to have a good deal of expert advice; as I say, I couldn't find the answer to your question here, but there is a lot of closely related material, and it looks like somebody using this forum would be able to answer your question.

A couple of other bits of information might be useful:

  • According to scottishsmallpipes.com, the finger technique for Scottish smallpipes "is the same as that for the Highland Bagpipes."

  • The wikipedia page about Practice Chanters states that "Practice chanters come in various sizes…a short size…a regular size" and "a long or extended length version." So, any difference in size between a practice chanter for Highland pipes and Scottish small pipes should not itself be an issue.

  • The wikipedia page about Scottish Smallpipes suggests that Scottish smallpipes and Highland bagpipe practice chanters may be able to be used interchangeably, with Scottish small pipes having "somewhat supplanted the musically unsatisfactory Highland practice chanter as a relatively quiet rehearsal instrument for Highland pipers".

As I said above, I don't play bagpipes, but hopefully this information will get the ball rolling...

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The HarpAndDragon website should be able to help you.

I was in Edinburgh last summer for a week and saw in a charity shop a set of practice pipes on sale for about ten pounds. I got the pipes checked out and fixed (they needed reeds) at the Bagpipes Galore shop near the Haymarket railway station - this cost all of five pounds. Apparently the practice pipes cost about 100 pounds from Harp and Dragon.

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Yes, you can use a standard GHB practice chanter. The chanter of the SSP is physically identical in construction and operation; the only difference is a SSP chanter is rather nicer and the reed is designed to use dry air rather than be blown by the mouth.

The Dunsire forum is a good starting point, but do remember many posters there have only a year or two more experience than you do - figure out who the smart people are and listen to them!

If you were willing to put up with an initial steep learning curve, there's no reason you couldn't just buy a set of SSP and start on those. However you would need some support - either formal lessons or a friendly local player - to keep you on the straight and narrow.

Lastly, buy a quality instrument. If something is cheap, it is for a reason. Lots of people will tell you how happy they are with their $300 plastic mouthblown instruments. There's a reason you don't see professionals playing them.

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