Bagpipers initially start, and then practice on an instrument called a Practice Chanter.
This narrow, mouth-blown instrument resembles a recorder and is made of wood or plastic. Practice Chanters have two main parts. The top section has a mouthpiece where air is blown into the instrument. The bottom portion has a bored hole where a double-bladed plastic reed fits and has nine holes used to finger the notes.
The two sections fit together using either hemp or rubber o-rings to create an air-tight seal. Some practice chanters also have a "sole" on the bottom, which is a round piece of imitation ivory. The sole is for looks only, and has no practical purpose.
Practice chanters are used by beginners to learn techniques for fingering and blowing. Because pipers need to know their tunes by heart, practice chanters are also used when learning any new tune. Pipe band members practice together using practice chanters, both for practicing old tunes and for learning the tempo and notes to new music. Whether just beginning or an old pro, the practice chanter is essential in the musical progression on the bagpipes.
Which Chanter Should I Get?
Practice chanters are available in two lengths - regular and long.
For older kids and adults, a long practice chanter is generally recommended, because the finger hole spacing is more similar to that of on the pipe chanter on the bagpipes.
This is helpful because when the student does get on the bagpipes, the fingers will already be used to the wider hole spacing.
Regular length practice chanters may be more comfortable for kids with smaller hands, and are less expensive.
We often suggest practice chanters that are countersunk or counter bored for improved 'note hole' feel.
Should I Get a Polypenco Chanter or an African Blackwood Chanter?
Practice chanters are available in polypenco plastic or African blackwood.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both materials. Polypenco plastic is very durable and easy to clean, as well as considerably less expensive. Some folks feel that blackwood practice chanters, in addition to being nicer looking, sound better, but to others, the difference is barely discernable.
A blackwood practice chanter, like any wind instrument made from wood, can crack due to changes in temperature and humidity. For this reason, blackwood practice chanters are made with a polypenco plastic top piece, as this is the piece most likely to crack.