Learning the Northumbrian Smallpipes

The Northumbrian Smallpipes (NSP) are unique amongst British bagpipes having a closed chanter which gives rise to its characteristic staccato sound. NSP come in a variety of pitches, and have a rich and unique repertoire as well as a pleasing tone which makes them particularly suitable for indoor/home practise and playing in duets with other instruments. Becky will help get you off to a good start aiming to get you playing your first tune within a month of getting going.

Lessons are offered at the following stages of piping:-

Northumbrian Smallpipes played by Becky Taylor made by Colin Ross
  • Complete Beginner
  • Intermediate/Improvers
  • Advanced

Beginners:
Beginners lessons focus on establishing the basics of good piping technique:-

  • Essential Bag and Bellows technique.
  • Basic fingering and scales.
  • Keys
  • Drones and tuning.
  • Posture and hand positioning.
  • Dealing with squeaks and leaks!
  • Your first tune.

This will help you make quick progress and establish a solid basis when you move ahead to Intermediate/Improvers and Advanced levels:

  • Increasing Repertoire (more tunes!)
  • Tips and tricks.
  • Ornamentation.
  • Developing your style.
  • Pipe fettling! How to keep your pipes in good playing condition.
  • How to ‘practise’ and improve your playing.
  • Preparing for performance.

Contact becky@beckytaylor.info for further details and to arrange your lesson

Roadfrog

A reel in G minor for Northumbrian Smallpipes

When Colin Ross made my Boxwood 17-key chanter he asked me “do you really want a Bb key?” Apparently they are awkward to make and he was concerned that I wouldn’t make best use of it. I insisted that I did, because playing in G minor on the Northumbrian Smallpipes is one of my favourite keys for the instrument. My set is in ‘F’ which means this actually comes out in F minor when it’s played.

Colin Ross 17-key boxwood and brass Northumbrian Smallpipe chanter

Time to fettle the Northumbrian Smallpipes…

The sun is shining, the bees are buzzing (amazingly for February!) and so were the Northumbrian Smallpipes after some rather overdue ‘fettling’.

All piping (Uilleann, Northumbrian or otherwise) involves a certain amount of ‘fettling’ especially when the weather/seasons change, which can play havoc with your tuning if it happens suddenly and catches you unawares. Brass and metal work were polished, bores were oiled, bindings were re-hemped as required, and drone reeds tweaked, flicked and generally faffed with!
A day or two devoted to maintaining them every now and then is well worth the effort – you just have to be in the right mood to tackle the 17-key chanters with the polishing cloth…

Northumbrian Smallpipes by Colin Ross and Dave McQuade

Pictured above are my trusty Colin Ross Boxwood and brass 17-Key F set, and Andy May concert G chanter, and a lovely wee 16-Key G set by Dave McQuade in Blackwood and Nickel Silver. Both beautiful, but completely different beasts in tone and character. Dave McQuade taught me to play way back in the early 80’s so I am delighted and honoured to play a set that he has made.





Back in the Bellows!

Delighted to announce that after over a year of not piping I am now officially ‘Back in the Bellows’. The regime of treatment, rest and focusing on other instruments has paid off and I have now regained full movement in piping-critical RH little finger meaning that I can play properly again.

Many thanks to everyone that has supported and helped me through this difficult (if quieter than usual!) time – you know who you are!

Northumbrian Pipers Society Newsletter Article

Last Autumn I was asked to write an article for the Northumbrian Pipers Society quarterly newsletter. An edited version was published in the Autumn edition, but here is the full version…

Northumbrian Smallpipes

Waking up on the morning after my birthday this year I realized with some horror that I had now been playing the pipes for 30 years (you would have thought I would have the hang of it by now really wouldn’t you?!..)

Starting back in 1983 with Dave McQuade’s loan sets to schools and moving on to a particularly decrepit Hedworth set which I played for many years, my early NSP playing was unorthodox to say the least, and heavily influenced by the Irish musicians in the area and my passion for Uilleann piping for which I am perhaps better known. The defining moment in my NSP playing career was when, after many years I finally acquired a beautiful boxwood 17key set from Colin Ross in 2008 – it did take a little persuasion it must be said, as he was concerned that the Bb keys may not have been strictly necessary, with me assuring him that them they were, and subsequently playing many Gminor sets just to make sure I got the good use of them! Anyway, on playing this set it was impossible not to fall in love again with the sound of NSP and I returned to regular playing with renewed enthusiasm.

Over the years my piping career has taken me to some interesting places, most recently in Russia where I was invited to play (Uilleann) pipes as a guest with the legendary Boris Grebenshikov and his (mainly rock based) band Aquarium. After several visits I introduced the smallpipes as my F set very conveniently played in the keys of F and C that my Uilleann sets (being a concert pitched or ‘B’ set) couldn’t, and they were subsequently used on several tracks even making a brief appearance on the (very heavy) album ‘Архангельск’.

Playing NSP in Russia with a (very large) rock band came with its own particular set of challenges, the first of which was getting them there. Travelling through Russian border control with a pipe case containing both Uilleann and NSP is interesting to say the least. The very first word I learnt in Russian was ‘волынка’ pronounced ‘Volinka” and meaning literally ‘bagpipe’ and it is essential information for smoothing the difficult conversation between me (no Russian) and the rather bemused looking immigration staff (little English) when they pointed to my case with a stern ‘open’..

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Ireland Bridge Review (FolkWorld CD Reviews – by Alex Monaghan)

Becky Taylor “Ireland Bridge”
Label: Own Label; 10 tracks; 38 min
From the North of England, this young uilleann piper combines Irish music with aspects of English, Breton and other traditions. Her second album is aptly named. In a little under forty minutes, Becky Taylor stravagues through a musical landscape from Tyneside to Donegal. Francis Donnellan’s, Rattle the Cash and The Kilkenny Jig sit alongside her own compositions, which often have a slightly English feel. As well as the Irish pipes, Ms Taylor plays Northumbrian smallpipes, concertina, fiddle and whistles. She’s joined by several friends: Dave Wood, David Kosky and Paul Cowham on guitars, Leigh Stothard on drums, and Hugh Bradley on bass. For those who heard her debut CD, Ireland Bridge is a big step forward and presents Becky as a piper to be reckoned with.
The Gift mixes rustic modal melodies with the world music sound of Barely Works or Oyster Band numbers. Smallcoalpiper is a contemporary Northumberland showpiece, full of pops and stops, with a driving topline and a strong beat, finishing on the classic Small Coals. The air Mable strays across the Celtic rim, somewhere along an imaginary line between Callanish and Compostella. When It’s All Over is a little further West, halfway across that Ireland bridge; a pair of breakneck whistle reels a la Finnegan or McGoldrick. Track 6 is firmly on Irish soil, Carolan’s Captain Kane. The traditional jigs Red Haired Polly and Rattle the Cash keep us there, and The Lady’s Cup of Tea adds some very fine Irish piping. Becky’s style is open and uncomplicated, and the melody comes through strongly. The stately air River Rose leads into an impressive whistle solo. Can’t Help Smiling rounds off this recording with a medley of jigs, leaving no doubt as to Becky Taylor’s abilities: a fine command of her instrument, a repertoire as wide as these islands, and a gift for contemporary composition. Ireland Bridge is good solid pipering from start to finish, and should broaden the horizons of most traditional musicians.
Www.beckytaylor.info
Alex Monaghan

This review appeared on the FolkWorld webiste, Issue 36 published  July 2008 Folkworld CD Reviews