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Ear Pain when Playing Practice Chanter

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  • Ear Pain when Playing Practice Chanter

    I am looking for some help and/or advice with a relatively new, younger student. She experiences ear pain or sensitivity when playing the practice chanter. (indoors, outdoors, in open space etc) Earplugs only make the issue worse, as they tend to focus the sounds and vibrations coming though her jaw.

    She does have some history of ear sensitivity when playing other instruments, but has been able to work round it so far. She plays multiple instruments and is what I would describe as a 'accelerated learner'. She only picked up the chanter earlier this year and is ready for bagpipes. I have held her off until we can find a solution to her discomfort, as I don't want her to spend a large amount of money if she can't play the instrument. She is an early teen, just for info.

    Has anyone encountered a problem where students experience prolonged pain due to the sound and/or vibrations of the practice chanter?
    I have never encountered this and have been playing/teaching for around 40 years.

    I am concerned that we may not be able to progress to the full pipes if it is just volume related - although earplugs may work. If it is vibration related we have more success and ear defenders/plugs may work fine. I am also looking at electronic chanters for her, but again don't want her spending large amounts if there is no 'end result' with the bagpipes.

    I would welcome any or all comments relating to this issue.
    Thanks in advance, Dave.

  • #2
    I'll bet it's a bummer for her to endure this ear pain and likely anxiety, on the cusp of taking up the bagpipes. It's surprising to me that she would take the whole idea up of playing such a notoriously loud, high-pitched and vibratie instrument in the first place.

    I have enjoyed playing the Blair electronic chanter and highly recommend the product. Blair even sells an accessory bag attachment for standing during performance, if not simply sitting. Yes, I consider the Blair bagpipe samples used as chanter and drone sounds (including many other pipes) to be good enough - which can be amplified to fill a concert hall - to be a legit performance instrument. The company also offers a handy shut-off foot pedal. You could purchase a Blair and amplifier for the same price as an intro set of pipes. Just one option.

    I currently prefer my acoustic chanter and bagpipe, but use the Blair at night with headphones so as to not disturb others nearby and extend practice time. Sadly, it seems many older players give up the pipes when unable to physically manage the full blowy, vibratie set. Now I almost look forward to the (hopefully) distant day, when the Blair is there to keep me in the game.
    “Where’s my beer?”


    • #3
      Thanks Billy Boy for your reply. I am sure that it is a bummer too. I did question her choice for the bagpipes when I found out about her sensitivity.
      Thanks for your thoughts re the Blair electronic chanter too. I've promoted this with a couple of other students, so it may be a way to go.
      Thanks for your time and thoughts. They're much appreciated.


      • #4
        Assuming she has no problems with ear pain when you play your practice chanter (or pipes?) this is 100% a medical issue, and not a common one. It might also be worth having her talk to a dentist.
        -- Formerly known as CalumII


        • #5
          Good advice, Calum.
          “Where’s my beer?”


          • #6
            Originally posted by Calum View Post
            Assuming she has no problems with ear pain when you play your practice chanter (or pipes?) this is 100% a medical issue, and not a common one. It might also be worth having her talk to a dentist.
            I agree. It sounds a lot like the kind of ear squeeze you can get when diving, especially if you are a bit congested. Some people have narrow eustation tubes, which can make you more susceptible. In any case, a trip to the Dr, would be money well spent before shelling out big money for GHB. It would also be interesting to have her try bellows pipes and see if she has any pain with those.

            Hope you can get it sorted


            • #7
              She should see a OtolaryngologistIEar Doctor). The issue could be one of a myriad of things.
              "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government" Thomas Jefferson


              • #8
                Two thoughts:

                Is she biting the mouthpiece? That would greatly amplify the the vibration through her jaw. Make sure she is only sealing the mouthpiece with her lips.

                If she is still having problems, try a noise cancelling headset. These detect the "noises" around them and put an equal and opposite noise into the ear to reduce the total noise.

                “For some the Highland pipe is a serious instrument, to be played with skill and care and to consume a lifetime in its study ... but to me, it’s even more important than that - it is life itself.” PM Bruce Campbell


                • #9
                  Hmm... 'Twixt now--and seeing the doctor--
                  might try her out--on a goose.

                  Less money--and much less--that constant--
                  "back pressure."

                  Wishing for her--Comfort--and Success!! :-)
                  My friends all know,
                  With what a brave carouse...


                  • #10
                    Thanks for all of those suggestions. She is seeing her ENT specialist, so hopefully something will come out of that. We have tried many of the suggestions, but not all, yet.
                    I did check re her biting the mouthpiece and there's probably an element of that.
                    Thanks again to you all. I will post an outcome or update, once we have one just for info purposes.


                    • #11
                      Ask her if the pain moves down her neck when she plays. That would almost surely indicate a eustachian tube problem. I've gotten that problem when testing reeds that were too hard. Perhaps weakening the practice chanter reed with a bit of sanding will help. Looking toward a border pipe, session pipe or smallpipes might be her best alternative.
                      Before you start fixing problems with your reeds, check to see if the bag or stocks are leaking.