A person becomes a "bagpiper" when they can play a list of tunes on the bagpipe by memory. As I've written previously, every tune that we learn to play must be memorized.
I recently had a slightly intense discussion with a student because I told him that he needed to practice a certain way. I believe that my job as a teacher is to teach my students how to practice in the week that follows the lesson. The problem is that a lot of students go home and do their own thing. You can read more about that in a previous blog titled: “This is what I Did This Week” That’s counter-productive.
The first thing that you need as a bagpiper is a list of tunes to play. I personally recommend to new students that we start by building the list with the Massed Band Tunes which, incidentally, are the same around the world. I have included them in my new book: “The Massed Band Bagpipe Tutor”. After that, you add to that list any tunes you've heard that you like and want to learn.
The biggest mistake that students make is that they pull out the new tune to begin their practice session. Because they aren't familiar with the tune and may get frustrated, they give up on it and end their practice session early. What could have been 45 minutes of practicing turns into 5! I tell all of my students that they need to start at the top of their list. You should always warm up with something that you already play. Each time you play down that list you reinforce what you already know. This leads you to having memorized tunes. People that I know who are successful at playing the pipes tell me that it only takes a certain number of times playing a tune before it is memorized. Construction of new tunes should always be the last part of your practice sessions.
This is a technique that has worked for only my students...as long as they use it. I spoke about this at great length in a previous blog titled: “Are You A Plate Spinner”. Unfortunately, I can't be at everyone's home to supervise their practice, but it certainly would make sense for a tuition-paying bagpipe student to follow their instructor's advice. As my wife says: “The money is still green!”
Gary Guth is a professional bagpiper with over 45 years of playing experience and has been teaching bagpipes full time for the last 20 years. He has written "Bagpipes For Beginners", "the Bagpipe Hymnal", and " A Piper's Christmas".