The greatest and the worst thing about teaching bagpipes is the amount of music written for the instrument. I personally love the amount and variety of music for our instrument. The problem is with new people. Because of the great variety of not only printed music but recorded music, I find that I am dealing with people who are in a constant state of "bagpipe music ecstasy". That means that every time they hear a new tune, they think they need to learn it right now. The problem is that they have 20 to 30 tunes that they can "kind of" play, but not very well.
The problem with this is that in order to play the pipes well, the music needs to be memorized. Don't get me wrong, I am a bagpipe tune junkie too, except that I have created a process for myself to process and digest this music. I have a solution to this problem that I'm eager to share with you.
The first thing you need to do is make a list of tunes. You should all have a list from which you work. I personally would suggest that you put your local Pipe Band Association Tunes on that list first. This gives you the ability to have tunes in common with most of your fellow bagpipers. From that point, you should put the tunes on the list in a sequence of variety. I personally like a list that builds in tempo and excitement. My list consists of: 4/4 marches, 6/8 marches, 2/4 marches, Strathspeys, Reels, Jigs and Hornpipes. This variety will keep you and your future audiences entertained. Every time you hear a tune that you think that you want to learn, put it at the end of your list. That means your list will always be growing.
When practicing your list, you should always practice from the top down until those tunes are memorized. It's sort of like a train moving from one town to the next. Your "engine" may be on tune number 6 and your "caboose" may be on tune number one. When your caboose passes number 1 and goes to number 2, tune number 1 is now memorized. Over a period of time, your tune train will gradually work down the list. At some point your caboose will pass tune number 50 meaning that you have 50 tunes ready to play at any time. You should go back and review your memorized tunes with music just to keep them fresh and in shape.
What kind of plan do you have now? Is your plan working? If it is, continue what you're doing. If it isn't, you might try my approach. The worst thing, in my opinion, is to be practice chanter bound for 5 years. That sort of defeats the whole purpose of playing the pipes, doesn't it? If you are teaching yourself, and have been for some time, are you getting the results that you want? You might find that an investment in instruction might get you on track to accomplishing your musical dreams sooner rather than later later.
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".