A lot of people think they want to play the bagpipe. How about you? How long have you been thinking about playing this instrument? Are you concerned that you won’t have time to devote to instruction? Are you worried about commitment?
Indeed, the biggest concern for a new student is how to fit playing the bagpipe into their lives.
Playing any instrument is a habit. A habit is something that you do every day. Do you have 15 minutes per day to devote to playing the bagpipe? Most people do. If you can find that 15 minutes every day (and not the last 15 minutes before you go to bed), you could learn to play anything, including the bagpipe.
I suggest that if you carry a phone and you use it for scheduling that you access the calendar feature and make an appointment with yourself so that you can practice each day and get off to a good start.
Do you have $100 to spend on the materials? For $100, you can buy a practice chanter and a book with audio. These are the only tools needed to get started. Don’t buy a set of pipes! You don’t need them yet. These are an educated purchase. Find someone that you know that already plays the bagpipe and let them help you with that when the time comes. The best person to ask is your instructor.
You can teach yourself via various educational materials if you have an unlimited amount of time each week and can’t fit in lessons, or you could hire an instructor. Most instructors will meet with you once per week and teach you how to proceed in your daily practice so that you meet the goals of your teacher as well as your goals.
When hiring an instructor, you usually have the option of making a week-to-week commitment or a monthly commitment. I personally favor the monthly commitment as you can’t bail immediately if you hit a snag. Continuity and consistency will result in solid learning.
Therefore, the secret to playing the bagpipe is that there is really no secret! You simply need to get started! By following the advice above, you’ll be playing your first tune in no time at all.
I find that in teaching bagpipers how to play the bagpipe, I need to remind them of what a bagpiper is.
“A bagpiper is person who can play a list of bagpipe tunes on the bagpipe by memory, who can develop their own music, and who can maintain their own bagpipe,” I tell them.
Can you do that? I think that the most important thing that a bagpiper can have is a list of tunes. This list needs to have the tunes in playing order. There are certain tunes like “Scotland the Brave” and “The Rowan Tree”, “The Green Hills of Tyrol” and “When the Battle’s Over” that are played in sets. You need to have your list in sets.
Can you learn a new tune without hearing it first? There are more than 500 tunes in the Scots Guards Volume 1 edition. Can you drop open a page and play it? That should be every bagpiper’s goal. The goal is to become an accomplished bagpipe musician. I honestly believe that a bagpiper’s life in this area is dependent on how much music they can produce. I think that a lot of bagpipers drop out when they get sick of playing the 12-tune repertoire most bands promote.
Memorizing music is the next part of this equation. I have found that if I play a tune enough times, I’ll know it by memory. I also know that if I can sing it, I can play it. When you practice, you need to play down your list on a daily basis. At some point the tunes will pop starting at the top. When they pop you will have them memorized. At that point you won't need to play them every day, however you should play them at least once per week.
The final qualification to being a bagpiper is to know how to maintain your own instrument. Do you know how to hemp, change a bag, and regulate your drone and chanter reeds? These are all necessary skills to being a successful bagpiper. Do you really want to pay someone else to do your maintenance?
All of these skills you can probably learn on your own. The question is how much time do you have? Having someone to help you with these problems will save you a lot of time and money and get you to the goal of being a bagpiper faster.
Let me know if I can help you.
Today while perusing the "Old Geezer's Bagpipe Page" someone mentioned "Orange and Blue" played as a 6/8 march. Funny thing the tune in 6/8 that they were talking about was "Hot Punch". I've played both of the tunes for years and never really thought about the fact that they were related. In looking around for a tune to arrange, I found one called "The Duke of Gordon" which I know as a Strathspey. In fooling around with it, I found that I could make this tune a better jig than a march. See what you think. Here is the picture and below is the file to download.
What are your dreams concerning your bagpipe project for this coming year? Do you want to be a better bagpiper? Would you like to be able to play more and different music?
After 21 years spent teaching bagpipers via private lessons, I have found a direct correlation between their actual bagpipe life and their ability to produce new music. I find that the average bagpiper life is about 7 years. A bagpiper comes into our hobby, learns the 10 tunes that his band plays and dies of boredom within that 7 year period.
The only thing that keeps a bagpiper from learning more tunes and a larger variety of tunes is his/her ability to read and process rhythm.
About 10 years ago, I introduced a product called “A Piper’s Christmas”. This book includes 42 Christmas hymns, songs and carols arranged to play on our Great Highland Bagpipe. I introduced this book to my students in October. I told them that they needed to define the rhythm for each selection by writing it in with pencil, practice singing each (since they already knew many or most of the songs) and then learn to play each one. When January came around and we went back to the traditional music, I found that their ability to sight read music had vastly improved, simply by carrying out those three steps with the Christmas music.
I’d like to invite you to first take my Rhythm Program (it’s free) and consider buying my book. It is the beginning of November. If you were to learn one Christmas song per day (it doesn’t have to be memorized), you may be able to play the whole book by the time Christmas Day arrives.
If you have a band that struggles to learn new music, I’ll offer the book at a discounted rate if you buy 10 or more copies. There is practice chanter audio available for each tune. The book is available in both hard copy and digital format.
To start the Rhythm Program go to: https://www.bagpipelessons.net/bagpipe-rhythm-lessons.html After taking the lessons, you can click on the link to the books and see the full description.
I hope you take advantage of my free lessons and offer. It could change your bagpipe career forever!
As a bagpiper for more than 45 years, I have learned one thing that I deem the most important: “A bagpiper is a person who can play a list of tunes on the bagpipe by memory”. It’s just that simple.
The first question that I ask you as a bagpiper: Do you have a list of tunes to play? Think about this. If you are asked to play for someone’s event, do you have a list or do you wing it? Personally, I think that “winging it” won’t keep you in the market for long. You need to prepare a list. These tunes should be in small sets by meter. The small sets can be combined with other small sets to create 10 to 12 minute medleys. If someone needs you to play for 30 minutes, you only need 3 – 10 minute medleys to do the job.
I like to change up the small sets so that I don’t have two duple sets back to back. For instance, I’ll take a set of 4/4’s and put a set of 6/8’s followed by a 2/4 set. The 2/4 set goes into a set of 2-part Strathspeys and Reels followed by a Jig, a Hornpipe and a set of Retreats. This set takes about 10 minutes to play. Your audience will stay engaged as the music is always changing.
So, how do you develop this kind of set. I think that you need to write it down. You then need to learn the tunes in that order and when you practice you always play them in that order. You want one tune going into the next and then the next. As you learn these tunes, the goal is to get from one melody note to the next without making a mistake. You need to play slowly on your first read-through. If you played the same tune 10 times exactly the same way, you might have it memorized by the 11th pass through. If you play it sloppily and different each of the 10 times, you may never have it memorized. The bagpipe is all about precision. As most bands competing are playing in unison, you want everyone playing the exact same thing at the exact same time.
To recap, if you want to be a bagpiper, make a list of tunes and build them one at a time and practice them in the same order.
When I started playing the bagpipe, I had already been playing the piano for 4 years. I was terrible at rhythm. My piano teacher would yell “Count, Gary, count!” but I still struggled. The problem, in reality, was that my piano teachers never actually taught me the process of counting.
I have spent the last 20 years preaching that good rhythm is essential when playing the bagpipe. Here we have a “musical instrument” that most classical musicians say isn’t musical at all because it lacks the ability to crescendo and decrescendo. However, in most instances, those classical musicians have never heard a great bagpipe player. If they had, they would have heard the difference that good rhythm makes.
You can go to YouTube and listen to a vast number of bagpipers with varying skills playing Amazing Grace. (The desire to learn Amazing Grace happens to be the primary reason why most people want to play this instrument.) You don’t need a license to play the bagpipe. Anyone can give it a try, as is evidenced by those YouTube videos. The performances that aren’t so great are given by those not only with poor technique but also players who are lacking a beat. Musical expression on the Great Highland Bagpipe is created first by having a steady beat and then by learning to control the rhythm. It’s the way the player executes the rhythm when playing Amazing Grace that causes listeners to react positively.
When I first started playing the bagpipe years ago, my teacher – as well as the judges at the competitions where I played - would write on my score sheet; “for more musical expression, hold the dots and cut the cuts”. What does that mean? That means that if I have a steady beat, I am going to still execute those 2 notes within that period of time. However, I am going to hold the dot to its nth degree and put the cut in before I tap the next beat. I learned that, and as I rose through the ranks in competitions, I always got high scores in expression.
If you are hoping to be a more expressive player, the first thing you need to do is to master rhythm. I have many resources on my website to help you do just that. That’s because I believe that mastering rhythm will help you stick with the instrument. The reason people quit the Great Highland Bagpipe isn’t because they don’t like it anymore. They quit because they are tired of playing the same 12 tunes that their pipe bands play. Being able to master rhythm enables you to develop a new tune anytime you feel like you need one. If you have been playing for years, you should have a massive repertoire. I still love this instrument after 45 years, because I have always been able to learn a new tune if I was bored.
Again, rhythm is everything to the Great Highland Bagpipe!
For help with rhythm, take my free rhythm program.
"My kid wants to take bagpipe lessons." I get calls from time to time with that statement. I'm happy to take kids. The question is: If I take your kid for bagpipe lessons or for any music lessons; would you like a return on your investment?
The problem that I have teaching music is that the kids are doing a million activities all at one time an not very well. My next question is: "What are they good at now?" I find that the kids that I teach have never been committed long enough to be good at anything. Let's face it, I want to see people succeed. If your kid is 15 and says that he wants to take music lessons, then he shouldn't fool around with the project as he only has a limited amount of time to become successful doing it before he leaves home.
Bagpipe lessons shouldn't take 20 years for a student to become accomplished. I tell my adult students that they should get up 30 minutes earlier each day and practice for 30 minutes before getting in the car for work. At that point, the job is done for the day. The students who follow that program are on the 2 year plan instead of the 20 year plan. Anything they do at night is a bonus. The only way for your child to become anything and you're paying the money because they asked you to help them, is to help them set up a time on a daily basis to work on their project. Even a 15 year old still needs some guidance. Can you imagine what their life would be like if they treated their sacred project like that? No one will ever know until we get started."
Follow me through the process of sight reading and developing a new tune using "Glen Caladh Castle". This is a competition grade 2/4 march. A truly nice tune. This is a process that you can use to develop any tune. Fill out the form below to see video and get the music.
I hear a lot of bagpipers tell me that they have a hard time memorizing tunes. That’s a true struggle because a good bagpiper is a person who can play a list of tunes by memory. It’s pretty much essential.
The first question that I ask these people is; “Can you sing it?” Do you know how the tune goes or can you hear it in your head? If they say no, then they won’t be able to memorize it yet. I don’t believe that most people can actually visualize the music. I know that when I am playing something, I hear it in my head and my fingers correspond to the song I’m hearing.
I can tell you that if you play a tune 10 times and you play it exactly the same way each and every time, you might have it memorized by the 10th time. If you play that same tune 10 different ways, the you might just be confused by the 10th time.
Tune development has a process that includes: fingering, rhythm and expression. I’m going to break these down into bite-sized pieces.
1) Develop the fingering:
When learning a new piece, always start with fingering. Perhaps before you put your mouthpiece into your mouth and blow, you should talk your way through the fingering. Do that a few times. When you start blowing through the tune, don’t move until you know where you are going. Performing tunes well means performing them without any mistakes.
2) Define the rhythm:
Take a pencil and write in the rhythm syllables (1e&a 2 &a etc) under the melody notes. If you do this for a while, you’ll get to a point where you can read that rhythm without a problem. You have to do your due diligence!
3) Say the rhythm:
Read the syllables that you wrote under the melody notes. It’s all about inflection. If you have questions about the use of rhythm and need more of an explanation, go to my Rhythm Program.
4) Clap and say rhythm:
Clap the beat and say the syllables to the beat. Your claps will be on the numbers. It might take some time to get used to doing this but it will certainly be to your advantage.
5) Sing the rhythm:
Use the rhythm syllables like lyrics and sing them to the notes of the melody. If you don’t know how the tune goes, you might be able to find it on YouTube. All of my books have practice chanter audio for that purpose. After practicing in this manner, you should have the tune in your head before long.
6) Finger and sing the rhythm to the melody:
Now you are associating the song in your head with the fingering, while looking at the music. By now, you should be close to having this piece memorized.
You will find as you do this for a while that these will become habits. You might also find that when you play a tune enough times, you will also have it memorized. All of my books have practice chanter audio associated with the tunes in the book. You can find these books at: Gary’s Books.
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".