Do you have 10 years of experience or 1 year of experience 10 times? Interesting question, isn’t it? I have found in the music world that there is a difference between people who play instruments. In the bagpipe world there are people who have been playing 10 years and sound like they are relatively new at playing the bagpipe. There are also people who have been playing for 10 years who sound like they have been playing that long. How did these people end up at a different destination?
I teach and have taught a lot of people to play The Great Highland Bagpipe. Everyone learns differently and has different reasons for wanting to play. The first reason is the goal. Are you doing this for musicality or culture? Are you into the music or wearing the kilt? Frankly, you don’t need to play the pipes to wear a kilt, all you have to do is buy a kilt. I would say this: If you are interested in playing The Great Highland Bagpipe, then why don’t you make an effort to be great at it.
A person that has 1 year of experience over a 10 year period of time made a decision not to grow. They learned enough to learn a new tune, but decided never to play anything slow again. You hear a lot of bagpipers at parades, on You Tube playing tune melodies with no technique. The truth is that technique is built on patience. In order to have good to great technique, you need to practice “big, slow and open”. That means that you need to play every single note written on the page. It takes a great deal of patience to be able to play in this manner.
A person’s technique usually disintegrates when they get their pipes. I tell all of my students that, at that point, the practice chanter becomes the lab. The practice chanter is where you go to play “big, slow and open”. You need to make an agreement with yourself that you are going to do this. Also, when you switch to the bagpipe, you should play “big, slow and open” as well while you are practicing alone. Half the battle is getting all of the holes closed properly so that you get the right tone out of each note. If you did that, every time you went to play the tune at parade speed, it would be that much better. Developing technique is about developing control. If you can’t play it right at a slow speed, you’ll never play it right at parade speed.
If you are a bagpiper with pipes, I would suggest that you practice every day. You should do 30 minutes each on the practice chanter and the pipes. Do big, slow and open on both until you achieve the result you seek. If you need help, you should hire a teacher to help you learn how to “stop, isolate and drill” your music until you achieve the desired result. If you don’t know your destination, there are a quite a few world renowned pipers on You Tube that you can aspire to match.
You could be great too. It’s just a decision.
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".