I have taught a lot of people to play the Great Highland Bagpipe over the last 20 years. A lot of my students have gone out on their own to play in pipe bands. The problem that many of them have is getting on track with the new band. They almost feel unwelcome! Your group may have the nicest people in it who walk up and shake the hand of the new person, however, when you all start playing, they don’t see a path to becoming a member.
When my students come to lessons with the music from the prospective band, the first question that I ask is what is the priority in terms of learning the new music. In most cases they say they don’t know because the band practices different tunes every week. They have a hard time keeping up. So how do you solve that problem?
I think the first thing a band should want is a way to attract, build and maintain new members. You don’t need a background check or license to play in a Pipe Band. You need to be able to play the tunes of the band.
That being said, the first thing that the band should have is a tune list. The tune list is the main priority. When I was teaching pipe bands, we had a “gentleman’s agreement” that if we didn’t know the next tune on the tune list, we agreed to step away from the table or out of the circle and practice the next tune away from the band. We never had a problem with hurt feelings as we all agreed on the terms. If you start your practice playing down the tune list, you have a path for the new person to join in with you. Their goal on a weekly basis is to be able to play at the table and in the circle longer. If you’re playing in the circle, the rule is that you can only play memorized tunes in the circle. This creates a built-in quality control process for the rehearsal. By the end of the night, the only people practicing are the advanced people, which gives everyone else the motivation to be able to stay longer and play with the “big boys”. As your group grows, your more advanced people can come a little later or better yet, help with the new people.
The other reason that people might leave your band is because they are bored. They are tired of playing the same tunes over and over every week, every month and every year. Having a tune list and adding new tunes to that list increases the bagpipe life of your players as well as your band. Personally, I never got bored with the bagpipes, because I knew that the solution to that problem was a new tune. If your band doesn’t learn music fast enough, the reason has to do with rhythm training. Teaching your group to read and process rhythm is a simple process but like most skills takes time to develop with practice.
How would you like to keep your band and fun and growing? The solutions are simple:
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".