The challenge of writing a daily blog is having material to write. My students give me what I need on a daily basis. In a previous blog, I wrote about memorizing tunes. I had a student come in tonight who was trying to memorize Johnny Scobie. I had him play it for me. The problem that he was having was that we wasn't anywhere near ready to memorize this tune.
There are 4 steps to tune development. You can't move to the next step until the step you're on is completed. These steps are:
1)Fingering-you have to work out and drill all of the fingering problems so that the fingering is smooth before you add duration or rhythm to the tune.
2)Rhythm-I believe that when your fingering is fluid, you can then define the rhythm (with a pencil) and practice saying the rhythm syllables to create the inflection of the tune. You can then apply that to the fingering.
3)Expression- is created when the fingering and the rhythm match. We can then work on stressing certain beats to create the right expression. Once you have this happening, your brain will hear the tune for what it is and you'll be able to sing it.
4)Memorization-only happens when you know the tune. You can't memorize something that isn't completed. Being able to sing the tune will certainly make memorizing the tune a quick and easy process.
Remember this should be fun. If you follow the natural process above, you will solve all of you musical problems on this great instrument."
When I start a new student I tell them that my job is to teach them how to practice this week. With that being said, I wanted to expound on a technique that I have found to be the most productive in terms of practicing.
I start this at the beginning. As I am showing my student how to play the scale we talk our way through the process: low A, B, C, D, E, F, high G, high A and back down. This associates the positions with the names of the notes and the notes on the page. When the student can move his fingers up and down the scale accurately at a reasonable pace, he can then insert the mouthpiece and blow the notes. The ideal situation which I am gravitating towards is teaching them to sing the scale up and down along with the fingering. I continue this process in teaching the ornaments and the tunes. ""Say it, or better yet sing it, don't play it first!
As a bagpiper I have the ability and the pleasure to play a lot of different venues. Today I was hired by a bride to surprise her groom at his hotel and bring him to the church. I met his best man in the lobby who then took me up to his floor. I started playing as I got off the elevator and played down the hall to his room. He was very surprised. All of the groomsmen were in the room ready to go to the church. When we got outside, I played them the 2 blocks from the hotel to the church. I don't think that I would have gotten this opportunity if I played the flute. In the last 30 some years of playing performances, I have played in parks, on beaches, and in all kinds of buildings playing this great instrument. I am very fortunate.
That's what I said. ""Don't buy a bagpipe"", unless you talk to a teacher. This is one of the few instruments that exist where you don't actually start on the bagpipes themselves. What's needed is a practice chanter. The practice chanter looks a lot like a recorder that you might have played in school. It is different so you can't use that old recorder that you've been keeping since that time. Practice chanters range in prices from $50.00 to $200.00 depending on whether they are plastic or wood. I prefer the Gibson practice chanters made of polyplenco. This is a great product starting at $75.00.
When you get to a point where you can play a few tunes proficiently, your instructor will guide you through the bagpipe jungle. There are lots of makes and options available. Your instructor will probably recommend something that he is familiar with. You want to avoid jumping on the internet and buying the first thing you see on Ebay. A good bagpipe is Scottish made and made of African Blackwood. The options ie the bag, reeds etc are items that your instructor will recommend especially for you. Be patient. You want a musical instrument and not a wall hanging, right?"
I started off my music career playing the piano. As I learned I passed through books of songs that were designed to teach me a specific skill. When I discovered this great instrument, I realized that every tune I learned was repertoire and would be performed publicly at some point.
I tell my students that my job is to teach them how to practice this week. The problem sometimes is that they don't listen very well. That is especially true when they come to their lessons and start off by saying: ""This is what I did this week."" When I designed my bagpipe instruction program; ""Bagpipes For Beginners"", I designed it like a piano teaching program. I use tunes to teach skills. I found that most of the older programs lacked motivation. The majority of my students sign up with me because they are curious and not committed to playing the pipes, yet. I tell everyone one of them to warm up with the skills and tunes that you are familiar with and have done already. What that does is reinforce what they already know, and it also extends the amount of time that they practice each day. I believe that to be a good bagpiper in today's competitive market place you need to have a varied repertoire of tunes as people don't want to hear ""Scotland the Brave"" played a million times over. My experience has been that when a student jumps right into the development part (the newest tune) of their practicing they get frustrated quickly and cut practice time shorter. The question is this: How long do you want your initial development process to be? Do you want a 20 year development plan, a 10 year development plan or a 5 year development plan? Personally, I'd rather do it in 5 years so that I have more time to enjoy playing this instrument well. How about you?"
A customer calls me and is a little distraught. ""I've only had my pipes for 18 months and I found a crack"" he says.
Let me just say that any good reputable bagpipe maker is going to use the best blackwood available in the market place to put in his/her instruments. I honestly believe that the company that made these pipes did just that. Now, 4000 miles can make a difference in climatic conditions. The maker guaranteed this product for a year. Most of them do just that. Just because one section has a crack doesn't mean the whole set is bad. It's almost like buying a car. It's great when it's brand new, however over a period of time, you might have to replace something. Most of the time with bagpipes, its bags, reeds and hemp. All good bagpipe makers can make a replacement part. Most of the parts would be under $100.00 to replace, so it's not going to kill anyone to replace that part.
Let's talk about insuring against cracks:
1) Don't leave your pipes anywhere you wouldn't leave your dog.
2) If you get your pipes wet, take them apart and let them dry out slowly.
3) Don't be impatient and use a hair drying to speed up the process.
4) Buy a good case and use it.
If you get a crack, you need to determine whether it affects the function of the pipes or whether its just cosmetic. The worst case scenario is that it is a functional crack and has to be repaired or replaced. A repair, is conservatively around $50.00 US and a replacement in most cases depending on the part is less than $100.00 US.
These are the realities of owning a wooden instrument. Don't panic, call and get information and then respond."
I presently have a lot of students who have come to the point in this process where they are starting on their pipes. ""Blowing and squeezing"" is a relatively difficult concept to achieve properly.
The first thing that needs to happen is for the student to discover what a full bag feels like. Most people believe that full is 100% and they squeeze down to 75%. I think that belief makes for a very tired piper after only a few minutes of playing.
Consider this idea: if a tire is full at 100% capacity, it won't support the weight of the car. PSI (pounds per square inch) is achieved after 100%, right? The first thing that the new bagpiper should do is cork their chanter stock and 2 of the drones. The goal is to be able to blow enough air into the pipes to shut down the 1 existing drone. Let's say that that happens at 130%. Where they should be blowing is up to 125% and squeezing down to 120%. If they ""work the psi"" in this manner, they will have to blow and squeeze very little to keep the pipes sounding. This results in long playing times. A Receiving Line at a wedding can sometimes be up to 45 minutes long!
After they can blow out the first drone, the goal is to remove the corks one by one and continue the process until they can blow out all three drones at the same time. Again, this establishes to them what a full bag feels like. I would then cork all of the drones and install the chanter and practice playing a steady tone on that and even go back to some basic fingering exercises just to get my hands used to the pipe chanter fingering. All the while, the arm needs to be firm on the bag. You might practice squeezing in long durations to build some muscle in that arm.
This is a process that will take longer than a week to develop, it might even take a month. You need to be patient and listen to your teacher. Believe it or not, we can save the new student a lot of time, money and aggravation provided that they listen and do what we need them to do. I tell my students that my job is to teach them how to practice FOR THIS WEEK. Strong lungs and strong arms create a very enjoyable experience for everyone."
Like everyone else, you have a job. What happens to your new bagpipe endeavor when you're on the road. if you're like most people it suffers from your absence. The most important thing that you could do when learning to play any new instrument is to practice daily, even if it is for 15 minutes. The question of all is how do you do this and travel at the same time?
I think that the best tools that you can use are an Electronic Chanter and a ""Split Stock". The greatest thing that ever happened to the music industry was electronics. I wish as a kid that I had an electronic keyboard or an electronic chanter. The ability to put my headphones on and practice whenever I felt like it would have been a great satisfaction in my life. Today we have those things. I personally sell a lot of electronic chanters. Being able to put the headphones on and practice in your hotel room will keep your fingers trained. The instrument is not very forgiving so your fingering will have to be more accurate than your regular practice chanter.
The item is usually sold with a tube type water trap. I found that using your blowstick and a split stock and a bag of balloons will keep your lip and lungs in check when you travel. The split stock has a fitting that the tube normally connects to that is perfect for a balloon. When blowing into the blowstick you get the same pressure simulation that you would get inflating a set of pipes. The people in the next room aren't going to hear you blowing up the balloons, but it will keep your lip and lungs ready for the next time you pull your pipes from the case.
The combination of both an electronic chanter and a blowstick with a split stock in your suit case will keep you on track even if you travel all week!
I am a bagpipe teacher. As a teacher I would tell anybody new to playing the Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland, that it would be worth their time and money to hire a teacher. Although the instrument has only 9 notes, it is a relatively difficult instrument to play well. My job as a teacher is to teach you the student how to practice on a daily basis. It's not only important what you practice but also the sequence and how you practice it. I have a student that had a fingering problem. I suggested that he do this particular exercise to warm up with. Needless to say, the student went home and only practice that exercise. Because of some scheduling conflicts, we didn't get back together for 3 weeks. The result is that he practiced only the exercise and not the rest of his music. Although it fixed the problem he was having, he had a very difficult time playing the tunes that we were up to. Having a teacher teach you how to practice will save you time, money and aggravation. Just listen.
Welcome to ""The Bagpiper Blog"". I'd like this blog to be about playing the Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland. We can talk about education, tools, bagpipes, bagpipe products, bagpipe bands and anything else you can think of. I welcome your views and opinions. I'd like this to become a forum.
As we are all civil people, I'd like to keep it civil, polite and clean. You can constructive criticize other people's opinions if you do it in a polite and courteous manner. You might read ""How to Win Friends and Influence People"" by Dale Carnegie if you have a problem not being polite and humble. Please do not use profanity on this site. Any violators will be eliminated.
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".