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.
Most new bagpipers ask: "What kind of pipes should I buy?" This is a question that all new bagpipers have. The first thing I would tell you is that Ebay is not the place for a new bagpiper to buy pipes. The pipes sold on Ebay are usually made of Rosewood, Sheesham Wood or Cocuswood and are usually made in Pakistan. The other kind of pipes sold on Ebay are used. I think that you need to be a well educated bagpipe consumer to buy a used anything in the bagpipe world.
As a new bagpipe student, the best resource available to you is your teacher. Your teacher will be able to recommend a brand and set up that he/she has experience with. As a bagpipe retailer myself I have a favorite brand and I am happy to sell that brand all day long. Your teacher though is the person that you will be involved with for hopefully a long time. If you don't have a teacher and you are new to all of this, my suggestion is for you to go find a teacher. If you can't find one, call me and I'll help you find one in your area. The bagpipe world needs a guide to get you through the vast choices of products and services available."
","In another bagpipe community, there is a lot of discussion about charging or not charging for bagpipe lessons. Let's be honest here: ""There ain't no free lunch"". When I started my program almost 20 years ago, I started a free lesson program. What I got was a lot of people that I had to push to make things happen. I admit that I was the unusual student. I was hungry and wanted to do this bad. I practiced an hour a day to make it happen sooner than later. What I have found in the last 20 years of doing this full time is that most people aren't like me. The average person that I teach is over 30 years of age. They are also curious about whether or not they can do this. Because I know that, I can tailor the program to fit that profile. Charging tuition makes people accountable. It reminds them that they need to do something to validate their investment. The consequence is that they do in fact learn to play. I would venture to say that the person who gives free lessons, doesn't give away hours and hours per week doing that. Let's face it. If I wanted to be rich, I'd be in Real Estate!"
","I think that one of the greatest things about playing the bagpipe is marching. I think most of our audience thinks so as well. I play a lot of weddings and funerals in the course of a year. When the bagpipe is allowed to play inside the church I always recommend a ""bagpipe recessional"". At the end of a wedding, I will march from the back of the church while playing the recessional to the front counter march in front of the couple and lead them out to their receiving line. I also do the same process in a funeral ceremony with different music of course. Performing for the public is more than just standing in place and playing tunes over other their heads or one type of tune. Again our job as performers is to initiate the public into the bagpiping world. From that experience comes not only future customers but also future pipers."
I was reading a post on a popular bagpipe chat room and ran across a string of messages about a certain type of pipe bag failure. As I was reading these messages, I thought they were funny because the people writing them had no real perspective on bagpipe parts.
When I starting playing back in the 70's we were playing a hide bags with seasoning and cane drone reeds. I've said it before that the people starting to play this instrument in the last 20 years have no idea what we had to do if we really loved playing this instrument. I compare it to an outhouse versus indoor plumbing.
Back then you bought a pipe bag with the expectation of changing it at least every 2 years. The most important reason being hygiene. A pipe bag with seasoning was a cesspool after that time. We didn't have synthetic bags. We also used cane drone reeds that we changed on a regular basis because they wore out faster. I had to chuckle a little because one guy complained that his bag has worn out in a 2 year period of time. The bag at retail sells for $120.00. If he got 2 years out of that it cost him about $1.15 per week to use the bag. In my mind that's a bargain, though I think he would get more mileage out of a leather or hybrid bag as the material is more durable. Forget about drone reeds. I have had both my Scotian pipe band and Kinnaird Drone reeds for 3 1/2 years. The bag was 200.00 and the reeds were 120.00. $320.00 divided by 42 months is $1.76 per week to use both the bag and the reeds. That's still cheaper than owning a boat!"
I read a book once that dealt with ""success principals"". One of the discussions in the book had to do with talent. They defined the words as: ""an innate desire to achieve a goal"". I think most people think that talent is ability. This definition puts a new twist on the idea of talent. I teach a lot of people and have had a great deal of people come through my door. I have had some with incredible ability and some with absolutely nothing but desire. What I found was that the person that came in with ability (natural or god given) was harder to teach and didn't practice all that much. On the other hand, the person with an incredible desire created ability over a period of time and became a successful player. The ideal student is the person that has both ability and desire, however I'll take the people with desire all day long over the people with ability.
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.
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".