I find that my students come in on a regular basis and say “this is what I did this week”. If you have been reading my blog, you know that I ascribe to the premise that my job is to teach my students how to practice this week. The growth happens between lessons. I once wrote about how investing enough practice time can make all of the difference in the world. This week, I want to say again, that if you come into my studio and tell me “this is what I did this week, you missed the point.
Because bagpipe music is played by memory, we need to invest our practice time with a plan. The goal is to be able to play a list of tunes on the bagpipe. If you’re a bagpiper or another type of musician, have you taken inventory of your repertoire? Do you know what you are capable of playing? This week I had a number of my students make a list of their bagpipe tunes. One of them had over 200 tunes on their list! I am a firm believer that if you play a tune enough times, it will “pop”. When it pops it is memorized and at that point you won’t have to spend as much time on it.
Next, take your list of tunes and sort them into sets. Put them in order and mix up the meters. When you perform, especially for weddings and long gigs, your brain remembers the tunes in a sequence (at least, mine does). When you practice you should always start with the tunes that are most familiar to you. People who feel like they are winning practice longer. I have students that come in saying that they only practiced one tune for the whole week! When I asked them how much they practiced every day, they said it was no more than 15 minutes. Heck, if I only had one tune to play, I probably wouldn’t practice any more than that either! You always start with familiar tunes and sets and work your way down the list. If you are learning new tunes, you add them to the bottom. It’s sort of like a developer building a housing development. They build the models first, and then build away from them going down the street. As you progress down the street you see houses in less completed stages of construction. That’s what your tune list should look like. When the tunes at the top of the list “pop” and are memorized you can start practicing down past those tunes as you will only need to review them occasionally.
If you work in this fashion, you will develop a long and interesting tune repertoire. With this process and the right amount of time (a minimum of 60 minutes per day) you will accomplish a lot and win “the bagpipe game”. (This process could also apply to other instruments and other areas of your life!)"
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".