I find that in teaching bagpipers how to play the bagpipe, I need to remind them of what a bagpiper is.
“A bagpiper is person who can play a list of bagpipe tunes on the bagpipe by memory, who can develop their own music, and who can maintain their own bagpipe,” I tell them.
Can you do that? I think that the most important thing that a bagpiper can have is a list of tunes. This list needs to have the tunes in playing order. There are certain tunes like “Scotland the Brave” and “The Rowan Tree”, “The Green Hills of Tyrol” and “When the Battle’s Over” that are played in sets. You need to have your list in sets.
Can you learn a new tune without hearing it first? There are more than 500 tunes in the Scots Guards Volume 1 edition. Can you drop open a page and play it? That should be every bagpiper’s goal. The goal is to become an accomplished bagpipe musician. I honestly believe that a bagpiper’s life in this area is dependent on how much music they can produce. I think that a lot of bagpipers drop out when they get sick of playing the 12-tune repertoire most bands promote.
Memorizing music is the next part of this equation. I have found that if I play a tune enough times, I’ll know it by memory. I also know that if I can sing it, I can play it. When you practice, you need to play down your list on a daily basis. At some point the tunes will pop starting at the top. When they pop you will have them memorized. At that point you won't need to play them every day, however you should play them at least once per week.
The final qualification to being a bagpiper is to know how to maintain your own instrument. Do you know how to hemp, change a bag, and regulate your drone and chanter reeds? These are all necessary skills to being a successful bagpiper. Do you really want to pay someone else to do your maintenance?
All of these skills you can probably learn on your own. The question is how much time do you have? Having someone to help you with these problems will save you a lot of time and money and get you to the goal of being a bagpiper faster.
Let me know if I can help you.
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".