That’s what I said: “Building any tune is like baking chocolate chip cookies!” Let’s think about that for a minute. When you bake chocolate chip cookies, you initially start out with the “dry ingredients”, right? First we combine the flour, the baking soda and the salt. When building a tune, in my opinion, you should analyze the rhythm first. These are your “dry ingredients”. Take a pencil and write in the rhythm syllables (1e&a 2e&a etc.). Practice saying those syllables until you can clap the beat and say them fluently. When you can do that, like combining the dry ingredients, you then put them off to the side. Even if you have never heard the tune, you should have a pretty good idea as to how that tune is going to go before you stick your practice chanter in your mouth, provided that you did your due diligence on the rhythm.
Now for the wet ingredients: the butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla. This is the hardest part of the process for most people; the fingering. You should start to play through the tune. Practicing isn’t playing the tune 100 times hoping that God gives you something special on repeat 47. When you hit a bump, don’t keep going. Stop! Isolate (circle the problem) and drill the problem. When you drill a problem, you should start with the positions. Make sure that they are clean and contain no crossing noises. Then add the primary grace note if you are playing a doubling. It’s usually the “G” grace note that people miss when playing the doublings. Then add the secondary grace note of the doubling. Make sure that you play as many repetitions at each level before moving on. Most people don’t play enough repetitions when they practice. Then move on until you hit another bump. Use the tunes to develop your technique. The goal of every bagpipe tune is to be able to play it without any mistakes. Do you hear a bunch of mistakes at the World Pipe Band Competition? Probably not. Every time you pick up your practice chanter to practice your tune, you need to review the items that you circled. Over a period of time, your technique will grow.
Playing a bagpipe tune consists of three things: rhythm, fingering and expression. You can’t add the chocolate chips until you have mixed the dry and wet ingredients together. The chocolate chips in this case are the musical expression that you get provided that you have a steady beat and hold out the dots!
Bake and serve. Practice and perform! Good day!
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