After 22 years of teaching bagpipe students of various ages, I am now teaching mostly adults. One of the characteristics of being an adult student is that a lot them think that learning to play the bagpipe will be an easy task…until they get started.
I always tell them that my job as a bagpipe teacher is to teach them how to practice during the coming week. That’s because we only have 30 minutes per week to meet and work together. That being said, the activities that I have created for them to work on in the meantime are designed to promote growth between lessons, which is why I want them to follow my program. We will correct and fix any problems at the next lesson. I tell them that there isn’t anything they can do in one week to screw this up permanently, so even if it’s not quite right when they arrive the following week, it’s not a big deal. But following any program set out for them – and not making up their own program – is paramount!
Here are some points to keep in mind as a new (or existing) adult student:
Playing any instrument is a habit. It is something that you do every day. Make an appointment with yourself on a daily basis to practice and put that appointment on your phone. You might even want to set an alert. If something happens to interfere with your practice, you can’t cancel it. You have to move it to another time on that same day.
The problem with the bagpipe itself is the strength needed to play this instrument. The practice chanter is the main tool used in this process. Learning to blow it properly determines whether you’ll have enough breath someday to play a set of pipes. Blow until your “lip” gives out. If you have 30 minutes to practice per day and you have a 10-minute lip, then you play until your lip gives out, take a break and come back until it gives out again. You will find over a period of time that your lip duration will increase. You need at least a 30-minute lip to play for an event, in most cases.
I have a saying; “He/she who inserts chanter in mouth first loses!” That brings me to the next part of this problem: coordination. I have found that if I can get the student, especially adult students, to talk their way through the grace notes from one position to the next before playing them, then they are further down the road to being able to play the exercise or the tune when the time comes to make that transition to the chanter. Knowing what’s coming up ahead of time offers an advantage in the co-ordination department. Every tune has 3 elements: Fingering, rhythm, and expression. The element that takes the longest to develop is fingering which is, of course, all about co-ordination.
Impatience will kill this project. As a student you need to know what to expect. Remember, it’s not easy and you might get frustrated a little, but you’ll find – in the end – that it’s worth your time and trouble, especially if you’ve always wanted to play and are finally realizing your dream.
Practice daily and get help when needed. Consistency is the key!
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