I’ve written a lot about rhythm over the years. Rhythm is my specialty! Why? Simply because I think the difference between being an accomplished bagpiper and being dependent on other players has to do with rhythm. Because the bagpipe is a folk instrument, it is taught by imitation. Imitation makes you dependent. The goal is to be able to sightread any tune…period! This should be your return on spending money for bagpipe lessons.
I’ll stick my neck out and say that rhythm is more important than technique. Obviously, those who have the greatest technique are usually those who start lessons as children or teens. Having young fingers definitely is an advantage in the technique department. I’m not saying that you can’t develop good technique as an adult. The general consensus is that it takes 7 years to develop technique. If that’s the case, you can become a good musical player in the meantime so that your friends, neighbors, and relatives can tolerate your playing. Playing musically depends on rhythm!!!
I see many YouTube videos of people playing a tune on the pipes. Most of them play in free form. There is no steady beat as they are not tapping their feet. The first thing that needs to happen to create musical expression on the bagpipe is a steady beat. Musicality depends on holding the notes out for their full duration. Doing “dot cut” rhythm patterns effectively also depends on having a steady beat. Learning to count properly teaches you what to accent by holding out in a musical phrase.
Let’s talk a little about technique: Any bagpiper can overcome crossing noises if they know what they are and how they’re made. When it comes to doublings and tourluaths, rhythm is a great tool in developing them. The goal is to make them sound even, right? Having that steady beat and playing to different denominations of notes, starting with quarter notes, eighths and finally sixteenths, makes them even.
Doing millions of repetitions over a period of time develops good technique.
Again, my goal is to make that bald headed guy with the Fu Man Chu and the sleeves of tattoos who would beat me up in a dark alley on a cold winter’s night sob at his mom’s funeral. That only happens with musicality, not technique!