My wife, daughter and I rode the train to Philadelphia today. While at the train station, I ran into the mother of a former piano student. In the conversation, she mentioned that her oldest son had graduated from college with a business and marketing degree and, at age 26, was living in her basement. She also said that he can’t find a job. HMMMMMMMMMMMM. I told her that if I was him, I would probably start my own business.
Personally, I can’t think of anything that I would rather have less than a job. In this economy, it’s possible that I could be like him; out of work! But I'm not because I'm my own boss. I wanted to be independent and did everything I could think of to create that. I make a good living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, all centered around the “Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland". Who would’ve thought that was possible?
What are you good at? Is that thing, service, etc. something someone else would buy from you? Do you have a skill that would allow you to trade your time for money?
Here’s the thing. What I like about being self-employed is that I am not dependent on any one person or business for income. Security is created by not having all of your eggs in one basket. That chance meeting led me to think about some new endeavors. Perhaps another commodity that I could sell in addition to bagpipe stuff is how to create independence.
I was perusing the Bob Dunsire Forums and saw this as a topic in the "Beginners" section. As I am not allowed to post anything that might be construed as selling my own business, I have decided to address that issue here.
I sell a lot of "Bagpipes for Beginners" kits. There is a market for people who want to teach themselves. It's like gravity. I'm not going to fight and argue with them. I make a living teaching those people when they burn out in their 20's and come back in their 40's finally admitting that they can't do it alone.
I think the real question is not whether it is possible or not, but how much time are you willing to sacrifice to reach the goal. You can definitely teach yourself. The question is do you want this to be a 2 year project or a 20 year project before you can enjoy the benefits of being a bagpiper.
There are two different approaches to bagpipe education: The Classical Method and the Folk Method. Personally if someone is going to invest their money with me, I want them to have a return on that investment. That means that in 2 years or less, they should be on pipes and able to sight reed any tune that is put in front of them. Why? Because the goal in my humble opinion of lessons is not to pay a teacher for the rest of your life to learn new music. The goal of lessons is to become independent. A lot of this instrument is still taught like other Folk Instruments, by imitation. The problem in the long run is that you become dependent on someone else forever.
If you want to have faster results, it is worth paying someone to teach you and be willing to practice every day.
A mother of a perspective student called me the other day asking about my availability for lessons for her 10-year-old son. During the conversation, she gave me the impression that she was concerned about him “sticking with it”. That is always a concern for parents. After 15 years of teaching privately, I have learned a few things about the psychology of learning. As a person in private enterprise, it is my job to make sure that a parent gets their money’s worth in the private lesson situation. I want my students to get a return on their time and money investment in my business as well. That being said, there are some things that people need to know about learning a new task.
First of all, the average person quits any new task between 30 and 60 days. That is a proven statistic. When someone starts a new project the excitement of it being new lasts for 30 days. The “honeymoon” is now over. After 30 days, the struggle begins and usually lasts between 30 and 60 days. If I have someone who has passed through the struggle, I will have them forever. . So it is my responsibility to make sure that they have the right information to make this happen. I feel pretty lucky in that my average student has been with me for about 4 years.
The first thing that I tell everybody is that they should make a 1-year commitment to this project. I tell them in advance about the “honeymoon” being over in 30 days. When they get to that point they aren’t surprised. I also tell them the story of my son and his projects:
When our son was 5 he came to me and asked to take violin lessons. I told him that I was happy to invest my time and money into his project on one condition. The condition was that he had to play the violin for at least a year. My goal has never been to make my kids musicians. My goal was to make them accomplished in something by the time they graduated from high school. With this program, we got a year of violin, 3 years of saxophone, 5 years of karate and 2 years of voice lessons from our son. When he graduated he was a 2nd degree black belt and the student soloist at the Senior Recognition ceremony. He went on to major in Music Education and today teaches in a New Jersey public school and is a successful entrepreneur as well.
It’s not enough for you to drive your kids back and forth to lessons. They need to feel an obligation to do their part of the project. Whether we’re talking about kids or adults, the part that needs to happen is this: make a 1-year commitment to the project. Practice everyday even if it’s for no longer than 15 minutes. As you learn and have more music to practice. the practice time will automatically get longer. By 13, I was addicted to piano and practiced 2 hours per day, and by 15, when I discovered the pipes, I added another hour of practicing to accommodate that. I still had time for homework and other things. I was hungry and wanted it now.
The goal is to be accomplished at something. This goes for any project that you choose to take on. If you want to be successful at something, find a mentor, make a 1-year commitment and do something about your project on a daily basis. If you do that, the project will be completed sooner and you will have a longer period of your life to enjoy its benefits.
I probably have said this before: The only qualification to being a bagpiper is to be able to play a list of tunes by memory on the bagpipe. I find that as I work with my students, they get into the “plate spinning” mode. They’ll play the “tune of the week” and spin that plate, while letting the others that they worked on fall and break. The secret - in my opinion - to making all of this go together is a “tune list”. The tune list, as I’ve said before, is your goal list. I would start this process at the very beginning. Unlike classical musicians who pass through music to learn technique, the bagpiper plays all of the tunes that are learned. Scot’s Wha Hae, in most cases, is the very first tune learned. It is also performed on occasion.
Again, the goal is to memorize a list of tunes. The first thing you need is a list. Take all of the tunes that you play now and write them down in list form. Arrange them in sets of two or three. For instance: "Scotland the Brave" and the "Rowan Tree" are usually played together as is “Green Hills’ and “Battle’s Over”. Any time you hear a tune that you just have to learn, you should put at the bottom of this list. When you practice you should always start at the top and work your way down. If you goal is to play in a pipe band, I would take your Pipe Band Association's mass band tunes and place them on this list as well. Practice from the top down. I am a firm believer that all of the tunes will be memorized with enough repetition. You should play down this list everyday.
There is a process that I call the “tune train”. You might have a list of 10 tunes to start. If you play all of these tunes your “engine will be on tune number 10 and your “caboose” will be on tune number one. As you add tunes to the list, your engine will progress down. As your tunes become memorized, you caboose will move to the next tune. You might only be consistently working on 10 tunes at a time. As you leave tunes in the wake of the caboose, you have expanded your performing repertoire. Over a period of years, you could literally have scores of tunes that you can play for any occasion. After your tunes are memorized, you might find that you only need to review the memorized tunes once in a while.
Remember, spinning plates not only makes you unproductive, it doesn’t lead to a successful bagpipe career.
A while ago, I wrote an article called “Are You a Bagpiper or a Wannabe”. At the time I wrote this piece, the main component of the article was focused on making the decision to "do it". I recently turned 55 and in doing that I realized that even though I have accomplished a lot of things in my life so far, financial independence is not one of them. I have been a full-time musician for 15 years and work for myself. The last 3 years have been among my best, despite the fact that we’re in a depression that some say is almost as great as the Great Depression. (I’m not sure where I would be if I was working for someone else during this period of time.)
That being the case, I have decided that I wanted to do a couple of things. One was to develop a “Mastermind Group” as I feel that “two or more heads are better than one” to challenge my entrepreneurial tendencies. Upon doing some internet research on this project, I found that a lot of these groups are based on a book by Napoleon Hill called “Think and Grow Rich”. I downloaded the book and began to read it. It has inspired me to expand the aforementioned blog according to the philosophies I've learned from Hill thus far.
It is not enough to have a desire to become a bagpiper. You need to have a burning desire and a belief that you can succeed in this endeavor. If you have any doubt about it at all, you will not reach your goal. Last night, a student was telling me that he was having great difficulty memorizing music. He practices all of the time and I would say that he is in the top 10 percent of my students. It is not only how much you practice, I told him. The question is: Does he believe without a doubt that he can eventually memorize the music? If there is any doubt, he won’t.
In thinking about this situation, I recalled a job I had earlier in my life. I worked for 5 ½ years in a business that didn’t pan out financially. I worked my buns off. The problem was that I didn’t believe in it and doubted that I could be successful doing it. I remember meeting with my boss for “attitude sessions”. I honestly thought that I had a good attitude and was positive, but deep down I questioned whether I could do it.
I try not to make a big deal over memorizing music. I tell my students that if they play a tune enough times it will click. Maybe it works if they truly believe that they are capable of memorizing the music. Belief is so incredibly powerful! Perhaps it is the difference between success and failure in any endeavor.
How strong are you? When I ask people that question, they flex their muscles. If I ask that of bagpipers, it’s all about lungs. Let’s face it: Playing the bagpipes is a physical challenge. It takes not only lung power, but lip and arm power as well. My job as a bagpiper is to make it look easy for my audience. If I look like I’m killing myself, no one would ever want to do this.
We build strength over a period of time. The advantage of starting on a practice chanter is that while we are learning the music we'll eventually play on the pipes, we are developing our lungs and our lips. I tell my students that the average person walking down the street neither inhales nor exhales completely. I tell them that one of the goals of playing the practice chanter is to be able to play 1 part (eight measures) in one breath. Keep in mind that that is an eventual goal. With that in mind, they will develop lung power. I also tell them to play until their lip gives out and then resume playing when their lip is relaxed. This will build lip power over a period of time.
Now let's address the pipes. How strong are you when it comes to playing the pipes? When we add squeezing to the mix we then need a strong arm/shoulder joint. Your bagpipe is a great diagnostic tool in determining how strong you are: remove the chanter from the stock and seal it with a stock cork. Blow up your drones so hard that it makes the drone reeds stop. Can you do it? Repeat the process adding a drone cork to one of the tenors. How about now? If you can’t do that add another cork to the other tenor drone. Can you blow out the bass? If you can’t do that, then this is where you start to build strength. You need to practice blowing until you can blow out one, then two and eventually all three drones. As you get stronger and add a drone to the mix, practice tuning the 2nd drone to the first one. This will help you develop your lungs and lip some more.
How about the arm? Blow up the bag and see how long you can keep a drone going by squeezing. The game is to keep the sound going. Before your arm becomes weak, take a deep breath and replace the air in the bag. This exercise will develop the strength in your arm needed to blow and squeeze a steady bag.
One more thing: How full should the bag be? The bag should be in between what you think is 100% capacity and where you blow out the drones. Think of the bag as a tire. If I fill the tire to 100% capacity it may be full, but not enough to lift a car. PSI happens after 100%. Most people think that they blow up to 100% and squeeze down to 75%. That’s a lot of work. Let’s say your drones go out at 115%. I would work on blowing up to 110% and squeeze down to 105%. At that rate, I can play for an hour and not break a sweat.
These are just ideas to help you get used to blowing and squeezing. When you have done these things, remove your drones, insert stock corks, and insert the chanter. If your blowing and squeezing is going well, you can now work on playing the pipe chanter in the bag. (That’s a topic for another day.)
With our country coming out of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, people are concerned about prices. I believe that people who are misinformed about how business works believe that the cheapest price always wins. I personally believe that that is a serious misconception. As a consumer, I want the most for the least just like everyone else. But, there is a difference between price and value. What I want is the best value for my money.
A couple of days ago, I had "words" with a bagpipe maker who has a distributor force all over the world, but she was quoting prices directly to customers that her distributors couldn’t match. I’m personally thinking about dropping this line in spite of the fact that they make a good product. The problem is two-fold. On the other side was a customer from a foreign country who woke me up Friday morning to find out if I could beat this bagpipe maker’s price. I spent a hour on the phone with him and even gave him some free rhythm training. He told me that my few minutes of training was worth “thousands”. I told him that if he thought that then he should just spend a little more and buy those pipes from me. My price was obviously more because I am not the “house”. Between us: If you work for a company that undercuts you and tries to cut you out of the deal, you should find a new job. I called the bagpipe maker and asked “what’s up with that?” The bagpipe maker told me that they only quote local walk-in traffic. This guy was 10,000 miles away! I wouldn’t call him a local anything. The bagpipe maker then told me that the reason they quoted the price that they did was because another bagpipe maker had pipes that were cheaper. No kidding. Cheaper doesn’t always mean better. I was thinking about sending this person to the local Dale Carnegie Sales Course! It might mean the difference between this bagpipe maker being in business in the future and going under.
People buy benefits, not price. I sell a lot of bagpipes. The majority of what I sell to my direct customers is the Dunfion Bagpipe. Why? Because that’s what I own and play. I can look someone in the eye and tell them the truth. If you are in the bagpipe market and have a pipe major or teacher with whom you are working, then you should buy what they play and recommend. You should also buy the setup that they are playing as well. Today’s bagpipe showrooms are the practice halls of our pipe bands. You can go there and get a live demonstration of a handful of brands. The pipe major can walk you around and tell you about the different pipes. The big question is: What is he playing?
The other night I was at the Piobareachd/MSR competition for the professional/open players competing at the Fair Hill Competition inNewark,Delaware. I thought that it was a great competition. What would have made it even better would have been the players telling us what they were playing: make of pipes, bag, reeds, and moisture control. That would have been a home run. We all want to be great and sound good. Why not get it from the horse’s mouth?
To summarize these thoughts: I decided a long time ago that it was easier to explain the price once than apologize for lack of quality forever! This also applies to performers. People want the best value. It is up to you to get educated so that you know what that is.
One of my students came to his lesson feeling a little discouraged because he couldn't yet keep up with my teaching CD. He was talking about bailing. The truth is that he is doing reasonably well on his bagpipe project. The problem, as I see it, is that people don't have any idea as to what it takes to do this and even the people that it affects. I told him that he can't quit. I asked him: "What are you going to tell your 7-year-old son when he asks you why you quit?"
As I've said before, the majority of my students are adults. A lot of their kids are grown. However, there are some with small kids at home. I don't mean to sound like a busy body, however the worse thing that you can do in a project like learning to play an instrument is blaming your family for your lack of success. For example, if you have small kids at home, you deserve some time to yourself. I tell my students that they need to practice for at least 15 minutes per day. Your kids need to know that they are not the total center of the universe. They will learn by watching you. The greatest thing that you can do, in my opinion, is to start develop a hobby as they watch. From this, they will learn patience, persistance, perserverance, and all of the attributes to being a successful something.
Remember, you are not neglecting them by taking your 15 minutes. Who knows? They may want to eventually join you in the activity. Over the years, I have met many people in the bagpipe world with multiple generations of bagpipers and drummers. These kids turned about to be well-adjusted and successful adults.
Again, if you want to succeed an any endeavour, you need to do something about it everyday. We all have jobs and families. What else are you going to do, watch more TV? We proabably would be a better world if we watched less.
Again, just my opinions.
I love hymns. After 32 years of going to church with my wife, I have become addicted to hymns. They are a lot like bagpipe tunes, which has made it an easy task to arrange 65 of them for the bagpipe.
I wanted to do something else along with that. I still feel that the biggest challenge in the bagpipe education market is the lack of rhythm training. This instrument is still being taught by rote, much like any other folk instrument. In the lyric line of each hymn, I have inserted the rhythm syllables so that you can sing along. I have also recorded each hymn on the practice chanter. If you learn to sing the syllables along with the CD, you will not only learn to sing the hymn, but you will learn to read rhythm by association. If you aren't sure what I mean, you can go to http://www.bagpiperhythm.com and take a couple of free lessons in rhythm training to get you started. If you combine fingering the tune while singing the rhythm, you then shorten the length of time that it takes to memorize a tune. After 15 years of teaching this instrument on a full time basis, these are the results that I've seen.
Here is the information about the book:
In teaching people to play this great instrument, I deal with a lot of "perfectionists". I used to be one myself, but it made my stomach hurt, messed up my digestion and gave me a headache. I decided a while back that I would do the best I could. I tell all of these uptight students to relax as "the only thing perfect in life is an egg until you drop it" and then it isn't perfect any more.
Think of the egg. It's perfect in every way, however, if you leave it perfect you never get the result of what the egg could make. That's just like studying music. The question is this: What are your fears in regards to playing the instrument? If you make a mistake, you learn from that mistake.
In my 20 years of teaching private students on a full time basis, I am amazed at how fearful and uptight many students are, even though they are attempting to do something that they've always wanted to do. Voice lessons are probably the worst. A teenage girl who wants to be a singer comes in only to squeak out a little voice after yelling and projecting a big voice at her younger brother. Bagpipe students who miss finger a movement get all upset. I just tell them to take a deep breath and get over it. The first person that you need to please is yourself. If you do that, you'll please me and the others who are watching your endeavour.
Break the egg and relax!
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".