Stop, drop and roll is what we teach people to do if they are ever on fire. We need to have something like that when it comes to practicing. Practicing isn't about playing something over and over again until something happens. What we need to do is practice using SID. SID stands for stop, isolate and drill. As you are learning a new tune you might come across a passage that you're having a problem executing. At that point you should stop, isolate it by circling it with a pencil, and then take it apart and drill it. My job as a teacher is to teach you how to practice during the week following your lesson. That includes teaching you how to take things apart and drill them. When you come back to this particular sheet of music the next day, you should start with the items that you circled. Drill those and then go back and play it from the beginning.
The other thing you should do when you practice, especially on the practice chanter, is to play, "big, slow and open". You need to play slow enough so that you play every single note. As you do this, you learn to control what you play. When you get your pipes, you should make an agreement with yourself that, whenever you play the practice chanter, you are going to play "big, slow and open". When you play the pipes, in most cases you will be playing at "parade speed".
I've seen many new bagpiper's technique go right down the toilet when they graduate from the chanter only and get their pipes and a kilt. At that point, a lot of them think they have made it into the big leagues. The also feel that they are ready to play at your family's special event, but that's a subject for another day.
The point is that if you practice "SID" and "BSO" you will become a piper that people want to hear NOW.
Having taught bagpipes for a number of years, I see the same problem happening over and over. A person spends 8 to 12 months developing their bagpipe skills on the practice chanter and then make a substantial investment in a set of bagpipes.
In most cases these bagpipes are beautiful. I think that it is important to protect your investment with a case, however the next thing that you need is a "bagpipe stand". This product is not only a place to display your bagpipe investment proudly, but is I have found that "out of sight, out of mind" means that bagpipe practice suffers. It's too hard to remember your bagpipes when they are in a case in a a closet. As I have sold many bagpipe stands, my students that own them, play the bagpipe more regularly. Why? Because they are out and ready to play. All you need to is to pick them up.
The Bagpipe Stand comes in pine, oak, maple and cherry. The price includes delivery. Wouldn't it be worth the investment to display your expensive bagpipes where they can not only been admired, but played more often. If you think so, here is the product in my store:
In our era where everyone gets a trophy for not doing anything amazing, I still find it refreshing that that attitude hasn't trickled down into the bagpipe world. In teaching people I find myself saying to them: "Your attitude will determine your altitude in this project." I think that I borrowed that from my favorite motivator, Zig Ziglar.
Presently I am teaching a few young men who I think have a great deal of potential. My problem is that I'm not sure that they've decided to "do it" yet. Again, I don't why anyone would take a 2 to 5 year project and make it a 20 year project when the option to do it faster is indeed a possibility.
If you want to play the bagpipes, the piano, the clarinet or climb Mount Everest, you need to make a decision to do it! You also need go in with the attitude that you are going to win. Everything in life, whether we like it or not, is about winning and losing. If it wasn't, then why do people spend their money buying tickets to sporting events or tie up a Sunday watching the Super Bowl? Why do we have talent contests and art contests? The problem is that we have people telling us that "competition isn't everything". Tell that to your friend who didn't get the job, or the part they wanted.
Going into practice wanting to win the task will certainly get you there sooner than being indifferent or defeated. If you are feeling indifferent or defeated, you need to ask yourself why you wanted to do this. Can you restore those feelings that made you call your instructor on the phone to book your first lesson? You might need to dig deep. What else are you doing to maintain your attitude between lessons? Do you watch bagpipe You Tube videos? Do you read blogs? Do you listen to bagpipe music in the car? Doing these things will get you past "the struggle" which, by the way, comes after the "honeymoon". If you can get yourself past the struggle, than you will win. Completing the task is about winning.
In real life, not everyone gets a trophy. However, it's there if you want it badly enough!
Sometimes the behavior of my bagpipe students perplexes me. They work hard through the initial “honeymoon” phase, get past what I refer to as “the struggle”, reaching a success point where they are ready for pipes..and then they die on the proverbial vine.
My students make a substantial investment in their pipes and only at the point when they can play enough tunes to make it worth the investment. When they come to their lessons, I can tell if they have been playing their pipes. Dead pipes tell all tales. Last night, a student came in and was huffing and puffing trying to blow just one drone. I took his pipes and, upon inspection, I found that the stock joints had loose hemp. That means that they had been sitting all week and not played as the hemp had dried out and was moving on the spindle. (I’ve learned over a period of years what the bagpipe says about whether someone has practiced or not.)
Let’s address this problem. I personally try not to overwhelm students when they get their pipes. The first thing we want to concentrate on is blowing and squeezing. We will usually cork the bass and a tenor drone and the chanter stock. The goal is to get the one drone sounding even during blowing and squeezing. I also tell my students that when they get to the point where they are blowing hard enough to blow that drone out, then they are ready to open drone number two. When opening the second drone they now have an opportunity to learn how to tune drone one to drone two. We usually continue this process through all three drones. The goal is to be able to blow enough air into the bag to make all three drones go out. By this time, blowing, squeezing, and basic tuning should become a habit. Then we can start playing the chanter on the pipes.
Why is it that people die at this part of the project? Again, I try not to overwhelm them. I also find that when the pipes get home and stay in the case, they are usually forgotten. My solution to that problem is a “Bagpipe Stand”. When you get home, you take your pipes out and put them in the stand where they are in your line of sight. I have found personally that I play the pipes more when they are out in the open than when they are in the case.
If, however, you don’t want to buy a stand, another solution is needed. Maybe your bagpipe goals need to be updated. Have you ever thought about competing? Maybe you should try that. The judges are cordial and kind. They want you to come back so they aren’t going to insult you and your playing. My experience has been that they write comments to help you improve your playing and performing. Maybe you need some new tunes. Hey, I’m all for new tunes! Do you play anything else but marches in 4/4 time? If you are intimidated by your pipes, then you need to find something new in the bagpipe world to float your boat.
Remember: Dead pipes tell all tales!
Are you ready to Gig?I have taught many people throughout the last 17 years. A lot of my students have been intrigued by the thought of playing for money. My colleagues and I in the bagpipe performing business have seen a lot of people come and go in that time. The problem is that many bagpipers believe that all they need is a set of pipes, a kilt and some business cards and then they’re in business, ready to play for money. So, for all of you who are thinking about entering this market, I thought that I would give you a preview. Don’t quit your day job yet.
Here's what you need to get started: The first thing that you MUST be before entering the market is an accomplished bagpiper. What does that mean?
The majority of our gigs are once-in-a-lifetime events for most people: Usually they are funerals, weddings and parties. If you’re not the best bagpiper and performer that you can be, you shouldn’t be in the market. It’s not easy money. This person is paying you to do something almost sacred for them. For example, there’s a certain demeanor that you must have when discussing a funeral with a family member of the deceased. You need to know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. In most cases, this person has never hired a bagpiper before. You need to make them feel that they are getting the best person for this job.
"Winging it" destroys many a musician's future!If you think that maybe you can wing it, you will be one of those people that we’ll see come and go. In the funeral market, the funeral directors know who we are and what we can do; they know who is good and who is not. They are the gate keepers in this market as the majority of funerals are booked through them.
Weddings are another story.Again, most people have no idea what a bagpiper does at a wedding and how the piper and pipes should be used. It’s my job as the bagpiper to educate the bride and groom on how the bagpiper works into their wedding. I do what an organist would do if they were at a church. The bagpipes, in a lot of situations, are the only music played at a wedding, especially if the event is outside. That being the case, I explain exactly how the process works before I give the price. (As a business person, if I am going to invest 5 hours away from my family on a Saturday and drive umpteen miles to the gig, I’d better be in charge of the rate of return on that investment.)
You might consider taking a Sales 101 course.If I explain to the bride and groom exactly what I am going to do, it is only then that I give them the price. To be honest, any price that I quote them is miniscule compared to what they have already been charged by the florist and caterer. I personally want to get as much as I can on a Saturday trip away from my family. I also want to be fair. I also tell all prospective brides and grooms that they shouldn’t hire anyone that they can’t see perform first. Sometimes hiring that “friend of the family” is a bad idea.
I’m realistic too.There has to be a point where a new bagpiper can come into the market. If you think that you’d like to compete for business someday, maybe you should consider competing in solo competition. Knowing that you have to prepare music by a certain date is a goal. It gives you a reason to practice and learn new music. Remember, you’re only as good as your last performance. The bottom line is that the market place will determine your success or failure and whether or not your are ready to play for money on a regular basis!
The problemLast night, the father of one of my students brought his pipes by for a tune-up. The student is competing in solo competition this weekend at a regional highland games. While working with this student over Skype yesterday, he had expressed to me some trepidation about the upcoming event. I told him that, in my opinion, the purpose of competition is to have a goal and a reason to practice and learn new tunes. I also told him that the judges aren’t going to cuss him out or belittle him if he makes a mistake as they want him to come back for future competitions. I also asked him what he thought the worst thing that could happen in those 5 minutes could be. He then answered his own questions.
The “bagpipe tune-up” starts with a “bagpiper tune-up”Over a period of time, as he plays for more of these, he will gradually start to place and move up in category. He needed to hear that this is a non-threatening situation and that everyone had his best interests in mind. Hence, it seems that sometimes the “bagpipe tune-up” starts with a “bagpiper tune-up”.
Getting to the instrumentWhen his instrument arrive around 9pm last night, I took it all apart.
Start with the bag and stocks.We needed to make sure that all of the stocks were seated properly and tight. Since it had been more than 18 months since I initially put them together, I re-taped all of those stocks to make sure they were straight in the seats and properly sealed.
Check all of the "hemped joints".In my opinion, the joints going into the stocks need to be “hand tight”, meaning it takes both hands to separate them. We then worked on all of the sliders to make sure that they were “finger tight” and didn’t rock in place. If your sliders are loose they will drop when marching or during a sudden movement. We definitely don’t want them to move during a competition solo or while playing with a band.
Make sure that all of the reeds were seated properly.As most makers of drone reeds use “black rosined hemp” at the seats of their reeds, it is a good idea to pull all of that off once in a while and rewind it. In most cases, that hemp becomes compacted and will eventually lead to the reed falling into the bag. When you seat the reed in the bottom of the drone, you should be able to hold the drone upside down by the reed. You can even shake it a little. If it is tight there will be no separation. There is nothing more embarrassing then your drone reeds falling into your bag and you losing compression during your set. During this phase is also the time to re-voice your reeds, making sure that the pitch and the volume are uniform. More about that in another post.
What about the cords and cover?Finally, after dressing the pipes with the bag cover, you might go back and make sure that your cords are tight. You should have on hand a package of “wire ties” for this purpose. They can be purchased at any hardware store. When you’ve done all of this, you are ready to go.
How about a regular "maintenance inspection"?By the way, if you play the pipes for money on a regular basis, you should have a regular “bagpipe inspection” as you are only as good as your last performance and shoddy maintenance makes for poor performances. You should also own a good maintenance kit.
A New Beginning!Here we are...nearly at the beginning of another summer. A lot of people, especially younger people, dread this time of year as it signals back to school time.
Even as we grow into adults, we still tend to work on this same schedule. The end of summer is sad as it represents a time for the fun to stop and the work to begin. In a way, that’s true. But perhaps the fall signals a time to start a new, fun project...and get serious about it, too.
Be the Role Model!As your kids go back to school, you can set an example by becoming a student yourself...a student of the Great Highland Bagpipe September is a great time to begin bagpipe lessons, and you can initiate the process by finding a bagpipe teacher to guide you through this process.
This is the time of year when bagpipers start choosing the music to be played in competition for next season, as that season starts in the spring. If you do this, you then have about 6 to 7 months to learn your new music.
Get started now!So, in a nutshell, here’s what you need to do to get off to a solid start:
It's almost timeFall is fast approaching. I find that this is the time of year when most people start their new projects, coinciding with the school year. I've decided that I am going back to the pipe band world, this time as a player. My bucket list includes playing in the Pipe Band World Championships as a goal. I went to a band practice that wasn't mine for the first time in a few years and felt some extreme relief to know that they only thing that I am responsible for is learning the music.
Goals?What’s your goal this year? This is a subject that I have been talking to a lot of my students about lately. The problem is this: Most bagpipe students start lessons because they are curious about the process of learning to play the pipes. The tunes become the goals and the building blocks to make that happen. In 6 to 12 months, my students are ready for pipes. The pipes then become the goal. They start out playing the chanter only and adding a drone as a sub goal to the initial goal of playing the pipes.
After a couple years spent developing a lot of music, I have found that a lot of students then decide to “hang it up”. The problem stems from the fact that they do not have a bigger dream than simply playing the pipes.
Solution!I think one of the biggest tools that probably isn’t used by the majority of bagpipers is the bagpipe band. The bagpipe is a social instrument. If you look at piano players, for example, there isn’t a whole lot of places where a piano player can go to play with other pianists. The bagpipe, being what it is, allows that to happen. If you’re in the “bagpipe doldrums” then maybe you need to think about playing in a band. You might also think about competing. Competition isn’t about “beating the kilt off the next piper”, it’s a reason to practice, learn new tunes and conquer fear. The Pipe Band Associations judges aren’t there to tell you that you stink as a player; they are there to give you an evaluation that you can take home, digest and use to work out the problems. Over a period of time, you will start placing, winning and moving to the next level. What a great system. It almost reminds me of Capitalism. Oh, well, that’s a subject for another post.
If you have the “bagpipe doldrums” then it is time to make a decision. I know mine scared the “begeezus” out of me this last week; however. I realized that I was prepared and ready to move forward. You’re next!
his is what I hope to be the first in a series of Podcasts. My goal is to do a series of Pod Casts with prominent bagpipe teachers, competitors and Pipe Band Association judges. I personally believe that we can learn a lot from their perspectives. I hope that you enjoy this series.
Out first guest is James "Jimmy" Bell, a native of the New Jersey-New York area who now teaches a full time bagpipe program at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas. Sit back and relax as the interview takes about 30 minutes. You'll hear some great stories. To hear this interview, click here:
I tell my students that they need to practice every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. The purpose of that statement is to simply get them to practice every day. As they become more experienced, they will have more to practice and the time will automatically expand...or so I thought.
I have a student that I teach remotely on Skype. I have been trying to figure out what his problem might be. He is more than 1,000 miles away from me so I haven’t met him in person, nor have I seen his house. The truth is that I have only been to a few of my student’s homes. I have been working with him since June and feel like the lessons are like, as they say, pulling teeth...for both of us. This kid is 18, very cynical, and on what I refer to as the 50-year plan (that’s how long it’ll take him to learn the pipes if he continues to proceed at the current rate). As I am a teacher who gets paid to teach, I have been trying everything possible to motivate him. I even sent him my Christmas Book, thinking that would light a fire under him.
Earlier this month, on a Saturday night, I received an email. This email was from his Scout Master. Apparently, this kid is a candidate for an Eagle Scout Award. Who would have thought? I believe that the statistics in the Boy Scout world are that Eagle Scouts only make up 2% of their population. I have played for many Eagle Scout ceremonies in my bagpipe career. I have to tell you that I was unhappy to learn that he obviously has what it takes to achieve but wasn’t applying it to learning the pipes. When I met with him for his lesson, after putting up with 15 minutes of bad playing, I told him about the email. The Scout Master wanted me to write a recommendation. I felt that he had taken advantage of the fact that I couldn’t see his many awards as his webcam faces his fireplace. I told him that now that his real identity was out of the bag, that I expected more from him on this project. Learning to play the bagpipes is a lot easier than becoming an Eagle Scout! This should be a piece of cake.
This leads me back to the 15 minutes. He told me that I only said that he had to practice for 15 minutes per day, which is what he had been doing. Ok, I learned something more about communication in that lesson. That being the case, I told him that he then needed to learn 2 Christmas Carols this week and extend his practice time to an hour per day. I think the lesson learned is that if I had asked him to practice for an hour per day at the beginning, we might be a lot further down the road.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to a pipe band colleague who has been involved with the same pipe band for the last 30 some years. I asked him how his band was doing and he told me that they were burning out. He said that attendance and membership were down. He also said that people were tired of playing the same tunes that they had been playing for 30 years. I asked him why they weren't learning new music. He told me that the process took too long and was too tedious.
If you read any of my blog posts, you’ll know that I am an advocate for rhythm training. As a classically trained musician who also plays the bagpipes, I teach rhythm. The Great Highland Bagpipe is a folk instrument that in most cases is taught like a folk instrument - by rote and imitation. The problem with that is that individual players who don’t read rhythm are unable to learn music on their own. The solution is simple: teach everyone to read rhythm. The priniciples are simple and can be taught in less than an hour.
My job is to teach my students how to practice this week and every week. If you learned the principles of rhythm and added them to your practicing, you could learn to be a good sight reader. If you are a good sight reader and can read any bagpipe music, neither you nor your band would suffer from tune burnout and boredom.
I have been playing this instrument for more than 40 years. I never became bored with it as the only thing I needed to do was to learn the next tune. A bagpiper is a person that can play a list of tunes on the bagpipe. How long is your list? How long is your band’s list?
I have free videos on You Tube to teach you these principles. Sometimes it takes more than that to get someone going. What if your band was capable of learning a new tune every week? What if they were capable of learning any tune regardless of the meter? Would it be worth getting help?
New tunes could pump new life into a dying organization. It could be the best investment your band will ever make. Let me know if I can help you and your band.
This is a video that I did a while back. I hope you all enjoy it. If you have any questions, please let me know.
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".