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!
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".