Throughout the last few weeks, I have heard from a handful of former students who are facing some challenges. They start out by emailing me or posting something in my Facebook group, noting how frustrated they are and inquiring about problems they are having with their bagpipe.
One person who contacted me told me he had quit playing the bagpipes for a while and decided instead to learn a few other instruments. Another said he hasn’t been playing the bagpipe for several years, opting to give it up for a while. Yet another hasn’t played for quite some time either, but is thinking of picking up the instrument again. All had one thing in common: frustration.
If you are frustrated, the first thing you should do is seek help. Consider this. The bagpipe itself isn’t that sophisticated. It’s actually quite simple because the basic concepts are hundreds of years old and haven’t changed. If you are frustrated, it often comes down to this: do you play every day or at least play the practice chanter regularly?
I made a decision a long time ago. I decided that I wanted to be a bagpiper. I decided that it was important enough to make it a daily activity! Therein lies the key!
What is a bagpiper? A bagpiper is a person who can play a list of tunes, can learn and develop their own music, and can set up and maintain a set of bagpipes. If you want to be a bagpiper, you need to make playing the bagpipe a habit. A habit is something that you do every day, period! We all carry smart phones that include calendar apps. You need to make a bagpipe appointment with yourself on a daily basis, even if it’s for 15 minutes, and put it on that calendar. You will benefit from the consistency and here’s why.
The reason you may be having problems with your pipes is because you don’t have the stamina that it takes to blow a set of pipes because you’re not playing (at least) the practice chanter on a daily basis. Most people have plenty of time to do this but need to be sure to squeeze it into those open spaces on their schedule. I suggested to one of my students in this situation that he make a practice kit (chanter and book) he can take everywhere he goes so that when he has some downtime he can play his practice chanter instead of playing with his phone.
If you are one of these frustrated people, I suggest you do the following:
1. Ask yourself why you want to play the bagpipe. What’s your goal?
2. Make an appointment daily to practice something bagpipe-related.
3. If someone calls and wants your attention during your designated practice time, you can’t cancel it. You have to move it to a different time.
4. Start by making a list of tunes that you want to play.
5. Practice that list daily.
6. As your tunes “pop” and are memorized, add another tune to the bottom of your list.
7. If you are transitioning to the pipes, practice with the chanter only.
8. The drones are the frosting on the cake, not the cake. Don’t be frustrated with your drones if you can’t play the chanter.
9. Be willing to pay for help. You might find that being accountable to an instructor on a weekly basis solves your frustration.
Playing the bagpipe or any other instrument is a daily activity…if you’re serious. If not, you might be better off listening to someone else play, avoiding frustration but still reaping enjoyment from the sound of the instrument. Decide which option is best for you.