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SO, YOU THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO GIVE IT A TRY?
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO LEARN THE PIPES?

You have heard them play. You are entranced with the sound. You drum on the bar table listening to a band in a pub, or on your steering wheel with a CD playing in your car. But for some of us, listening is not enough. We want to be part of it. We want to do it. So, what does it take? Here are some critical elements you need to know if you are to succeed.

AGE

Am I too young? Am I too old? Never! In fact, some of the world’s best players started before their tenth birthday. Some players, now in their 40’s, have been playing for 30 years. Admittedly, just like in athletics, young muscles are much more nimble and flexible when we are young. On the other hand, time has not run out for you if you are in your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, beyond. Some of the best piobaireachd players are older people whose experience with the tragedies of life comes through in the expression of their music. It is never too late.

COMPETENT INSTRUCTION

The bagpipe is not something that you can teach yourself. Over the last few decades, several wonderful study and practice manuals have come out, not to mention a few good web sites. However, the critical point is that most beginners do not have the necessary focused listening skills to know if they are practicing a movement correctly. And practicing it wrong forms habits that take the same amount of time to correct as practicing them right in the first place. As much time as you will spend doing this, the additional investment you make in yourself will greatly improve your chances of success.

A REAL COMMITMENT

On average you will need to devote 30-45 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week to show signs of consistent improvement. Keep your immediate goals simple and clear. Bob Worall, who famously provides commentary every year for the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, has said that piping is the Olympics for small muscles movements. Control is everything. Pushing beyond control, to attain higher playing speed simply creates bad habits which slows real progress.

PATIENCE

The bagpipe is a multi-skilled instrument. Your instructor will guide you through the process of making initially a plumbing apparatus into a musical instrument. Attack one thing a time and simplify movements until you can produce them clearly and consistently successfully.

A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT

Whether you go through a band or individual instructor, you must find people who are positive to work with. Nothing can drive even the most determined beginners away quicker than negative, acerbic people, who often do not even command the abilities they try to instruct. Not all great performers are great teachers. It may take a while to find the right combination, but it is well worth the effort. And don’t forget your spouse, neighbors, etc. As you progress to the pipes, the volume of sound can intrude on others’ activities. Be aware of them and plan accordingly.

A LEVEL OF FITNESS

As you progress towards playing the pipes, you will need a certain amount of stamina to sustain tone and endurance. Piping is great aerobic exercise. Core strength really helps. One study found that in piping for 25 minutes, the average person burns about 213 calories. That’s the equivalent of a brisk 2.8 kilometer walk at 6 kilometers an hour, which burns 206 calories. Fitness becomes even more important as we age.

EQUIPMENT AND COSTS

Your instructor will help guide you in acquiring the right equipment at the right time. To begin with, you will need a practice chanter, which you will use to learn the basics before moving on to the pipes. A practice chanter will cost you approximately $80. A good, durable, basic set of pipes cost about $1,000, although synthetics are now available for much less. And there is always the after-market, selling used equipment, often at excellent prices.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO LEARN TO PLAY?

After about a year or two, you may be invited to join a novice band or an established band as a novice. It generally takes several years for a piper to gradually build his skills to the point where he can play with confidence. Slow down, work consistently, and enjoy the trip. This hobby can be very satisfying if approached with the right attitude and level of commitment.

WHERE DO I GO TO LEARN MORE?

An excellent thing to do is to get up early Saturday morning on the day of the festival. Come out and listen to the competition: the soloists in the morning, the bands in the afternoon. Who did you hear? Who did you like? Visit the band tents throughout the day; talk to the pipers. Get contact information. It is a great way to start, and soon you will be on your way. Welcome aboard! (For more information you can also contact us at piping@scotfest.com)