Frequently Asked Questions
- What does it cost?
Getting started is inexpensive. All you need to get started is a practice chanter (around £30-40), seven fingers, and a thumb. I recommend a "short", plastic chanter, purchased from a dedicated piping vendor (the National Piping Centre is a safe choice; Amazon and Ebay are to be avoided without seeking advice). There is no real merit in the "long" plastic chanter, and the "junior" models are only necessary Later on (usually from 6-18 months of learning), you will need a reasonable quality set of pipes, which will cost (very roughly!) around £1000 fully set up with bag, reeds and all required accessories. No books or other printed material is required to begin with, though in time I will recommend books that are useful long-term purchases.
I tend to recommend a half hour for younger children up to about 13-14, or until they get on the pipes. Adults can start with a full hour straight away.
For my current rates, please see my tuition policies page for my current rates and terms.
- How does online teaching work?
In practice it's not really very different to face to face lessons. As well as using video, I often use screensharing to display music and draw on it to illustrate different ideas, and it's possible to share Youtube links and the like easily. My experience has been that online lessons are just as productive, and in addition becxause there's no travel time involved they're easier for the student to attend as well - which in turn leads to faster progress.
- How much do I have to practice?
One answer, of course, is as much as you can. My advice, though, is a little different. I always say that at some point, habit has to take over from motivation. And when that happens, the habit you have has to be sustainable. Some people start off and try to practice for an hour a day, every day. And of course, pretty soon life gets in the way. You don't always have an hour, or sometimes you can't play for a few days. I find a lot of people who try to do this get discouraged that they can't live up to their own expectations and become demotivated.
My advice, then, is to practice for ten minutes a day and to plan to take take two or three days off a week. If on that day off, you fancy doing a little practice anyway, great. If you do your ten minutes practice and want to keep going, great. But you should aim to build up a habit of practising little and often, and arrange your daily so that it's never a struggle to find time. The easiest way to not practice is to not have a fixed time or routine for it.
- Can I take fortnightly or longer lessons?
I don't recommend it on pedagogical grounds; I have found that a fortnight is just a little bit too long. The other practical problem for me is that the "off" week slot can be very difficult to fill. I am occasionally able to take on a few casual lessons where I know I have a free slot, but this would only really be suitable for people who need a few hours tuition in total, and not for beginners.
- How long does it take?
You might have heard of the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master any particular skillset. Pipers have a similar saying, that it takes 21 years - seven years learning, seven years practising, seven years playing. Regardless of what the research actually says, there is a grain of truth in this - the best, most rounded musicians are those who have spent longest studying their craft.
However, with regular, structured practice, in my experience it will normally take about a year to start on the bagpipe and perhaps 3-5 years to learn to play the full range of traditional pipe music.
- What age can a child start?
Children can and do start as young as 4-5. Progress does tend to be slow until around 8-9 when they tend to grow an attention span! In addition, children of this age do need a fair bit of parental shepherding. I don't discourage teaching children younger than 8, but I do suggest that it may be just as good to regularly expose them to all kinds of Scottish music - folk bands, singing, ceilidhs, etc - in preparation for a slightly later start. Perhaps the most important thing parents can do with young children is sing to and with them - this is crucial in creating the mental building blocks of music, and recordings or musical toys are no substitute!
I personally like to teach young children to play the tin whistle - it is easy to blow, requires little technical ability, and can be taught largely by ear. Once a degree of fluency has been achieved they will be ready to transfer to the practice chanter.
- What if I have no talent?
Talent is a bit of a cultural myth. At the very top level, there may (or may not) be a slight edge which is natural. Down here in the real world, most of what we think of as talent is just things we learnt (or didn't learn) early in life, reinforced by praise (or dispraise). By the time a student comes to music lessons, he may be all over the map in terms of ability, but this is nothing to do with talent. In other parts of the world, learners are taught that their ability is down to the amount of effort that they put in - and the results speak for themselves.