Teaching

I began teaching while still at university, mostly on an ad hoc basis. When I settled down with a pipe band, I began teaching in earnest, and formed many ideas about how teaching is best done. Every pupil is different - for example, some of us prefer to hear explanations aurally, while others need to see a visual demonstration. Tailoring what needs to be learnt to how the pupil actually learns is a vital part of the process.

My other areas of expertise are in remedial work and music theory. Remedial work is often neccesary with pipers who have been badly, or more often, negligently taught. Often it is neccesary to break down a piper's technique and rebuild it. Music theory is an area many pipers do not cover: largely because of the nature of the instrument, not much theory knowledge is needed to be able to learn the basics, but a deeper understanding can be extremely helpful in analysing tunes and when working with other musicians.

As a beginner, you'll spend some time, perhaps a few months, on learning basic scales and techniques on the practice chanter (an inexpensive instrument which mimics the fingering, but not the volume, of the bagpipe). At this stage, we are laying the foundations of a piping career, and it is very important to progress slowly and carefully. Lack of care at this stage often translates into frustration later on.

Once the basic scales and embellishments have been mastered, we introduce some simple tunes. Again, care and attention is needed, and we introduce a new requirement - memorisation. Pipers very rarely perform using sheet music, and so all the music to be performed must be memorised. Like most things, memorisation is itself a skill and although it may be slow to start out with, it soon becomes a thing of habit.

Once we have learned a few tunes and have good control of them, it will be time to consider introducing the learner to the bagpipe itself. Again, time and patience are the keys to building good skills in controlling the bagpipe. Generally speaking, it takes perhaps a few months to be able to control the pipe enough to be able to play through a tune, and several years to really master the control of the instrument.

Once we have the pipes up and running, we start to look at simple dance tunes - jigs, hornpipes, strathspeys and reels. I believe it is important to build up a good foundation of these tunes, both for their own sake and because they are an excellent preparation for the next stage of playing: the so-called 'competition' music. Competition tunes are relatively longer pieces, technically demanding test pieces that show off the piper's skill and stamina. We also start at this time to study piobaireachd, or ceol mor, the classical music of the highland bagpipes and one of the most developed forms of traditional music anywhere in the world. By the time you reach this stage, you should be able to perform in public, have a good knowledge both of the instrument and its surrounding history and culture, and be ready to begin playing competitively.

If you'd like to know more, then get in touch and I'll be happy to answer your questions and demonstrate what's involved.