Can you lean the bagpipes on your own?
While I won't say that it is impossible, I will say that I have never heard a self-taught piper that was very good. Those who started on their own almost always have to correct bad technique if they want to progress. Because of the detail work and techniques required to play properly, it is crucial to get a good tutor.
What do I need to start?
I ask that you bring the following three things to your first lesson:
1. A practice chanter. This is an instrument, somewhat like a recorder, on which you learn how to play tunes on the bagpipes. A piper will use a practice chanter throughout his or her piping lifetime. After all, you don't want to be learning the absolute basics in a full set of bagpipes! Not only is it impossible, but it is painful to both you and anyone within earshot! The practice chanter has three primary parts: a mouthpiece, a reed (a double reed somewhat like an oboe reed, usually made of plastic for the practice chanter), and the body of the chanter which has eight holes for your fingers (and sometimes two sound holes near the bottom).
2. The College of Piping Highland Pipe Tutor Book 1. This is usually called "the green book" (for obvious reasons once you see it). I learned from this book and most of the pipers I know did the same. It's just a good all around method of learning the pipes.
3. The desire to learn and willingness to work at it. Like most things new, you'll never go very far on the pipes without working at it. Please be prepared to work and practice every day!
Where can I get this stuff?
Based on a long history of excellent customer service, quick turnaround, and good selection, my favorite source is Henderson's Bagpipes. They have a great supply and are good at shipping items quickly. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me. Generally, a decent practice chanter will cost in the neighborhood of $100. I'm hoping that your reading of this indicates that you already have item #3!
When can I get my pipes?
Unlike many instruments, you don't start off with the actual instrument. As mentioned above, you will start with the practice chanter. So please don't start off with the high dollar (or worse, low dollar) purchase of a set of pipes. When you are ready, I will work with you to purchase a set of pipes that will fit you. Typically, when you can play the 4-part march, 79th's Farewell to Gibraltar, by memory on the practice chanter after going through all of the other lessons, we'll start on getting you your first set of pipes!
How much should I practice?
I recommend that you dedicate a minimum of 30 minutes per day of practice. This is an absolute minimum. The good news is that, as a beginner, this is sometimes best spread through the day in 10 to 15 minute sessions. Again, this is the absolute minimum to be able to progress. If you want to progress faster, it will take more practice. When I started, I would spend at least one hour per day practicing, allowing me to progress much more quickly. But also remember, practice doesn't make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect. So make the best out of your practice time.
How quickly can I start to play the pipes?
Typically, it will take anywhere from 3 to 6 months of work on the practice chanter until the real fun begins on the pipes. This is only an average. Some may be ready for the pipes within a couple of months, but I have known some to take a year or more before they are at that point. It all depends on your dedication to work on it (and, to a smaller degree, some level of innate musical talent). Another rule of thumb is that if you have some musical experience and can read music when you start, the road to the pipes will tend to be much shorter.
My kiddo wants to play. What age is best to start?
There is no really easy answer to this. I have taught kids as young as 7 and adults in their 50's or 60's, and many ages in between. As far as kids are concerned, it really depends on them. Generally, it is best if your child is between 7 and 10. However, if your child is motivated and will work on it, we can give it a go. The problem for smaller children comes when they are ready to transition to the pipes, as size becomes a consideration when trying to fit the pipes to them so they can physically play. But these days, with the many different sizes of bags available, this is more workable. Again, it all comes down to their desire to play the pipes and their willingness to work at it.
But I'm not a kid! Can I still learn?
Absolutely! As I mentioned, I have taught many successful adult students. In fact, I never touched a practice chanter myself until I was 36! And many of the players in the Silver Thistle Grade 3 band started as adults. So if you want to give it a shot, give me a call!