Learn to Play Bagpipes

Is it hard to learn the bagpipes?

Is it Hard to Learn the Bagpipes T-Shirt

Bagpiping, like any other skill, requires skill development. If you are disciplined and practice regularly, guess what? You’ll get better! This, in a sense, is the easy part. When I started to learn, staying motivated to practice was easy, because I was passionate to play the bagpipes and join a band. I also was in high school, so I had more time and energy than an older student. Teenagers also have fantastic mental capacity (they can learn very quickly). That coupled with passion and you’ll be learning in no time. If you are older, especially if this is your very first musical instrument, then it will require more discipline. That being said, adults sometimes are way more organized than kids, so they’re capable of having that discipline to remain learning.

So what makes it hard? Well, if you have a tendency to give up on things very easily then you will have to address this. If you are busy, you will need to fit practice time into your busy schedule. In short be true to yourself, are you willing to commit the time so that you can make it into a band to one day play on Fifth Ave. on St. Patrick’s Day? While it is great to be motivated by the end goal (whatever it may be), we need to remember that there is always a cost. However, if you enjoy practicing regularly, not only will you get better, but the process will make you a better person.

What really makes it hard? Unlike other instruments, the bagpipes require a lot of coordination. Part of your brain will be focused on moving your fingers (playing cleanly and providing-hopefully-some nice expression to the tune) while coordinating your blowing and arm squeezing to create a consistent pressure that provides good tone, steady pitch, and continuous sound. Unlike other instruments, the sound is supposed to be non-stop, so if you forgot a part there’s no hitting the brakes. There are 4 voices produced by a bagpipe (the chanter and 3 drones). To produce sound from the chanter alone is usually a great challenge, let alone an additional 3 drones, to the beginner. This is because it requires great pressure to cross the threshold to make a sound. After a beginner produces that first squeak, they will have to learn how to produce a constant output of pressure. This takes more time to develop, especially since they need to develop their stamina. The best players are able to provide an output of pressure that is very steady, thus producing the steady and hypnotizing drone sound.

At higher levels, other difficulties include developing a good ear for pitch. Although I used to always swear that I had a bad ear for pitch, with more practice I was able to get my drone tuning a lot better than when I started wishing to improve my drone tuning. Again, it just shows, that no matter how difficult something is, you can get better with practice.

Other “hard” things... Unlike a piano, it takes the coordination of all your fingers to produce a single note on the chanter. The piano, on the other hand, allows you play at least 10 notes with both hands. While I will not get into a debate about which instrument is more difficult, that is an aspect that makes the bagpipe different than other common instruments, like the guitar.

Another important (but often overlooked) aspect of bagpiping is the importance of maintaining and knowing how to maintain your bagpipes. Unfortunately many bagpipers are not taught this skill and it negatively effects their sound. Entire bands fail in this region. Therefore, it’s not like an acoustic guitar, where you can tune the 6 strings with a tuner and, for the most part, you are good to go. There are many factors in how to maintain a good bagpipe, and this is something that must be taught by a qualified instructor.

If you haven't already, read more on how to learn the bagpipes and why I am adamant about the importance of hiring a qualified instructor so that you can properly learn how to get better on the bagpipes.

This is also a good article on how to learn the bagpipes.

If you would like to hire me as an instructor or have questions, please email me!

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