This was a question asked this week in my group, “Playing the Bagpipe”.  The answer? Well, it could take a few minutes, hours, days, weeks and even years to learn a new tune depending on whether you have a plan or are just winging it.

I keep saying in these blogs that “a bagpiper is a person who can play a list of tunes by memory on the bagpipe, can learn and develop their own music, and can set up and maintain their own bagpipe”.

The first quality is the most important.  You need to start with a list of tunes!!  You should  always start practicing at the top of your list.  Practicing and learning new tunes is psychological.  If you feel like you are winning early, you are going to continue practicing.  This happens when you start at the top and begin by reviewing what you already know.  If your tunes at the top of your list are already memorized then you don’t need to play them every day unless you have time to do that.  Most importantly, however, is that the newest tunes be last.

Bagpipe music isn’t rocket science. It’s folk music.  Do you know why people love folk music?  Because of its simplicity.  4/4 marches have the same formula:  A1, A2, B and A2.  Look at “Scotland the Brave”, for example. The A1 theme is 4 measures long and is the question, A2 is the answer to A1.  The B theme is also 4 measures long and is answered again by A2. You can find this to be true in most 4/4 marches.  It’s like a kid asking for a cookie. He’s not satisfied with the first answer so he pleads for it with B and gets the same answer (A2) that he got from the first question.

Here is a formula for learning a new tune.  I will define each of these over a period of time.

  • Define the rhythm
  • Practice saying the rhythm
  • Add the beat while saying the rhythm.

I have spent an enormous amount of time on rhythm.  If you are unsure of what I am talking about, you should take advantage of my free rhythm program:

  • Audit the tune
  • Play until you hit a bump then circle the problem and continue this process to the end.
  • Go back and take apart each problem (bagpipe instruction is learning how to solve problems).
  • Play through the tune as slowly as possible so that you don’t make any mistakes.  (You will memorize it faster playing it 20 times the same way than playing it 20 different ways!)

Don’t spend a week learning 1 tune!!!  That’s called “plate spinning”.  You sacrifice all of your previous tunes as they aren’t getting any attention.

Being a bagpiper is a process.  You become a bagpiper by becoming a tune processing machine!