In the 30 years since I began teaching, I have seen one of two things happen to most students. Initially, they are excited to learn to play the bagpipes. They come to lessons weekly, practice daily, and progress to the point where they are ready to buy pipes. At that point, they come to a fork in the road. Some continue and some quit.

Why does this happen?

Well, I have a theory about this situation. I have found that the people who quit are those whose only connection to the pipes is coming to lessons. As I have said in previous posts, there needs to be something bigger than just playing the bagpipes.

Some people consider themselves “done” when they can play Amazing Grace on the pipes. Personally, I don’t consider that done, or even medium-rare. I would call that “thawed”.

When I was progressing through the bagpipe world, I enjoyed two types of bagpipe activities. I liken them to college courses. For those of you who have some college training, you may remember that some of your courses consisted of “seminar” and “lab”. Similar to this, I would consider lessons to be the seminar. Practicing is where the lab work begins. For those who have gone on to be successful players, consider that the lab portion then morphs into playing in a pipe band.

As a long-time bagpiper, I believe that one of the most important things you can do is play in a pipe band. This will assist you in growing your skills. Pipe Bands also make you accountable. They give you a deadline for learning your music and a minimal requirement for bagpipe maintenance.

I remember as a kid going to band practice one night and having my drones fall because of the compressed hemp. I was told to sit it out that night. I made sure that that was the last time that ever happened!  If I was playing in the band, I had to assume responsibility for my instrument. I needed to make sure that it was “hemped” properly and that everything worked. If I had a reed problem, it was my responsibility to make sure it was fixed before band practice.

I believe that another good “lab” for bagpipers is competition. The idea initially isn’t to go out and beat the kilt off of your competitor. However, competition gives you a reason to practice more and to learn new music as well. It also makes you accountable in that you have a target date to get things done, i.e. learning the tunes and making sure that your pipes work. A little trepidation is good for you and will ultimately make you a stronger performer.