Are you suffering from “Bagpipe Doldrums”?

Fall is fast approaching.  I find that this is the time of year when most people start their new projects, coinciding with the school year.  I’ve decided that I am going back to the pipe band world, this time as a player.  My bucket list includes playing in the Pipe Band World Championships as a goal.  I went to a band practice that wasn’t mine for the first time in a few years and felt some extreme relief to know that they only thing that I am responsible for is learning the music.

What’s your goal this year?  This is a subject that I have been talking to a lot of my students about lately.  The problem is this:  Most bagpipe students start lessons because they are curious about the process of learning to play the pipes.  The tunes become the goals and the building blocks to make that happen.  In 6 to 12 months, my students are ready for pipes.  The pipes then become the goal.  They start out playing the chanter only and adding a drone as a sub goal to the initial goal of playing the pipes.

After a couple years spent developing a lot of music, I have found that a lot of students then decide to “hang it up”.  The problem stems from the fact that they do not have a bigger dream than simply playing the pipes.

I think one of the biggest tools that probably isn’t used by the majority of bagpipers is the bagpipe band.  The bagpipe is a social instrument.  If you look at piano players, for example, there isn’t a whole lot of places where a piano player can go to play with other pianists.  The bagpipe, being what it is, allows that to happen.  If you’re in the “bagpipe doldrums” then maybe you need to think about playing in a band.  You might also think about competing.  Competition isn’t about “beating the kilt off the next piper”, it’s a reason to practice, learn new tunes and conquer fear.  The Pipe Band Associations judges aren’t there to tell you that you stink as a player; they are there to give you an evaluation that you can take home, digest and use to work out the problems.  Over a period of time, you will start placing, winning and moving to the next level.  What a great system.  It almost reminds me of Capitalism.  Oh, well, that’s a subject for another post.

If you have the “bagpipe doldrums” then it is time to make a decision.  I know mine scared the “begeezus” out of me this last week; however. I realized that I was prepared and ready to move forward.  You’re next!

Now’s the Time!

Here we are…nearly at the end of another summer.  A lot of people, especially younger people, dread this time of year as it signals back to school time.

Even as we grow into adults, we still tend to work on this same schedule. The end of summer is sad as it represents a time for the fun to stop and the work to begin. In a way, that’s true. But perhaps the fall signals a time to start a new, fun project…and get serious about it, too.

As your kids go back to school, you can set an example by becoming a student yourself…a student of the Great Highland Bagpipe  September is a great time to begin bagpipe lessons, and you can initiate the process by finding a bagpipe teacher to guide you through this process.

This is the time of year when bagpipers start choosing the music to be played in competition for next season, as that season starts in the spring.  If you do this, you then have about 6 to 7 months to learn your new music.

So, in a nutshell, here’s what you need to do to get off to a solid start:

  • Find a teacher
  • Make a “school year” commitment.  You need to give the project at least that long to be fair to yourself and the project.  The “honeymoon” will be over in 30 days.  The struggle lasts for up to 90 days.  After that, it gets easier.  You’ll be amazed at where you are by the time June rolls around!
  • Make an appointment with yourself on a daily basis to practice.  Get up 30 minutes earlier. Do what you normally need to do in the morning; however, it you rise a little earlier you now have 30 minutes to practice before leaving your house.  Most people make practicing the last thing they do and it never gets done.  If playing the bagpipes is a priority in your life, it should never be last.
  • My job is to teach you how to practice this week, so follow my plan.  As I would have a vested interest in your success, I am accountable for the quality of that plan.
  • Don’t buy anything until you have counseled with your instructor.  Buying bagpipe-related things too early distracts people from what’s needed now. In addition, the market can be complicated, and impulsive buys often result in bad purchases if you are not educated as to what’s good and what’s not.

My job and goal is to make you a “bagpipe addict”.  If you do these things above, we will be working together for a long time!

Practice with Purpose-SID

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.  If you are teaching personal safety, you might tell your students that if they catch on fire, they are to “stop, drop and roll”.  Sometimes I find that my students believe that practicing is playing the tunes over and over and expecting something miraculous to happen.  Like “stop, drop and roll”, I believe that when you practice you play up to a point of contention.  When you get to a point where you keep making a mistake or can’t get through the passage, you need to “SID- stop, isolate and drill”.  Stop right there!  Take a pencil and circle it.  Then you need to take the movement apart.

 One of my students is working on the Balmoral Highlanders.  This is a great tune, a 2/4 march in 4 parts.  It is a crossing noise nightmare unless you work out the details.  Doing some basic things, like ascending melody notes with G-grace notes. could help you master this tune.  You do know that the sequence of moving from one position to another is different depending on the direction that you’re going, right?

 If you are playing G-grace notes in an ascending scale starting with Low G the sequence is:

 First position:   Low G

Transition:       Lift for the G Grace Note while moving to Low A position

Second Position:  Close grace note in Low A position.

 If I am coming down from Low A to Low G with a G grace note in between the sequence is different:

First position:  Low A

Transition:  Lift for G grace note

Second Position:  Close G grace note and change to Low G position. 


In all cases the second sequence covers all of the descending intervals.  The first sequence covers all of the ascending intervals except B to a G grace note on C. For that, the second would apply. 

 If you are practicing a solution for these problems, the first thing that you need to do is be able to talk your way out loud through the sequences.  Co-ordination is developed when your brain and hands are connected.  Sometimes being able to talk your way through the problem makes your fingers move where and when they are supposed to move.  After you can talk through these problems at a reasonable pace, you should start tapping your feet (I like marching in place), and do them to rhythm.  I’ll be posting some videos on practicing in this manner very soon. 


Stay tuned.

Put Your Bagpipe Lessons into Orbit This Summer!

I love summer! The summer was always the time of year, when I had more time to explore new ideas and hobbies. If you are a person that has been thinking about playing the bagpipes, this may be your summer! I have been wondering for a while what it would be like to take a new person who wants to learn the pipes and intensively work with them for a week. I would even work with someone who wants to intensively improve their playing ability and musical skills.

For the last 17 years, I have been teaching people to play the bagpipes, in addition to piano and voice. They come for 30 minute lessons on a weekly basis where my job is to teach them how to practice this week.

I have a proposition for any of you: If you have a vacation home, I will trade a full week of intensive bagpipe training for a week at your vacation home (with my wife, of course). The goal would be for me to give you assignments to do. If it takes you a day to complete the assignment, so be it. That would be like getting 7 weeks of lessons. What if you were able to complete 2 or 3 assignments per day? Two assignments per day would be like 3 months of lessons! Three would be like a half a year of lessons.

The question is this: How hungry are you to learn? If you were hungry enough you could probably knock this out of the park. The cost would be hosting my lovely wife and I for a week at your vacation house. We’re flexible. We like mountain lakes and sunny beaches. We might even go for an incredible pool to lay around in between lessons.

The goal would be to teach you to play tunes, and read music and rhythm and launch your bagpipe career. Just a thought.

Time For A Tune Up!

ImageLast night, the father of one of my students brought his pipes by for a tune-up. The student is competing in solo competition this weekend at a regional highland games. While working with this student over Skype yesterday, he had expressed to me some trepidation about the upcoming event. I told him that, in my opinion, the purpose of competition is to have a goal and a reason to practice and learn new tunes. I also told him that the judges aren’t going to cuss him out or belittle him if he makes a mistake as they want him to come back for future competitions. I also asked him what he thought the worst thing that could happen in those 5 minutes could be. He then answered his own questions.

Over a period of time, as he plays for more of these, he will gradually start to place and move up in category. He needed to hear that this is a non-threatening situation and that everyone had his best interests in mind. Hence, it seems that sometimes the “bagpipe tune-up” starts with a “bagpiper tune-up”.

Getting to the instrument. When his instrument arrive around 9pm last night, I took it all apart. We started with the bag and stocks. We needed to make sure that all of the stocks were seated properly and tight. Since it had been more than 18 months since I initially put them together, I re-taped all of those stocks to make sure they were straight in the seats and properly sealed. We then went over all of the hemped joints. In my opinion, the joints going into the stocks need to be “hand tight”, meaning it takes both hands to separate them. We then worked on all of the sliders to make sure that they were “finger tight” and didn’t rock in place. If your sliders are loose they will drop when marching or during a sudden movement. We definitely don’t want them to move during a competition solo or while playing with a band.

Our next stop was making sure that all of the reeds were seated properly. As most makers of drone reeds use “black rosined hemp” at the seats of their reeds, it is a good idea to pull all of that off once in a while and rewind it. In most cases, that hemp becomes compacted and will eventually lead to the reed falling into the bag. When you seat the reed in the bottom of the drone, you should be able to hold the drone upside down by the reed. You can even shake it a little. If it is tight there will be no separation. There is nothing more embarrassing then your drone reeds falling into your bag and you losing compression during your set. During this phase is also the time to re-voice your reeds, making sure that the pitch and the volume are uniform. More about that in another post.

Finally, after dressing the pipes with the bag cover, you might go back and make sure that your cords are tight. You should have on hand a package of “wire ties” for this purpose. They can be purchased at any hardware store. When you’ve done all of this, you are ready to go.

By the way, if you play the pipes for money on a regular basis, you should have a regular “bagpipe inspection” as you are only as good as your last performance and shoddy maintenance makes for poor performances.  You should also own a good maintenance kit.

An Apology is in Order

ryanttbagpipes Dear Blog Followers and Customers,

I have done a lot of things over the years.  One time I tried to teach my Son how to play the pipes.  You can see our result by the picture on the left.  Actually, he did eventually learn to play in his teens.  He would be a great piper if he practiced, however he is too busy pursuing his own musical career.

I think that an apology is in order.  During the week between Christmas and New Years, I attempted to redesign my website “BagpipeBand.Com”.  I renamed it “Bucks County Bagpipes” as the majority of my teaching and playing business is here in Bucks County, PA.  The result was that I made a website too hard for you all to navigate and as a result you have taken your business elsewhere.  For that I am truly sorry.   I am in the process of finding the right person to rebuild this website so that it is a good, easy functioning vehicle for you to receive the products and services that you deserve.  I’m always open to suggestions.  In the meantime, (until I get this website up and functioning) if there is anything that I can do for you, please fill out the form below and I will respond immediately.  I appreciate all of the business that we’ve done and look forward to serving you better in the future.


“The 2/4 March Makes Bagpipe Boys into Bagpipe Men!”


This video is one of 4 that I made to teach people how to learn a 2/4 Competition Style March.  It’s the rhythm patterns that allude most people.  Here are the sheets that you will need to follow the videos:

Scots Guards March Through Jerusalem

14) Rhythm Patterns

After seeing the first video, if you are interested in more information and to see the other 3 videos, just fill out the form below and you will be directed to the next chapter.


Are you stumped by the 2/4 March?

This video is one of 4 that I made to teach people how to learn a 2/4 Competition Style March.  It’s the rhythm patterns that allude most people.  Here are the sheets that you will need to follow the videos:

Scots Guards March Through Jerusalem

14) Rhythm Patterns

After seeing the first video, if you are interested in more information and to see the other 3 videos, just fill out the form below and you will be directed to the next chapter.


The Truth About Gigging

garyatweddingI have taught many people throughout the last 17 years.  A lot of my students have been intrigued by the thought of playing for money.  My colleagues and I in the bagpipe performing business have seen a lot of people come and go in that time.  The problem is that many bagpipers believe that all they need is a set of pipes, a kilt and some business cards and then they’re in business, ready to play for money.  So, for all of you who are thinking about entering this market, I thought that I would give you a preview.  Don’t quit your day job yet.

 The first thing that you MUST be before entering the market is an accomplished bagpiper.   What does that mean?  You, as a piper, should be able to play all genres of bagpipe music.  That means, in addition to the 4/4 march, you should be able to play marches in all meters, strathspeys, reels, hornpipes and jigs, and maybe even a little Piobareachd to develop your musicality.  You should have a very long list of tunes that you can play to cover any type of event.  Playing “Scotland the Brave” over and over again won’t cut it.  You also need to be an experienced bagpipe technician as you can’t afford a bagpipe failure during a performance.  If you are a truly honest individual, you will make sure you can do all of the above before taking your first paying job.  I’ve seen too many people enter the market who shouldn’t be in it, taking advantage of a customer’s  naiveté about bagpipes and bagpipe music.  That’s too bad as the public should get the best of what the bagpipe world has to offer..100% of the time.

 The majority of our gigs are once-in-a-lifetime events for most people:  Usually they are funerals, weddings and parties.  If you’re not the best bagpiper and performer that you can be, you shouldn’t be in the market.  It’s not easy money.  This person is paying you to do something almost sacred for them.  For example, there’s a certain demeanor that you must have when discussing a funeral with a family member of the deceased.  You need to know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.  In most cases, this person has never hired a bagpiper before.  You need to make them feel that they are getting the best person for this job.  If you think that maybe you can wing it, you will be one of those people that we’ll see come and go.  In the funeral market, the funeral directors know who we are and what we can do; they know who is good and who is not.  They are the gate keepers in this market as the majority of funerals are booked through them.

 Weddings are another story.  Again, most people have no idea what a bagpiper does at a wedding and how the piper and pipes should be used.   It’s my job as the bagpiper to educate the bride and groom on how the bagpiper works into their wedding.  I do what an organist would do if they were at a church.  The bagpipes, in a lot of situations, are the only music played at a wedding, especially if the event is outside.  That being the case, I explain exactly how the process works before I give the price.  (As a business person, if I am going to invest 5 hours away from my family on a Saturday and drive umpteen miles to the gig, I’d better be in charge of the rate of return on that investment.) You might consider taking a Sales 101 course.  If I explain to the bride and groom exactly what I am going to do, it is only then that I give them the price.  To be honest, any price that I quote them is miniscule compared to what they have already been charged by the florist and caterer.  I personally want to get as much as I can on a Saturday trip away from my family.  I also want to be fair.  I also tell all prospective brides and grooms that they shouldn’t hire anyone that they can’t see perform first.   Sometimes hiring that “friend of the family” is a bad idea.

 Look, I’m realistic too.  There has to be a point where a new bagpiper can come into the market.  If you think that you’d like to compete for business someday, maybe you should consider competing in solo competition.  Knowing that you have to prepare music by a certain date is a goal.  It gives you a reason to practice and learn new music.  Remember, you’re only as good as your last performance.  The bottom line is that the market place will determine your success or failure and whether or not your are ready to play for money on a regular basis!