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!

The Value of Books

Scots Guards Book 1

Scots Guards Book Volume 1

Burt Mitchell Books


The Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor

If you are a bagpiper, I have a question for you: How well do you know the bagpipe literature? When I started playing way back when, the second book that I purchased was the “Scots Guards Volume 1”. I paid $7.95 for it. Today it sells for $60.00. That’s inflation! I was a very determined bagpiper back then. I couldn’t get it fast enough.

I had days that I designated as “sight reading days”. I wanted to be able to play in any band that I chose. If I was able to read and learn the music on my own, I was better prepared to compete for a spot in the band then perhaps someone who was dependent on someone else teaching them the music. On these days, I took the Scots Guards Book and started with the first tune and often played the first part of each tune in the book. I marked tunes that I liked. That did a few things for me: It gave me an idea of what tunes to come back to and learn, and over a period of time it made it possible for me to read and play any tune.

When I competed back in the 70’s, it was during these sight reading days that I discovered that year’s 2/4 competition march, the Strathspey, the Reel, the Hornpipe and the Jig that I would be playing. As I ran out of some of those genres I would buy another book or collection. I purchased the William Ross Collection, which contained 5 books. I paid $2.25 per book back then. I recently saw a listing for his Book 1 at $26.95. Another great investment not only in my music education but a financial one too, if I ever decided to sell them. I think I paid $9.95 for my Kilberry Book back then. Unfortunately, it was stolen last year. Today, that book sells for close to $70.00!

The point is that purchasing bagpipe books is a good step towards developing your bagpipe playing skills. This is definitely an area that you don’t want to skimp on Today, one of the best deals around are the Burt Mitchell Books. As they are published on inexpensive paper and not parchment, you and your teacher can write in these books and not feel like you are destroying a masterpiece. My only regret about Burt’s series is that he didn’t do a Dancing Tune Book. It would have been great if he had arranged some Strathspeys, Reels, Hornpipes and Jigs. Maybe that’ll be my next project.

Poor Bagpipe Inflation Could be Symptom of Low “P”!

I learn an awful lot of stuff from my students.  I personally believe that the Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland is physically one of the hardest instruments to play.  As I said in the last post, I can tell from the condition of a student’s bagpipe what their activity for the week has been.  In order to play the bagpipe, you need to have the “bagpipe trifecta” going for you.  You need a strong lip, a lot of breath and a strong arm for the bag.  The lip and the lungs are developed on the practice chanter, provided that you inhale fully and play through as much of the tune as you can on one breath.  As you can’t tongue the bagpipe, where you take a breath has nothing to do with the music.  The lip is the timer.  How long is your lip?  If you play until your lip gives out, when you start to sputter each time you practice, the length of that time interval will get longer and longer.  If you have strong breath support and a good lip, it will mean very little work for your arm.  Again, we want to blow hard enough to create “psi”.  We want to blow up to 110% and squeeze down to 105%.  You don’t get “psi” until you’ve blown up beyond 100% capacity.

The truth is this: If you are struggling to maintain full bagpipe inflation, it may be due to low “P”.  “P” stands for practice!  You don’t need drugs or steroids.  There is no trick to making this happen, what you need to do is practice every day.  You chose to do this.  You can’t give playing the bagpipes a try.  With that attitude you’ll never succeed.  I would say that if you gave it 110% for a year, you will see tremendous results.  What does that mean?  You need to find “bits” of time to practice on a daily basis.  Start by practicing your practice  chanter until your lip gives out.  You will start to sputter at your limit.  If have a two minute lip, play to that point, put it down and come back to it.  Use your nonproductive time to do this.  You might find that when you add all of this up, you might just be practicing for 30 to 45 minutes per day.  If you have pipes, your lip will also be the gauge to determine your limit. You’ll never get anywhere if you wait until the day before your lesson to practice.  As I’ve said before:  “my job is to teach you how to practice this week”.  If you follow your teacher’s program and do something every day you will succeed!

Remember:  Poor bagpipe inflation could be a symptom of low “P”!