Teaching The Young Piper

Table of contents: Current update (12/00)
Introduction (9/99)
Motivation - your Solo competition (4/98) Equipment
Motivation - their Lessons Reeds (5/98)
Learning attitude (4/98) Practise Physical concerns (5/98)
Time table Teachers (4/99) a tune (4/98)
Piping Schools (4/98) Tuning (5/98) Real life  (4/98)

This page was created 4/98 - dates indicated changed or added subjects. Yes, much has changed as my girls get older, but I think the (old) content here is still of value - so I will leave it as it is.

Visitors since 4/98:

Bob dunsire Passed away Nov 6 2006. We have left this page here for all to explore.

Introduction:

bdxm98wr.jpg (6584 bytes)I (Bob Dunsire 1953-2006) am trying to help, trying to provide information and answers to questions faced by parents of youngsters interesting in becoming pipers.  I have two daughter that play the pipes, they are proficient in their piping, and they both love playing.  I am not claiming to be an expert in the subject of bagpiping children, I know there are many piping teachers and pipe band leaders with years of experience, great success, and tremendous credentials in this subject area. I do have experience in teaching piping to children, I consider my experiences to be quite good, and like any parent I have opinions.

My motivation to create this web page was very simple:

I have received many questions on the subject (piping and children) from parents, and I've had a positive response to the idea of sharing some of my experiences and ideas.  The questions from others come often from viewers of my family bagpipe web page, where I've given an overview and highlights of my family's piping experiences to date.

I consider this web page to be a work in progress.

This web page has grown to its current size as a result of suggestions and questions from readers.  Much of what you'll see / read is a result of  those questions or suggested subject matter from readers.

(The picture above is a favorite family piping picture (I used it to create the AEJ Pipe Band page).  Alison (10 at the time) is on 'pipes', Elizabeth (8 at the time) is on 'drum', and Joey (5 months) is following.)

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Motivation - the parent: (What do you want?)

I think this is the big question - what does the parent want?

Is it a cultural thing?  Band participation is not important, solo competition does not matter?  This is both the easiest and quite difficult.  The good news: It will be easy to find a teacher and get the youngster started.  The bad news: It may be difficult to keep the motivation at a level that will result in their actually playing the pipes.

Play in a  (juvenile) band?  This is probably the most common. The good news: If available, juvenile bands usually have fairly good teachers (some are outstanding), and they have a great deal of experience in teaching youngsters.   Other youngsters make the experience quite enjoyable from a social perspective. For the first few years of learning, there is a substantial support network available through the bands. The bad news:  Your child may just be one of many - at first at least. These bands may play a numbers game such as start 50 on chanter, and 25 will make it to the pipes.  They may have a master plan / cookie cutter approach -  such as a specific time required to be on chanter, a specific time required to get onto the pipes (to get all three drones and the chanter going), a specific age before allowing them to start on the pipes, etc..  Also, these bands may not always be where you want your children; look carefully and objectively at the band, some are outstanding, a few are frightening.

Go as far as they can in piping? This is the big challenge in my opinion. If this is the choice, you must find (or provide) excellent instruction from day 1.  Few things in piping make me more sad than seeing highly motivated youngsters held back because of the limitations of their teacher.  You must find good teachers (not just teachers), and you must be prepared to change instructors if you encounter a limitation in the teacher. (I gave up Alison as my student when she approached my skill level).  You must also make the difficult choices; you must decide what is best for your child, because only you have their best interest in mind.  It is sad but true - some teachers that seem very good actually may have hidden agendas; it can break your child's heart when the agenda becomes clear. The good news: If you provide excellent instruction, progress is breathtaking.  The bad news:   It can be extremely inconvenient and expensive. (Alison's light music teacher is 440 miles from our house! Piobaireachd - we have traveled more than 1000 miles - one way!)

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Motivation: (How does one get the young piper started?)

As the parent of young pipers (who obviously love playing the pipes), a question I'm often asked is 'How do you (or did you) motivate your daughters to take up the pipes?'

In our case there are a series of answers:

Family example: Both daughters grew up listening to bagpiping, and seeing / hearing me play the pipes.  For as long as they can remember, we've been attending Highland games.  They thought this was quite normal, and they have enjoyed hearing the pipes for a long time.

Musical background: Both girls took piano lessons from about the age of 4 until they were about 10. I think a musical background and knowledge is important, and I think the piano is a strong starting point for any other instrument. 

Their idea to play the chanter:  Quite naturally I wanted them both to play the pipes, but I didn't push them into it.  I did influence them, help them, support, and guide them, but ultimately it was their choice to play the pipes.

Once they take the bait, set the hook.  Not really, however until they were actually playing the pipes and competing, I regularly had to remind them that this was  just for fun, and we were going to do the 'bagpipe lifestyle' with or without their participation (I was going to continue to play - I thought, and we would still go to the games).  Once they start actually playing and competing, the internal motivation kicks into high gear.

Bands or no bands?  Our daughters have played in bands, but their love of bagpiping has absolutely nothing to do with participation in bands. I think, based on what I've seen, that this is very uncommon.  Most young pipers I've seen have been taught and brought up in a band environment.  I was not in a band when either of my daughters started playing, so they've always seen bands as an extra, not a required part of the bagpiping experience. Again, sad but true - 'hot' little pipers can be treated well and supported by / in a band, they can also be treated amazingly badly.  This is difficult for the parent, but you must watch band participation carefully.  My advise is simple here: Don't accept bad things from or in  a band.

Alison's start: Alison first expressed an interest in the chanter when she was 8, and played the chanter for a few weeks, then she stopped.  About a year later she tried again, and her interest that time lasted about a month.  A few months later she started up 'in earnest' while we were on vacation in our motorhome. This time we spent an hour or so every day playing together on the chanters, just having fun - nothing organised.  After the vacation ended, I started giving her lessons, and she was on her way.  Good or bad, I had never taught a child before, so I had expectations that were a bit aggressive, but she met them.  Alison was playing the pipes (all 3 drones) within 5 months of  starting 'in earnest' on the chanter - she was 10.

Liz's start: Elizabeth first expressed interest in the chanter at age 9.  She was really more interested in drumming (I think primarily because her sister chose the pipes), so she was a drummer for about 18 months. Midway through her drumming time, she again expressed interest in the pipes.  She started rather casually on the chanter, and continued off and on the chanter for about 6 months.  She was also more casual than Alison when she finally got to the pipes, taking one break of more than 2 months before she chose to become a piper and retire as a drummer. (I forced her to choose between piping and drumming, she was doing both, but each was, I felt, holding back the other.)  Liz was nearly 11 1/2 by the time she decided to be a piper.  She was playing the pipes (with all three drones) about 12 months after starting on the practise chanter 'in earnest'.

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A Time table: (What is to be expected?)

The following table is based upon my experience and observation.   I have seen pipers younger than 10, but most typically the young players that I observe move to the bagpipes between age 11 and age 15.   I think the table is reasonably self explanatory.

Age range: Milestone: Plan for: Daily Practise: Expect:
8-14 Practise Chanter 12-24 months 15-30mm some false starts
10-15 Bagpipes (PC + ) 6-12 months 15-45mm renewed motivation
11-16 Band / solo competition ready (Grade 4) (BP + ) 6-12 months 30-60mm  
13-18 *move to Solo Grade 3? 1-3 years in Gr 4 30-60mm 50% will do it
15-21+ move to Solo Grade 2? ? 2-3 years in Gr 3 60-90mm 25% will do it
17-21+ move to Solo Grade 1? ?? 60-90mm 12 % will do it
?? move to Open / Professional ??? ??? recording contracts

* Solo competition grades:  In the WUSPBA (Western US Pipe Band Association) nearly half of all solo pipers are in grade 4, nearly half of the remainder are in grade 3, nearly half of that remainder are in grade 2, and the remainder of that number are close to evenly split between grade 1 and Open / Professional.  In other words:  In the Western USA, approximately 50% of the competitive solo pipers are grade 4, 25 % are grade 3, 12% are grade 2, 7% are grade 1, and  6% are Open / Professional.  Moving up through the solo grades should not be taken for granted, but it is a reasonable goal.

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Solo competition: (Some  of my thoughts )

Why move up in solo competition grades?

In my view (the view that dictates my daughters' progression), one moves up in solo grade to continue to be challenged, and this occurs when one is easily winning, and regularly winning in the current grade.  I don't think there should be any other criteria - is the current grade a challenge? If so, stay.  If not, and it is because you know you will win, then you should move up - and  have some humble pie.

Why compete solo?

In my view, solo competition is simply a test of (a benchmark of) piping skills progression.  Solo players are testing themselves, and they should be receiving clear feedback on their individual efforts to improve.  The solo grades are there simply to protect the less skilled from the more skilled, and the overall goal is simply to get a good as you can or want.  Winning in a grade should never be the goal, and in fact if winning is taken for granted, bad things often follow.

As soon as winning begins to occur regularly, it is time to step up to a new challenge, a new grade.  Age, sex, experience, confidence, and ego should not be a part of the decision in my view - it is simply accomplishment, if skilled enough, go to the next level for the challenge.  

Open (or Professional) is another story - there, and only there does winning mean something.  In the solo grades a winner could also be considered to be one who 'cherry picks' - one who should be in a higher grade, but stays back so they can 'win'.  Did you win because you were very good, or because you were in a lower grade than was appropriate?  In Open / Professional this is not a question - no one hides in Open, and the winner is VERY GOOD, so only in Open does winning mean something. (IMHO)

Alison and solo competition: (A 13 year old California girl in Grade 1? - What, is he crazy?)

Alison  loves the bagpipes, and she plays them because she wants to.  On those rare occasions where she complained about her 'required practise', she heard 'OK, then don't practise'. On those rare occasions where she complained that 'you make me play the bagpipes' she heard: 'OK, stop playing, quit'. When faced with a 400+ mile drive (each way) to get her solo lessons, she never complained. She has had her love of piping tested many times, (far too many for someone her age), and she really, truly, honestly, loves to play the bagpipes.

Part of my job as parent is to keep roadblocks from the path of my children.  In the case of Alison and bagpiping, this has meant keeping her challenged.  

I think it is a wonderful environment (solo piping competition) for my daughters - I know of no other field where only skill is considered - age, strength, sex, experience, none of these matter, only skill.  Alison earned her way into grade 1, quickly yes, but it was based only on skill, and she is having a great deal of fun.

It is interesting that each time I allowed Alison to move up in solo grade I  was criticized.  I allowed Alison to move into Grade 3 when she was only 11, because she was winning in Grade 4, and Grade 3 offered an additional challenge. I allowed Alison to move into Grade 2 when she was only 12, but again she was winning, and Grade 2 offered more of a challenge. (I never wanted Alison to think of winning awards or trophies as her goal; improving is the goal.) I allowed Alison to move into Grade 1 when she was only 13, but she was winning (easily) in grade 2.  She felt strange when she won events knowing she was not playing her best.  Her motivation for piping was actually going down quite quickly because she was winning so easily in Grade 2.

Since the beginning of her piping 'career', the goal I've asked her to aim for is simply to get as good as she can.  I've told her she, and only she, limits how far she can go.  She believes me (aren't kids great?)

(4/11/98 - update - Alison placed 2nd in Grade 1 Jig at the BC Pipers' 66th Annual Gathering - 25 players in Grade 1 - she still believes me.)

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Lessons: (Objectives for / from the lessons)

I think the new student should know it will take a year or two to get to play tunes on the pipes reasonably well, shorter time if they work harder than average, longer if they work less than average.  I think they should expect to spend at least 1/2 of every practise (or at least 15 minutes) just doing drills, and they should expect to do this until they retire from piping.  (Yes, my grade 1 solo daughter still spends at least 15 minutes every day on drills - on the pipes)

Everything can be broken down into drills, and just about everything is. As an example a grip starts with a drill of  'any / every note to low g', and the drill is up and down the scale, going to low g.  Once the crossing noises stop (this can take a month or more), the other grace notes to complete a grip are added. Any time any fingering problem is encountered (crossing noises are pretty common), everything is broken down into simple drills, and slowed down.

I don't teach tunes until most basics have been mastered.

I expect the student to want to play the chanter, and to want to learn to play the pipes, and I haven't been disappointed. I can't make them want it.

Typical progression for the first two years (your mileage will vary):

Year 1 - Practise chanter only:

Weekly lesson (30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes - depends on student)

Practise (up to 120 minutes a week ;15 - 20 minutes a day;  most days)

at 1 month - Proper hand position, complete scale, simple 'g' grace notes, scale with simple grace notes

at 6 months - most light music grace notes, note values / counting, music reading, simple tune(s) on the chanter

at 1 year - all light music grace notes, many tunes on chanter, good basics, ready for 'pipes'

Year 2 - Practise chanter and pipes:

Weekly lesson (60 minutes - practise chanter and pipes)

Practise (up to 180 minutes a week; 30 minutes a day; most days)

at 1 month - Pipe chanter (goose) alone - good position, sounding chanter for minutes at a time. Practise chanter and goose doing drills without blowing - fill the bag and squeeze.

at 6 month - chanter and 3 drones - able to play simple tune(s), solo pipe competition if interested.

at 1 year - reasonably steady tone, able to play many simple tunes on pipes.  Doing well in grade 4 if competing solo. (Ready to start Piobaireachd)

A note: My spinal problems make teaching (sitting) quite painful for me. I have dropped all of my adult students, and rather than stopping the teaching of young beginners, Alison is taking over - I assist and guide her, but she is taking on the teaching  task.  At this time she has 4 students, and only one is younger.   It (her age) does not seem to be a problem.  

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Learning attitude:  (No, not that, I mean the attitude that will help the young one to learn)

It is easy at first: Each new student is very willing to listen, to keep their minds open, and to try whatever the teacher suggests.  The new students seldom have any 'learning ego'.  The only exceptions I've seen comes when a new piping student has experience in an instrument that they feel will give them a head start with the chanter - the flute as an example.  I've experienced a 'learning ego' from a new student who was skilled with the flute, she felt she knew better than I did, when it came to finger positions on the chanter.  This held her back and slowed her progress considerably.

Try to prevent the 'learning ego':  I mean - when we think we know something there is a tendency to justify or explain our view or our thoughts, rather than simply listening with an open mind, and not allowing any 'ego' into the process.  This one thing (what I call the learning ego) will slow progress as quickly as anything can.  Explain to your youngster that their job is to listen and learn, the teacher is the expert, and nothing personal is meant in lesson, don't have your feelings hurt by anything said or done in lessons.  The closer they can come to keeping feeling and ego out of lesson, the faster they will progress.

An example: I think one of the primary reasons Alison has progressed so quickly in her piping is that she has absolutely no 'learning ego'.  An example came over a weekend while I was writing this: At her light music lesson, after all her chanter work was done, she got onto the pipes.  At one point she played one of her solo jigs for her teacher. She had one little choke, and missed (3) grace notes.  Her teacher told her in very clear terms that there was no reason to ever choke, and that she messed up three triplets by missing the grace notes.  She was told 'Come on Alison, you can do a lot better than that'.  So, she did.  No big deal, no hurt feelings, nothing but 'OK, you're right. I'll do it again'.  I talked with Alison about this on the drive home (7 hours to get home, we talk about a lot of stuff), and she had no problem and no feelings at all about this.  The teacher was correct after all.   (A small confession: I'm only 1 for 2 in teaching this to my girls - Elizabeth does have times when her feelings are hurt during lesson, and it does slow her progress)

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Equipment: (Meeting the special needs of 'little people')

Practise chanter:  Buy a very inexpensive plastic chanter.  Buy a few spare  PC reeds.  The chanter will be dropped (accidentally) many times, and reeds (even though they're plastic) will somehow be mangled from time to time.  They're kids after all.

Hand position:  If their hands are small, they'll have to put more of their fingers onto the chanter than would be required of a larger hand.  As an example, Alison learned to play with the second knuckle on both hands over the holes - it was the only way she could get proper coverage of all of the holes. She still plays that way -  I don't think this is good or bad, just required for smaller hands.

The bag:  If you can't tie it on yourself, you must at least learn where to tie it on for your child. Rather than use the 'standard' positions for drones and blowstick, you'll have to move everything forward to fit your child.  As an example: When Alison was 11, her drones were tied in 10" behind the chanter stock. This was about 2 3/4 inches forward of the 'standard' drone position. The blowstick was then placed midway between drone and chanter - as would be standard. Depending upon the style of bag, the blowstick may be partly into the neck of the bag - it still works, but the moisture from blowing may be a bit more of a problem. FYI: Alison has played 6 different bags in her 3 years on the pipes - now she is using standard size bag, and standard tie in locations, because she is now 'standard size' herself. (Alison  has always played sheepskin bags- yes that is a lot of money on sheepskin, I may have her pay for them in the future.)

The blowstick: Will likely be very short.  Buy an adjustable blowstick, one that can be very short. Pay careful attention to the chanter position when your child play the pipes. If the blowstick is too long, the chanter will be quite low, and quite far away / down.  You want comfort.  I have about 10 blowstick pieces that I use to put together custom length blowsticks for my girls.  About every 6 months a length adjustment was made.  Each new bag required a new blowstick length too.

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Tuning (Who does what, when? The young 'ear')

Better pipers have better ears, they hear things that regular people or regular pipers can't hear.  An important part of the development of your young piper must be the development of their 'ear'.

Drones: By  the time the young pipers are playing at the grade 3 level, they should be able to do coarse drone tuning on other pipers, and maybe even a little for themselves.  (It is easier, at this point of development to tune others).

By the time they are playing at the grade 2 level they should be capable of  tuning their own drones, and doing this fairly often.

By the time they are playing at the grade 1 level, they should be very good and confident in tuning their own drones.

Chanter: I think all players (even non players) have opinions on what is 'good tone'.  Only as the piper progresses through the skill levels do they really recognise their own good tone.  I know of many grade 2 players that have little understanding of good tone, or how to get it.  This lack of knowledge will hold their progress back.

By grade 2 the young piper should recognise good chanter tone, and recognise specific note tuning changes required.  By grade 2 the young piper should have learned how to set the chanter reed properly, and should be reasonably comfortable with tape for note pitch changes.

By grade 1 the young piper (probably not young at this point) should be quite good at setting up their chanter - selecting reeds, setting reeds, and modifying the chanter sound to get the right tone from every note.  Grade 1 pipers should be self sufficient.

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Reeds  (some thoughts, suggestions, experiences)

Practise Chanter reed:  We reduce the volume of air and volume of sound of the practise chanter by using small rubber bands (from ortho braces), fairly tightly wound onto the reed.  This rubber banding also will change the pitch of the reed, but we use it mainly for reducing air and volume. Typically we slide the band up to about 3/4 to 1/2 inch from the top of the reed - yes, blowing a bit too hard will shut it down when it is 'banded' up this much.

Drone reeds: There are a number of manufactured drone reeds available - your young piper's life will be more simple if they use these in the early year(s).  Alison has always used cane (I didn't know any better), but Liz is using Wygents.  I think, in the earlier grades (4 and 3) that 'synthetic' reeds are the way to go.  Cane is a lot more work, and there are enough things to work on in the early years. 

Pipe Chanter reed: In the early days (first month or two) on the pipes, there is probably no hope of a good sound, so use reeds of reasonable strength for the youngster.  Reasonable? The young piper will gain strength very quickly - so you'll have to have a few reed for them (I typically keep at least 6 new reeds on hand for each of my daughters).  If, after a week of working on it (practise), they can not make a sound  for more than a few seconds at a time - the reed is too hard.  When they can go for minutes at a time, it is appropriate to try to get a better sound - and you'll want to!

Reed strength: You do not want your youngster to play too hard a reed, but you also don't want them to play too easy a reed either.  Good sound is not possible from a weak reed, but good sound can come from easier reeds.  In the early days, any reed will seem too difficult, but after blowing strength comes, your youngster will need to have good reeds (tone).  At some point good tone is the primary desire, and having the strength to blow harder reeds will be a decided advantage to any young player - a greater selection of good tone reeds will be available to them. (Both of my daughters are capable of playing 'adult hard strength' reeds, however Liz plays what I'd call 'adult  easy - with good tone', and Alison plays what I'd call 'great tone, adult medium strength')

Making the pipe chanter  reed easier -  wet it, under a tap or lick its end - the lips, it will return to its original strength when it dries.

A squeeze will also weaken the reed for a while, too hard a squeeze (you probably can't actually do this) will crush the reed, and permanently damage it. The squeeze is at the fat part of the reed - this will often change the tone of the reed, for a while.

Finding appropriate strength reeds is difficult when the youngster is learning how to blow and is gaining blowing strength.  A reasonable starting point can be found by selecting a reed that the youngster is able to make a sound from by blowing as hard as they can - the reed should be held by hand, between the youngsters lips, and a great effort on their part should result in a sound.  (As it warms up the reed will become a bit easier, and in the pipes it is also a bit easier).  If they can blow through the 'crow' sound easily, the reed is too easy. (You'll recognise the 'crow' sound, and it is what you should listen for in this test of reed strength)

You can not assume the reed will get easier to blow as it ages - in most cases this is true, but some reed makers product is characterized by getting harder to blow as they 'break in'.  Usually this is not the case, but be aware that it does happen.  Try to find the appropriate strength reed, and be ready to replace it when needed.

Shaving / scraping / sanding - if you know what you're doing, this is a permanent change to the reed (actually it is permanent regardless of your knowledge - you will destroy a number of reeds learning this process - I mean you'll change the sound or strength to something you don't like.)  There are an amazing number of ways to alter the sound of the reed by sanding / shaving / scraping / ... - Related to leaving the reed's tone alone, but making the reed easier to blow, here is one way: Take a very small amount off  the fat part of the reed (the sound chamber portion, not the lips) - do not take any off the edges, and take very small amounts of material - a single scrape on each side with a knife, or two to three scrape with a nail file as an example.  Test often because it is very difficult to put the material back.

If this isn't clear, or does not make sense, send me a message, I'll redo it.

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Physical concerns: (What will this do to their developing bodies?)

I am not a professional in this area (either).  There is a considerable physical effort required in order to play the pipes,  so for the youngster we should be cautious. I have observed, and / or suspect the following: 

Good: Lungs, lips, left arm, hands, fingers.

Bad: Teeth (don't chew or bite the blowstick), neck (maintain proper posture, keep muscles tight), cheeks (try to not balloon / puff out), uneven back muscles (stretch before and after playing the pipes), uneven arm / shoulder muscles (stretch and exercise), hearing (watch this, very carefully if a band member).

Exercises will help balance the muscle development.

More to come later..

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Practise:

Help them pick out a regular time: A routine time is best for them I think.  My daughters currently practise (on the pipes) between 4:30 to 5:30 on weekdays - we found  after dinner / evening practises to be a bit more hectic, and the afternoon seems more relaxed.  Alison also plays between 7:00 to 8:00 PM most nights.  They try to get a 'good 45 minutes' out of the hour.  Alison tries to get a 'good hour and a half' out of her two hours.

Help them schedule the time: Both girls start with drills.  Liz spends 5 minutes at the start and the end of her practise simply holding a steady tone. (Alison also did this until she moved to Grade 1)  Liz then spends 5 minutes doing drills and  continues to try to be steady. Then play tunes.  Liz also works on the practise chanter 2 or 3 nights a week, Alison plays on the practise chanter every day - but she is learning a bunch of new music (50 new tunes to learn for the band she wants to join).  Alison plays at least one Piobaireachd a night (she has 3 for competition), and all her solo competition tunes at least 3 times (2 MSR, 3 Jigs, 2 HP, 2 6/8 Marches), and she plays fun stuff each evening too.

Listen to them:  It is fun for you (it should be), and they appreciate the feedback and attention. I'd guess I listen to about 25% of their practises - part of my listening is just for the pure enjoyment of hearing the pipes, part is to try to help.

There is no substitute for time on the pipes.

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Selecting Teachers:  (Some of my thoughts)

They need one:  I think piping students, regardless of how great the band experience, will do better if they have a solo teacher.  If the band environment offers individual / solo instruction, then nothing more may be required. Remember - the better the instruction, the better the progress.

Solo teacher vs. band: I have encountered this as a conflict, and it was a very sad situation. There should not be a problem with solo and band instruction, the goal is simply to help the youngster improve. The solo teacher's job is to help the student get better in all aspects of piping, while the band might be a bit more focused - band tunes only as an example.  In my experience, band members with their own 'private' teacher progress more quickly than band only students.

Watch for 'my way or the highway' style of teaching, or leadership.

How do you find a teacher? Find pipers, ask them.Go to a highland games, find a band from your area, ask band members.  Or - contact a local Scottish Supplies store, ask them.  Or - find a local band, ask them.  Or - do an Internet search for a local band.  Or - Internet search for a local Pipe Band Association. Or - check the Teachers section of the Bagpipe Web Directory.  It won't be that difficult to find a teacher. Most teachers are very willing to take on children as students.

How do you find a good teacher?  This may be a bit more difficult.  At higher levels of student skill it is even more difficult.  Talk to many people, and be prepared for inconveniences.  I think having no teacher is better than having a bad teacher.  A bad or poor teacher could kill all love or interest in piping.

Questions to get answered: You must be involved at this level. I think you should get answers to most of these questions, but your view of the significance of the answers may be different than mine. These are also ongoing questions. Some things to think about.... 

Why is this teacher available? (Does this remind you a bit of WC Fields? 'I wouldn't join any club that would have me?') What is the reputation of the teacher?

Does this teacher have other students?  Like your youngster? For how long? What is the track record of those students?

How long has the teacher been doing this?  Is he / she still actively involved in piping?

Band affiliation? (Could be good or bad) Band rivalries?

How far can the teacher take your youngster?  How good was / is the teacher as a player? (It is unlikely they can teach much beyond their own skill level)

Is this (piping) the teacher's life?  Is this their job? (Could be good or bad, just be aware)

Does the teacher have bad things to say about other pipers, other bands, other teachers?

Us vs them - does the teacher ever talk this way?

Does the teacher play favorites? (While it may be nice if your child is the favorite, even that can cause social problems down the road for the child.)

How does your child feel about the teacher? Do you like the teacher as a person?

Lesson costs?  (Here in western the Western USA or Canada I know of  lessons priced from $5 an hour to $30 (US) - I charge $20 -  I'd wonder about the $5, and wonder about the $30)

How long with a teacher? As long as you are happy with the teacher, and your youngster is happy, and you are both happy with progress (if you get to choose).  Your child may have multiple teachers over their 'learning career' - just be aware of that.

It can break you child's heart: Be aware that  (over time) your child will probably really look up to their piping teacher.  Are you happy with that?  

The teacher may be trying to be more than a teacher. (EG: friend, mentor, roll model) Are you  happy with that?  

The teacher can chose to terminate the 'relationship' at any time, for any reason / or no reason, and the result can be your child's broken heart. If your child is in the teacher's band, the youngster will be out of the band at the same time.

Why travel a long way for lessons?

A teacher may exist locally (with the piping skills needed) but you don't want your child exposed to the teacher or their band. One of those parental choices.

No local teachers with the needed  piping skills - I feel a teacher should be significantly more skilled than the student.

Brand name teachers - World class teachers are available much more often than you'd expect.

Band affiliations - good and bad.

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Piping Schools:  (My views and experiences)

The formative days: As soon as your youngster is on the pipes, I think a specialized piping school is a tremendous 'value'.  I know students of all levels attend piping schools, but in my view these schools are best for learning after the student is able to play the pipes (at least a little).  There is so much to learn to get to the point of playing the pipes, having that mastered before attending a piping school is a good goal in my view.

Piobaireachd and the youngster:  If they are exposed to Piobaireachd in the right environment (where people appreciate and love it - piping schools can offer this), there is no reason youngsters won't love and excel in Piobaireachd.  Alison really gained a love of and appreciation for Piobaireachd at her first piping school - (The College Of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada- Summerside PEI) - she had just turned 11 at the time.  Elizabeth is learning Piobaireachd from us (Alison and me) at this time - it is not a big deal to Liz, she likes all types of piping.

Good Schools /  other schools:  I've taken my daughters to three piping schools - two were outstanding, one was  not.  Outstanding - College of Piping , PEI 1995, and Mastery of Scottish Arts, Washington 1998.  I won't give the name of the 'not' because it was only terrible for Alison, Liz had fun. I will offer suggestions so you can avoid the 'terrible experience'.

Selecting the school: Talk with people who've been to the school that you are considering.  Find out what type of person attends the school - are there others like your youngster (age, experience, skill)? (Some schools cater to beginners, some cater to adults, some are very social. You want to be certain that there will be others at the  skill level of your youngster - the teachers at these schools are nearly always great - but they are required to teach at whatever level the students require.  For beginners there should never be a problem.  For more advanced players, I suggest caution.

Our 'bad' experience occurred because the school catered to adult beginners, and had very few 'better' players.  Out of 60 (I think) students, my daughters were the youngest by far  -this should have been a concern.  Because my daughters were so young, they were placed in beginner classes.  This would not have been a problem, except the school 's advanced class was not too advanced, and that class was full at any rate.  After I talked with the organisers about the problems, all they could do was give us our money back.  You can imagine that the tuition money was the least of the problems / expenses we'd incurred for this school - we'd planned our summer vacation around it, etc.

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A tune:

It was suggested (by a reader of this page) that there would be interest in hearing Alison play a tune on her pipes - so in our 'computer room / office / spare bedroom'  last night (March 1998 - Alison was 13 at the time), using the $3 microphone that came with the computer, we recorded her playing a Strathspey that she plays in solo competition - Dornie Ferry. This WAV file is 193K - so if you're interested...  

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Real life: (Our family's view on what piping really means - I've been asked often)

Ours are (I guess) typical girls, they go shopping, they talk on the phone, they talk about boys, they listen to music, they talk on the phone, they go to movies, they buy things (music CDs, clothes, trinkets), they talk on the phone, they 'chat 'on AOL when I tell em to get off the phone, they go to school, they do homework,  they do chores, they play the piano, they play with their pets, and they play the bagpipes.

Fun: Both daughters have been told, since day 1, that this piping stuff  is just for fun. As I was told years ago, I've told them- you can take all your trophies, medals and other awards, and a dollar (actually it was a dime back then!), and you'll get a cup of coffee. If someone cares about your activities they will ask about them, if they don't ask, they probably don't really care.  A visitor to our house would know that piping is loved here - but  it would not be clear who plays.  Each year we take Alison and Liz's medals from the drawer and put them in a box.  All the trophies are on a dusty shelf.

School: It matters. Homework comes first, before practise, before lessons.  In fact, if school grades drop, the punishment will be missing piping competitions and highland games.  Both girls do very well in school.

Friends: Only their close friend are aware that our girls play the pipes, and they have no idea if our girls are any good at it.  If it were not for the times I pull them out of school to travel to competitions, there would be no way their teachers, or other students knew about their piping.

Future plans: Alison wants to be a doctor, Liz wants to be a vet.  Both are aware that piping may be put on hold for advanced education.  They are also aware that there are some scholarships available for piping.  Piping will probably be a part of their lives for a long time, but it is just fun, not the focus.

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An update on the Girls:

A question often asked is: 'what is the latest with your girls?' so:

December 2000 - I have a separate piping web page for each of them now: Alison - Elizabeth - And that is where I keep (sort of) current information on the girls.

aliz99.jpg (15983 bytes)An older update: From November 1999

Liz (on the left in the photo) was playing in a grade 4 band (Northwest MacGregor Pipe Band), and competing solo in Grade 3.   She was hoping to do well as a solo player in Grade 3 - which she did, and she moved to Grade 2 in the fall of 2000.

Piping is quite important to Liz, but I'd say it is about 4th or 5th on her personal list of priorities. She was, I'd guess, quite typical of a 13 year old piper.

Alison (at 15) continued to excel - this year she was the top Amateur Solo Piper  for the BC Pipers' Association (winner of the Grade 1 Grand Aggregate), and she was (still is)  the Pipe Major of the Grade 3 / Juvenile Robert Malcolm Memorial Pipe Band -   in Scotland this past summer (1999)  they won the Juvenile World Pipe Band Championship.

Piping is extremely important to Alison - she still wants to be a doctor, but piping falls right after school in her list of personal priorities - Horse riding is a fairly close third.

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Bob Dunsire