Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Give Green Bagpipe Gifts this Holiday Season!

You've come to the right place if you are looking for a green bagpipe related gift for someone you know.  Give a gift of Tune Lesson Downloads or Webcam Lessons which can both be enjoyed from the comfort of home with no travel or shipping required!   Check out all the gift options or go straight to the Gift Certificates page.

Also, if you live in the Seattle-area and would like to give the gift of a bagpipe performance check out Waste Free Holidays.  It's part of King County's annual program the offers discounts on gifts of "experiences instead of stuff."  Check it out!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hey Look! I'm on the cover!

Well... almost!
I didn't make the cover, but I did make the title page of Colin Baxter's new book Scottish Pipers.  Colin is probably Scotland's most famous photographer, you've likely seen his great images of castles, glens, and mountains on calendars, postcards, and coffee table books.  

The new book is his first on pipers and it has some great photographs.

The cover (with mandatory Royal Stewart tartan and feather bonnet):

The title page (yours truly piping at Glenfinnan.  A rare day of glorious sunshine!):

The back cover (more feather bonnets!):

Saturday, November 17, 2007

BagpipeLessons.com Survey

I hope you'll take a few moments to take my brief survey.  I've got some great ideas for features I'm hoping to add to the site.  Your response to a few questions will help guide the future of BagpipeLessons.com!

To take the survey click here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What is Piobaireachd?

Piobaireachd ("pee-brock") is the classical music of the great highland bagpipe. It is less commonly referred to as Ceol Mor, meaning Great Music. It is an entirely different from the category of music known as Ceol Beag (or Little Music) that includes marches, slow airs, and the various idioms of dance music (jigs, reels, strathspeys, and hornpipes).

Piobaireachd tunes are often several hundred years old, dating as far back as the 1400's. It is distinct from the other forms of Celtic music in that it is only traditionally played by a solo piper on the great highland bagpipe.

The tunes tend to be much longer than light music tunes, and feature a theme called the Ground or Urlar and several variations. The variations take the basic melody established in the ground and present it a variety of different rhythmic contexts with a variety of different technical embellishments. Common variations include the use of the Taorluath, Crunluath, and Crunluath-a-mach movements.

Piobaireachd tunes are often associated with particular individuals or clans or historic events. Colorful titles include: Too Long in this Condition, The Piper's Warning to his Master, The Lament for the Children, Beloved Scotland, The Little Spree.

Many pipers consider Piobaireachd to be the highest form of bagpipe music and also most satisfying and challenging to play. The world's most prestigious piping competitions, such as the Gold Medals at Inverness and Oban, are won by pipers who compete by playing Piobaireachd tunes.

I'm very pleased to offer for the first time Tune Lesson Downloads for Piobaireachd. The first batch of these tunes includes:
  • The Glen is Mine
  • The Little Spree
  • The Munros' Salute
  • Too Long in This Condition
With each Tune Lesson Download you receive:
  • A high-quality, studio-produced audio recording of your tune played by one of the world's top pipers.
  • A professionally-typset printed sheet music for your tune -- perfectly matched to the audio recording.
  • A detailed audio instructional lesson on the tune, including learning tips, practice strategies, suggestions for improvement, and demonstrations played on the practice chanter.
  • An additional sheet of BONUS written instructional materials related to your tune.
For more information on these tunes, please visit the BagpipeLessons.com Tune Downloads page.

Here's a complete list of all the tunes that you can download and print.

Here's a brief video of me playing some of the Piobaireachd Mary's Praise at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bagpipe Slipping?

My problem is that I can't keep the bag under my arm for very long at all. It starts to slip the moment I start playing. Help!

This is fairly common problem for pipers. It could be that your pipe bag is too large. Most people would do best with a small bag. If you are tall you might think about a medium size bag. (Only very tall should play a large bag, if anyone.) It could be that your blowpipe is too long. If you feel you have to stretch your neck to reach your blowpipe, it's probably too long and you ought to try a shorter one.

Even if your pipe bag and blowpipe are the perfect size, it could be that your bag cover is too loose or too slippery. A loose bag cover can be adjusted with a needle and thread (or get a smaller one) and slippery material can be fixed with some non-slip material from dycem.

Visit the Dycem home page. You'll want to get a non-slip reel in the color of your choice. Then you have to sew it on your bag cover.

Highland Gear makes nice covers and they can install dycem patches for you on both sides (arm side and body side).

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Videos

I've added four new videos to the Videos page.

Three are from the recent shows at the Kirkland Performance Center, the fourth is from the Skagit Valley Highland Games this past July.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sold Out Shows!

Last weekend's shows were a huge success. Both Friday and Saturday nights were sold out. Thanks to everyone who came out.

Here are some photos and a video from a friend who had front row seats.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

"Can't Even Make a Sound!"

I've received several emails lately that all go basically like this:

I bought some pipes on the internet a couple of days ago and I can't seem to make them work. I can't even make a sound. Is there something wrong with the pipes? Maybe the reeds? Is there some technique to learning to squeeze the bag?

Well the answer to the last question is: definitely YES. There's quite a lot of skill in keeping a steady pressure on the bag. It's one of the big hurdles that pipers overcome. Steady pressure means steady tone. The pressure in the bag is maintained by your arm, and you blow into the bag to keep it inflated. So you've got a constantly changing volume of air in the bag and you are trying to keep the pressure constant. It takes lots of skill which comes from good instruction and lots of practice.

But I think the big problem for many of these internet-purchased bagpipes are the pipes themselves. I previously posted about the ebay bagpipe phenomenon -- very poor Pakistani made bagpipe-like objects that are sold cheap and are non functional. It's not like a cheap guitar that will sound very bad but is still sort of playable. The pipes often come with bags that are not airtight and bad cane reeds that simply don't vibrate. If the bag doesn't hold air you've got no air pressure and hence no sound.

(Photo from Henderson Imports)

I once had a student who arrived to his first lesson with a set of pipes like this and he was determined to make them work. We did eventually get them to make a sound, but we had to buy a new bag ($200+) and new drone reeds ($100+) plus it took a couple of hours to get the whole thing set up.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Setting Up Drone Reeds

I came across this video tutorial from Pipe Dreams, the makers of the popular EzeeDrone brand of drone reeds. There some great detail here, regardless of the type of drone reeds you use. The video quality is nice and clear.

The basic steps are:

1. seat the reed solidly in your drone
2. adjust the bridle so the reed is taking the right amount of air pressure
3. adjust the tuning screw so the drone produces the right pitch

Watch the video.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How to Practice

I came across some great practice tips here. It has a great summary of some key points to consider when you are practicing. A few of the highlights:

-repetition is key to learning
-practicing a mistake makes it likely you'll make the same mistake again
-you can avoid mistakes by slowing it down and simplifying
-isolate the skill you are working on
-repeat until you've really got it

Read the entire article over at Heartwood Guitar

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Custom Tune Downloads

It's been almost a year and half since I launched the BagpipeLessons.com Tune Lesson Downloads. The tunes have proven to be a big success and I get emails almost daily with requests for tunes to be added to the list. Thank you!

I've also got requests from pipers asking for a Tune Lesson to be added right away because they have a competition or a performance or they just want to learn the tune right away. So, I made a few Custom Tune Lessons, for pipers who couldn't wait or pipers who wanted a lesson on their specific tune for whatever reason.

So, I've added page with info on these Custom Tune Lessons.

Check 'em out!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Upcoming Show

I'll be playing 3 nights in the Seattle area next month. I'll be performing solo and with other musicians as part of the tenth annual concert put on by the Keith Highlanders Pipe Band. The show has sold out the past several years, so get your tickets soon!

Click here for more info and tickets!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Scotland 2007 Recap

I just returned from another great trip to Scotland. As you might already know, I make the big trip every August to travel around the Highlands and compete at as many competitions as possible. There were some great highlights this year and here are a few...

I competed at the World Pipe Band Championships held at Glasgow Green on August 11, and we placed Second. We were second last year. It rained constantly through the whole day, and everyone was totally soaked. Full results here.

The BBC filmed the whole event and you can watch some clips at the BBC site. Like everything these days, you can find video clips of the worlds at YouTube, just search for the right keywords.

The day after the Worlds, I was headed for the Perth Games to defend my trophy of Piper of the Day from 2006. I received a text message on my phone that the games field was flooded and the games were cancelled. It was the first time I'd ever ben enroute to a games that was cancelled. Everything else in Scotland is rain or shine (more on that later). I learned a few days later that the entire field and car park were a complete mud bog.

Then it was up to the Highlands for a few days of practice, rest, scenery, and music at the pub. Kintail and Loch Alsh is really one of most beautiful places anywhere. Eilean Donan Castle is perhaps the most photographed castle in the world. Plockton is a cute village with a great pub and palm trees outside.

Friday August 17, I competed at the Glenisla Games -- a small games that has been held on the same spot on the banks of the Isla River for over 200 years. After the piper for the Highland dancers failed to show up, I was drafted for the job. What fun! I ended up with a first and second place in the open piping, and won the Piper of the Day trophy for the second time. Full results.

The following day was Glenfinnan -- the world's most scenic location for a piping competition. The boards are literally on the banks of Loch Shiel, in the shadow of the Bonnie Prince Charlie monument with the filming location of Harry Potter's Hogwarts Express in the background. Last year the weather was spectacular, this year is was spectacularly torrentially raining. I ended up with a second and two thirds and second place overall. Full results.

The following day were the Crieff Highland Games, a large event with a typically large entry of pipers. I played the MacNeill of Barra's march for the Piobaireachd and won the event. The judges told me they were very impressed with my tune and thought I was in great shape for the Gold Medal at Oban later in the week. Equally thrilling were positive comments from my fellow competitors, including one piper who said "THAT'S the way piobaireachd should be played." Full results.

Then it was off to Oban. I played Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay in the Gold Medal. I couldn't have been happier with my tune -- expression, execution, and tone were all exactly as I had intended. I wasn't in the final prize list, though. Next year!

The following day was the Cowal Highland Gathering, the biggest highland games in the world. A few years back, I won the prize at Cowal for Best Dressed Piper. Not this year though, maybe I should have heavy starched my flashes.

After Cowal, I headed up to Invergordon which is north of Inverness. The games field is surrounded by giant rusting old tanks, from the oil days. I ended up with two firsts and a second. The winner of the Piobaireachd event wins the Chieftain's Silver Medal, which was presented to me by Sir Patrick Grant of Dalvey. The trophy is the Kincraig Cup, one of the great trophies in piping. It has the names of most of the great pipers of the past 100 years. Now, my name will be on there twice in a row, for 2006 and 2007. Full results.

It was a great trip and I'll definitely be back next year. But for now it's great to be back home and getting back to lessons and everything else.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Selecting a Practice Chanter

Terrific blog and website! I too am trying to get started learning to play. As you said, the first thing to get is a practice chanter. It seems there are many kinds. Would you recommend any certain kinds or manufacturer?

There are many practice chanters out there. You need to select whether you want a blackwood chanter or plastic (polypenco). Personally, I prefer the plastic chanters because they are more durable and inexpensive. There's no difference in sound quality between the two types of materials. You need to select between standard length or extended (long) length. The longer chanters are longer but the hole spacing is exactly the same as the standard length -- the extra length is added to the end of the chanter. There's no real difference in the tone between the two lengths. There are many makers out there. Any should be good. Here's a good place to start looking.

A practice chanter will come with a reed, but it's a good idea to have a couple spares. For several years I've been playing reeds by John Walsh. They have a great tone and are very consistent.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Buying new pipes

I played for several years and then put my pipes down for about 10 years. Now I'm starting to play again and - wow - has the world of piping changed. I would like to buy a new set, but don't know what is really out there. I like the recent Krons and Naills that I have heard. When I stopped playing a few years back I was playing at Grade I and would like an instrument suitable for competition at that level. What new pipe makers would you recommend looking into?

It's a great to time to get into (or get back into) piping. There are many good makers out there. I play Naills and recommend them to my students of all levels, but there are other makers that are good too.

In addition to the many new makes of pipes these days, there are so many options for drone reeds, chanter reeds, bags, moisture control systems, etc. I think the days of one-size-fits-all are gone. The goal is to get a great sounding bagpipe that is comfortable to play -- and now there are many combinations that will work.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lesson Rates

I liked your website and credentials. Could you send me your rates for lessons? I do live here in your area, so I would be interested in in-person and Webcam lessons. Is there a difference in price depending on the format?

Drop me an email more info on my current rates. Thanks!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Getting Started

I'm interested in starting lessons. I'm starting from scratch. Are you taking new students? What do I need to get started?

Great! I'd be happy to teach you, it's just a matter of finding a time that will work for both of us. If you live near or can travel to my home teaching studio in Seattle, we can do in-person lessons. Otherwise we can try some of my long distance learning options such as webcam lessons or lessons by tape.

The good news is that you won't need pipes to get started. Pipers start learning on an instrument called the practice chanter. It looks sort of like a recorder. It allows you to learn the fingering for the bagpipes while you learn the basics of reading music and keeping rhythm, etc. After 6 month or so we can talk about getting some bagpipes. A practice chanter is inexpensive -- under $100.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Moving to No-Man's Land

I'm wondering about your webcam lessons, and how appropriate they are for non-beginner pipers. I will be moving to piping no-man's-land later this summer. I'd like to keep my piping up, but there will be no one around to teach me. I haven't had many lessons in recent years, relying instead on a combination of band practices and band tutoring.

Yes! My long distance learning opportunities are perfect for someone like you. You can start with some of my Tune Lesson Downloads to get started learning some fun, new material. If you have a webcam and a good internet connection, we can do some webcam lessons -- they work just like real in-person lessons but we meet using free video chat software on your computer. We could also do lessons by tape (or mp3 or CD), just send me a recording of the tunes you are working on and I'll listen to them and record a custome lesson for you including tips for improvement, learning strategies, and demonstrations on the practice chanter. It's never been easier to learn the pipes -- no matter where you live!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Working on Technique

I am a beginner piper, only been playing 1 year. I have an instructor that I see once a week. I practice about an hour every other day. I am currently working on Scotland The Brave. I am having trouble with the Taorluath, and C doublings. Have you recorded any drills to cover some of these embellishments that might help a beginner?

I'm working on some Lesson Downloads for the basics. In the mean time, check out Rhythmic Fingerwork by Jim McGillivray, the book includes a CD.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Piobaireachd Lessons

I'm not sure how else to do this so I guess I'm enquiring about your method of teaching over the internet. I'm looking to take piobaireachd lessons because they've never regionally been available to me before and figure it's better late than never.

Piobaireachd lessons work great across the internet. I'd be happy to teach you! Lessons are as frequent as you would like. I recommend lessons every other week or weekly.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Starting from Scratch

I am seeking help about playing the bagpipe. I want to purchase the right one in a respectable price range but I don't have a clue. I am a complete novice but eager to learn. Any and all help that you can give me will be much appreciated.

I would start looking at a good retailer. Tartantown is a nice place to start. Good brands include Naill, McCallum, Walsh, Kron, and Strathmore. You are looking at spending at least $1,000 and probably around $1,500 when you get all the accessories.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bought new pipes on eBay

I just bought my first set of bagpipes and dont' want to screw anyhting up. I am not sure how to even put them together, so now i turn to you, hoping you can help, and point me in the direction of how I can learn to play.....there are books and dvds but how do i know what's crap and what's good...

Well, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you have bought yourself a set of Pakistani-made decorative bagpipes. They are not intended to be played as musical instrument, they are designed for decoration (hanging on a wall, etc.). Real bagpipes are never made of rosewood, never made in Pakistan, and cost around $1000 for a new set.

More info here: http://www.hendersongroupltd.com/bagpipesCost.html

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Piping Performances

I'm looking for a piper to play at my wedding, are you available for such a performance?

YES! I've piped at many weddings/funerals/birthday parties, etc. Just let me know what you need.
Read some testimonials from past satisfied clients. Visit my Performances page for more info.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Welcome to my new blog. Here's where I'll be posting answers to your questions and also providing updates on what's new around here at BagpipeLessons.com. Drop me a line if you have a question!