Monday, December 20, 2010 Online Piping Master Class

Last week I announced an exciting new feature at -- the first-ever online piping Master Class. The response has been fantastic. I received many, many excellent student recordings and here are the first three.  Thanks to you all for your contribution to the online learning community here at

If you would like take part in future Online Master Classes, please sign up for my email list and join the facebook group.

The concept of the Master Class has been around for generations. It is similar to a regular private lesson in that the student performs for the instructor and receives immediate, personalized feedback complete with suggestions for improvement, practice strategies, practical exercises, and more. The Master Class adds to the further dimension of an audience of other students who can listen and learn from their fellow classmates.

So, have a listen to these tunes and join the discussion. Consider the three main skill areas:
  1. Tone: the sound of the instrument, tuning, reeds, blowing, maintenance, reed set up, and more...
  2. Technique: doublings, gracenotes, crossing noises, beat placement of embellishments, clarity of short notes, and more...
  3. Musical Expression: tempo, rhythm, dot/cut, beat emphasis, and more...
What went well? What needs further improvement? For each student who provided a copy of their sheet music, I have made notes right on the sheet music.

Tune #1: Abercairney Highlanders

Our first piper is Steven Giles from Birmingham, Alabama USA. Steven has been piping for 10 years and takes lessons intermittently. He plays with a Grade 4 band and competes in Grade 2 solos. His tune is the big 2/4 competition march Abercairney Highlanders. He's working on refining the tune and getting it 100% ready for competition.

Read the comments on Steven's tune and the marked up copy of his sheet music.

Tune #2: Donald MacLean's Farewell to Oban

Our next piper is Sebastián Geymonat from Montevideo, Uruguay. Sebastián has been piping for 6 years, starting at age 18 and plays with his local Riverside Pipe Band. He doesn't play solos. He is interested in being the best piper he can be and also to eventually teach others in Uruguay. His tune is the 2/4 competition march Donald MacLean's Farewell to Oban. He's interested in any comments, but especially about how to play 2/4 marches with proper expression.

Sebastián provided the sheet music for his tune, but he didn't know the source of the tune other than it was from an unknown internet source.  Modern bagpipe computer programs make it easy to typeset tunes, but it also make it easy to alter and distort the music.   Pipers often unwittingly download sheet music not knowing that it is full of mistakes, wrong gracenotes, missing parts, and more.  They spend hours learning an incorrect or incomplete version of their tune. Top pipers know that to learn a tune properly, with all the proper notes, rhythms, and gracenotes the music should be obtained from a respected, trusted source.  That was one of the reasons I created the Tune Lesson Downloads, to provide correct sheet music for many of the most popular pipe tunes ever written.

 I've marked up Sebastián's sheet music with my comment and indicated the places where his copy of the tune is incorrect.

Read the comments on Sebastián's tune and the marked up copy of his sheet music.

Tune #3: The Banjo Breakdown

Our next piper is Bruce D., who is originally from South Africa currently living in Ghana. He's been piping for 20 years but currently mostly learning on his own due to his location. He's played with bands in the past but not now (again due to his location). He's never competed solo. Bruce is hoping to improve his technique so he can join a higher level pipe band in the future. His tune is the classic jig The Banjo Breakdown and he's looking for pointers on how to get the tune up to speed and keep it clean and controlled.

The sheet music for the Banjo Breakdown, along with mp3 and a recorded lesson are available from the Tune Lesson Downloads page.

Comments on Bruce's tune:

Bruce, nice job overall. You are definitely on the right track with this tune. The key to good jig playing is a steady tempo and consisten delivery of the triplet rhythms. There's much less to talk about regarding expression in jigs compared to other styles of pipe tunes (marches, strathspeys, reels, etc.). When you listen to the best players of jigs you hear clean, clear technique, a dead steady tempo, and complete control throughout. Unlike our other types of tunes, we don't need to talk about holding and cutting certain notes, we just want to work towards consistent, smooth rhythms.

I think you would benefit from slowing the tune down a little and working get 100% consistent on your rhythms, especially the GDEs. These three gracenote combinations are everywhere in jigs, and they easily get compressed which leads to rushing the beats and loss of control of your tempo. Good jig players are masters at GDEs. Another section to watch out for is the closing phrase of each tune: A-C-E HiA-E-C A. This arpeggio like pattern is quite easy to speed through, again causing an increase in tempo. In parts 3 and 4, there are many strikes. I would work on the strikes, focusing on consistency and control, which will lead to greater confidence, which in turn leads to even more consistency and control.

Jigs are perfect tunes for using your metronome. You played the tune around 105 beats per minute. I think a good strategy would be to play it at a slower tempo, 85-90 bpm, and aim for achieving 100% control of every triplet and beat in the tune. Then gradually build up the tempo. I wrote previously about using a metronome, during our first-ever 30 Day Practice Challenge. If you don't have a metronome, try this free one online.

Questions?  Comments?  

What your thoughts about these videos?  Have you faced similar challenges in your playing?  What are you favorite tips or tricks for working on your tunes?  Please join the discussion and add your comments below.

If you have an idea for a future Online Master Classes, please let me know!

1 comment:

Seba said...


Thank you a lot for having this great idea. I think learning from other students is part of the process. And to use the web to share the knowledge it's a very nice move.

I'll keep the hard work and hope to see and learn more from master classes like this one in the future.