Bagpipe Lore

So You Want To Learn The Bagpipes!

For those genuinely interested in learning to play this noble instrument, I am happy to impart some wisdom gained from my 17-year relationship with this art. Indeed, few instruments can boast of such a time-honored tradition. The sound we hear today is not unlike the stirring heard on the field of Bannockburn in 1314 when Robert Bruce, King of Scots, rallied his troops in a victory over English forces that insured the birth of a Scottish nation. It is not unlike the sounds heard on Culloden Field in 1746, or at Flanders Field in WWI and on the D-Day beaches in WWII. An instrument favored by Royalty and the Common Folk alike, the position of “Piper” within a Clan was one of highest calling, and I might add, still is.

The Great Highland Bagpipes are not “Novelty” instruments. In fact, they are the only musical instrument in the world to have been legally declared a weapon of war. Great museums do not have “Novelty” instruments displayed among their historical artifacts, but wherever a Bagpipe is exhibited, it is always displayed in reverence as a testimony to the events and the Piper it gave witness. The call of a Piper is not to be taken lightly, but rather with seriousness, relevance, responsibility and humility. For we who stand among the great billowing sea of humankind with our Pipes shouldered and our hands on the chanter, must be prepared and willing not only to celebrate the joys of life, but also, to share in the sorrow of others. So I bid you to consider your station and weigh your decision well, for once you enter in…you can never return. However, if this voyage in life is one you have prayerfully considered, and you desire to become one of our number, then I bid you welcome, and Godspeed…..

Questions & Answers

1. How do I start? To begin, do not, and I mean do not, under any circumstances go out and purchase a set of Bagpipes. Beginners don’t need them until they are ready for them and when that happens, consult a FOWPAD “Piper” first! DO NOT go to a music store and order a set of Bagpipes. Chances are that the person behind the counter does not know a thing about Bagpipes other than what limited information he/she has listed in their catalogue, which is usually vague and seldom accessed. Bagpipes are like anything else, you get what you pay for.

2. Without a set of Bagpipes, how do I learn? The “Practice Chanter” is the “only” instrument you will need to acquire for this stage of learning. It is on the “Practice Chanter” that you will learn notes, fingering, movements, and tunes. Regardless of what level of Piper you are, ALL tunes are first learned on the Practice Chanter before they are applied to the Pipes. The practice chanter is not a toy, but an instrument designed for practice, as the finger movements on the practice chanter are identical to the finger movements on the pipe chanter. Once you have five or six tunes memorized, you can start making plans to purchase a set of pipes, but not before. If for some reason you decide, while on the practice chanter, not to pursue this art, at least you’re not out the money you would have spent on a set of Bagpipes. The price of a “Practice Chanter” varies between $50.00 and $125.00, depending upon make and body material (either plastic or wood). The plastic ones are cheaper, a bit more hardy in construction, and have a nice tone. The ones made of wood are generally more expensive, more fragile, and have a more “woody” tone, as would be expected. You would need to ask for a standard size “Practice” Chanter, I would suggest plastic for your first one, and be sure to state, “Practice Chanter” in your order. Otherwise, you might get a “Pipe” chanter and that just wouldn’t do. The FOWPAD has accumulated some credible sources where you can purchase a Practice Chanter. I would suggest a standard size plastic practice chanter with countersunk holes. While most brands are a matter of personal preference, I have a plastic, standard size Dunbar-Eller that I’ve had since 1985.

3. Could you suggest any Tutor Books? My personal favorite is the book, “Beginning the Bagpipe” by Pipe Major Sandy Jones. As an option, it comes with a cassette tape. This is the one I started out with, and it quite straightforward in its method. There are others that are quite good also. The “College of Piping” tutor books come in Volume 1, 2, and 3. Volume 1 is for beginning Pipers. Other are available also, but you may want to consult with other Pipers before beginning your library.

4. Can I get some on-hand training? Yes! Come to Band Practice! (Consult the Calendar for dates and meeting times on this site) Don’t be timid! If you want to come and observe, that’s fine also. Bring your practice chanter and tutor books, and feel free to ask questions. There is no charge for this; however, if you think you need an individual personal tutor, some gratuity would be expected.

5. What is the advantage of playing with a band? Aside from being around some the finest people in the world, and belonging to a brotherhood and a sisterhood that spans many continents, the attributes are many. We exist as a support group for those like yourself, making inquiries for the first time, to ensure you get credible information. To preserve, perpetuate, and educate others in this art is our mission and through the channel of the FOWPAD, this has been accomplished. By pooling our efforts, we increase knowledge and servability. Outside request for Solo Pipers are routed through the membership of the FOWPAD first, on a per request basis. We try to supply every request, though sometimes that is impossible. You will learn the ropes and the “lingo” and receive information on the location of Games and Piping Schools around the country. And you have never really experienced a “High” till you have marched in a parade where 50,000 people are lining the streets cheering you on. The combination of Pipes & Drums is really an awesome sound, it’s contagious. To be a part of this history making group is in itself, a wonderful experience. But the greatest experience is the feeling I get when I don the red hackle and step into the lineup with those whom I have called friend and the satisfaction of knowing I am a part of “Mississippi’s Own, Father of Waters Pipes & Drums.”

By Father of Waters Bandmaster Kris Carmichael


© 2003 Father of Waters Pipes and Drums