Bagpiping and the Learning Curve

My sense is that more than 50% of beginning chanter players never graduate to the pipes and that our instrument has a very big “fallout rate” in the first 12-18 months.   (As for many things in piping, this theory is advanced with no underlying data,  but I am going with it and will defend it in any Beer Tent at any time).

Having learned to play several instruments in the past, I think that most music learners experience the a process with very rapid learning at the beginning that slows down over time as shown in the curve below:


(Ignore the scale since I snagged two images off the internet)  My point is that in a fairly short period of time a relatively diligent piano or guitar student can be playing tunes competently, pleasing herself or himself, and gaining a real sense of progress and increasing mastery.  Within two or three years,  it is not hard to imagine that one could be a reasonable “journeyman” amateur musician.

Bagpipes are a different kettle of fish.

Our learning curve is much longer and “S” shaped with a very slow and elongated beginning and the plateau happening a five to ten years out.  I’ve been on pipes exactly seven years and have been pretty diligent and figure I am still in the steep progress part of the chart.   The first bit on the chanter is obviously hard, but the upward slope no real walk in the park either.


The nature of the instrument demands a period in the beginning that is almost exclusively focused on technique – gracenotes, embellishments, elimination of crossing noises, etc.   So a slow beginning is probably inevitable.

The downside is that this period is hard, boring,  and given the angry bee sound of most beginner’s chanters does not sound like music, let alone bagpipe music.

In a world of instant gratification, how does one stay motivated to keep working (and not listen to those little voices saying things like “you’ll never get it”, “this is too hard”, or “wow, that’s a great looking accordion”).

There are some interesting implications here:

  • What in our instructional approach to piping could provide greater motivation in the initial phase;
  • What could we do with students of all ages, particular those learning in a band setting to keep them pushing forward.

I’m very interested in what your thoughts are on the matter, so please like, comment and share.

A final thought.

One could reasonably argue that the bagpipes actually have two simultaneous learning curves that are offset from each other.  There is a chanter curve and a bagpipe curve.  It would stand to reason that one has to be further along the chanter curve than the bagpipe curve and that improved performance on the bagpipe curve is dependent on the chanter curve.

Until next time.






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