Take Charge of Your Own Learning

As an adult wanting to play the bagpipes, you have no time to waste.  For me starting at 52, it’s a race for musical achievement against increasing decrepitude!

The key is to take charge of your own bagpipe journey.  And like any journey, you need to have an ultimate destination and a plan for getting there.  It also helps to plan a number of short term-waypoints and have some sort of way of measuring your progress.   All of this is good fodder for future posts, but I want to emphasize that you own your journey.

For most of our formal education, we are content to go along with our teachers at the pace of the rest of class trusting that we will be delivered into some state of more advanced enlightenment by the end of term.

As an adult learner, you have to have your own plan and leverage the instructional and other resources to make a doable and efficient plan for you.

“Your mileage may vary” but here’s my story of how I got going and avoided languishing in the “chanter twilight zone”.

In a previous post, I described how I had bought the chanter and a book and then managed to track down George Balderose in Pittsburgh for lessons.  I was looking for a structured way of going from zero to relatively competent with the minimum of wasted time and effort.

Between us, we came up with the idea of using the Glasgow-based College of Piping Tutor 1 – the “green book” as the backbone of the program and threw in a few additional items to supplement. We set the objectives of getting to the end of the green book. learning a first piobaireach, and playing in the a Senior Novice solo piping contest by the time my consulting project was scheduled to end in late spring.

My first- year timeline went as follows:

  • 1 July – got the chanter and first instruction book
  • Mid-to-late August – first lessons with George working on basic embellishments
  • Labor Day – onto the Green Book and learning Scots Wha’ Hae and Brown Haired Maiden
  • September and October – some additional tunes like Corriechoilie and Teribus in addition to the first few in the Green Book
  • October 15 – got pipes from Hendersons
  • Mid-November – played Scots Wha’ Hae (complete with heavy D-throws) on the pipes at a recital of the Pittsburgh Folk Music Society.  Played slowly but accurately and did not die of fright.
  • Throughout the winter we worked through the Green Book and started on my first competition 2/4 march – Prince Charles Welcome to Lochaber.
  • Late winter – marching up and down George’s patio playing Prince Charles.  Started on first piobaireachd – Struan Robertson’s Salute.
  • March/April – entered and played in my first solo competition in the Novice class in Chicago judged by Bob Worrall.  Got through the tune, rivers of flop sweat running down my legs, and somewhat wobbly playing.  3rd of 3 and Bob was very kind and encouraging.
  • May – finished up the Green Book.  The consulting project ended and I went back to Chicago.

A lot of progress in nine or ten months and no wasted effort.  For me this was a great start in piping that I attribute it to:

  • first class teaching,
  • a structured program with set objectives, and
  • lots of time to practice in the Marriott Residence Inn in Monroeville PA (where the front desk ladies were incredibly encouraging and supportive).

Please comment how you got started.

One thought on “Take Charge of Your Own Learning

Add yours

  1. Started on my chanter with Adrian Melvin as tutor and the “green book”. Unable to read music, working two demanding careers in law enforcement and EMS simultaneously,and maintaining two residences ensured a slow start. Two years to get to the pipes but you do what you gotta do!


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