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LEARN.

A bagpipe band is not a finished product. Every well built band started in the form of a definite purpose plus a definite plan in the nature of a set of blueprints. Our plan begins and ends with our members. Now is your chance to become a band member. Learn to play the bagpipes with the Memphis Pipe Band. Contact us through our website, social media or at MemphisPipeBand@gmail.com for more information!

 

Want to learn to play the bagpipes or drums?

We can help you. One of the primary goals of the our band is to teach anyone who has a sincere desire to learn to play. We will provide you with lessons, with the only obligation being your commitment to learning.  Please see our Frequently Asked Questions below for more information.

One of the biggest questions we receive is with regards to age — what is a good age to start learning the pipes/drums?  While the bagpipes and drums appear to be very physical instruments, pipe band life starts with practice chanters (similar to a recorder) and drum sticks and pads; we start with teaching music.  Our youngest students have started at 7 years old. It really depends on the child and most importantly…parents.

Whether you're 7 or 70, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or just plain interested in the artform, we would love to have you join our organization and learn piping and drumming!

 
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PIPING.

 

BAGPIPE FAQ’s


I’ve heard the bagpipe is a difficult instrument to learn; is this true?

It is probably an urban myth, likely propagated by pipers themselves, that the pipes are the most difficult instrument in the world to play. Yes, there are a few unique challenges to the bagpipes, but any instrument that one wants to firmly master will take time and great effort. Interestingly, many adult learners naively view the pipes as "easy" to master, perhaps because they might have seen friends or other adults marching in parades, playing at a wedding, or playing a few tunes at a pub. The difficulty with the bagpipes arises because there are two main areas that must be properly addressed: 1) the physical blowing and squeezing of the bag to maintain a constant air pressure, and 2) while seeming to wrestle with an octopus, the piper must simultaneously play the tune from memory, play the tune "on the beat", and play while marching (at least when performing a "march" tune).

Adults learn music differently than younger folks. Motivated youngsters absorb music quickly, often learning "by ear". The developing brains of young people pick up new skills more quickly than adults. Adults often put pressure on themselves to succeed quickly, and invariably attempt to play beyond their immediate capability. This unrealistic adult expectation leads to frustration. Adults have busy lives and many external pressures, and may have the idea that they can be as successful with piping as with other aspects of their lives. However, like any skill, it takes time and patience. One of the many truths about playing the pipes is the following: “If you can’t play a piece slowly and perfectly, then you will never be able to play it faster.” For adult learners (as well as youngsters), the shortest path to success and enjoyment on the pipes is to BE PATIENT.


As a general rule and regardless of age, if a beginner approaches the tutor’s instruction diligently, practices often (and correctly), steady progress will be assured. One starts to learn how to play the bagpipes by using a practice chanter, which simulates the chanter on the actual bagpipe. However, the practice chanter is mouth blown. The practice chanter is used to learn the different finger positions for the different musical notes, and finger movements called embellishments, which ornamate the music. Pipers will have a practice chanter with them for the duration of their piping career, as it is useful for many pipers to learn new tunes before playing them on the bagpipe. There’s a bit of tradition that one should memorize a few tunes and play them correctly on the practice chanter before taking up the pipes. However, it is fun and enlightening for even a new student to “try out” the real bagpipes. Holding the pipes and attempting to blow and squeeze in a coordinated way gives a preview of what’s to come later. The singular reason to learn the basics on the practice chanter is because there are too many things going on while playing the pipes to learn good finger technique. Once the instructor is satisfied with the student’s progress and suggests it’s time for the pipes, the student will find a host of new challenges. An adult learner who practices on the chanter at least 15-30 minutes each day, will certainly make steady progress, and might be expected to be on the pipes within 6 to 8 months. But everyone is different. - Dojo University


Will I have to pay for the lessons?

For group lessons, no.  You need only provide a sincere desire to learn and a commitment to practice.  One on one instruction is available starting at $25 per lesson.


Will I need to purchase any supplies to take lessons?

Yes. You will need to purchase a practice chanter (about $100).


How long will it take to learn to play?

Instruments other than the bagpipes can be used as an analogy for anyone interested in learning how to play the pipes. Consider for a moment the following question: If you had chosen any other instrument, such as the violin, piano, guitar, flute, etc., how long do you think it reasonably would take to learn how to play it well? How long would it be before you were "good enough" to be welcomed into a group of local musicians? One year? Five years? Adults, for some unknown reason, often expect it to be an easy journey to learn the Highland bagpipes. - Dojo University


How far you progress beyond “street level” will likely depend on how determined you are and how much practice time you dedicate.

 
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DRUMMING.

Snare. Bass. Tenor.

 

Drumming FAQ’s


What are the styles of drumming I can learn from the band?

The lead percussion instrument is the Scottish snare drum with numbers anywhere from one to twelve. The “midsection” or “bass section” has the Scottish tenor drums with one to eight players and the Scottish bass drum, where there is always only one player. I specify “Scottish” for the percussion instruments because they are quite different from the make and models used in American drumming, let alone the musical and technical style.

The pipe band snare is very similar to that of contemporary American construction, but the differences lie beneath the colorful custom coating. The shells are usually birch and only 4-ply to 6-ply. The high-tension top rim setup is the same as American models. There are bottom snares of thin metal coils very similar to a typical junior high concert snare drum. There is also a top bed of snares on a movable system that adjusts both the height and tension of the two-inch-wide metal coils.

The top heads are made of Kevlar, but thinner than the American equivalents and with less coating on some models. The bottom heads are standard plastic heads, never Kevlar. This setup allows for the sound to be very bright, high-end focused, very sharp, and extremely wet and “snarey.” The desired pitch is much higher than U.S. marching snares, but this is not (or should not be) due to greater tension. The drums are worn with various contemporary carriers that position the drum close to the player’s body.

Scottish snare drum sticks are made of maple rather than hickory. This aids in the “snappy” playing style as well as the very bright overall sound production. The weight distribution and balance point are also quite different due to the taper occurring much sooner and being more gradual. The heads are acorn-shaped and a bit bigger than regular marching sticks to accommodate the frequent use of buzz-roll figures.

For the pipe band tenor there is a single drum per player, each of which is tuned to a precise pitch. Pitch selection per drum is chosen from and tuned to the bagpipes, whose chanter is only capable of nine different pitches. Tenor drums can range in size from 12x14 to 16x20. Each drum’s shell is 4 to 6 plies of either birch or maple. Top and bottom heads are both 10 to 14 mil of either coated or clear plastic heads. Tenor drums are usually worn with slings and hang at the player’s side. The sound of the drum is very warm and subtle, has a short sustain, and exists to enhance and provide color to the snare and bagpipe lines.


Contemporary Scottish pipe band tenor mallets feature a soft, round core and a furry exterior. The plastic shafts are only about six inches long and have strings supported by a round ball at the end of the mallet. The string is the foundation of the tenor technique/grip, as half of a Scottish tenor drummer’s responsibility is visual, involving very intricate flourishing patterns supported by the strings wrapped around the fingers.

Contemporary Tenor Corps are heavily involved with the visual aspect of the ensemble and are continuing to develop musically. While the musical responsibilities are nowhere near the virtuosity of American Bass Drum lines, they have a unique sonic contribution necessary to complete the ensemble package.  

The pipe band bass, with only one drum and one player, serves as the musical backbone of any pipe band. This drum is tuned specifically to the same pitch as the bass drone of the bagpipes, which is the instrument’s tonic, existing anywhere between concert B-flat and concert C, but all bagpipers and bagpipe music refer to their tonic as A. The shell is 4- to 6-ply birch or maple and varies in size between 14x26 to 18x30. The drum is supported by a contemporary bass carrier.

The sound of a Scottish bass drum is similar to a subwoofer. The slightest touch provides a very long sustain with very focused low-end harmonics and usually very little attack. Musically, the drum provides the heartbeat of the band while occasionally accentuating big moments for the snares.  


Will I have to pay for the lessons?

For group lessons, no.  You need only provide a sincere desire to learn and a commitment to practice.  One on one instruction is available starting at $25 per lesson.


Will I need to purchase any supplies to take lessons?

Yes. You will need to purchase a practice pad and set of sticks (about $75).


How long will it take to learn to play?

Every student learns in different ways, depending on your learning style and amount of time you can put into practicing each week your time from student to playing member of the band can greatly vary. 

We have instructors that can teach all style of pipe band drumming along with access to a large number of resources, both hardcopy and online, that can assist in the process.


How far you progress beyond “street level” will likely depend on how determined you are and how much practice time you dedicate.

 

©2020 City of Memphis Pipe Band

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