MY journey in learning the bagpipes.

Just The Facts

  1. The bagpipes are actually like trying to wrestle an octupus.
  2. Unless it's like strangling geese.
  3. Or killing cats.

My Journey

I started playing the bagpipes years ago. I can still remember the first day I walked into the band hall with a mutilated cat in hand. I got strange looks but one old guy laughed and shuffled out of his seat towards me. "That's not the way we do it any more" he said, as he handed me a goose he had inherited off of his great grandfather. " My father played that" he smiled proudly, "and my grandfather, and it was his father that killed it".

Embarrassed that I was generations behind the times, and still holding the cat I had murdered earlier that day, I set out to learn more about the bagpipes, screeching cats and strangling geese.

So I had a proper set now, and was raring to go. The band gave me music to learn. The dots and dashes looked more like a breakfast for an epileptic at first than anything I was meant to read, but I gave it a go. I got a few squawks out of my pipes and the old guy looked at me again approvingly. He then pointed to the sheet music and explained what everything was. Disclaimer: You do actually learn on a thing called a goose - you also play movements called tachums, doublings, taorluaths, peles, bubblys and birls. More stupid names to come later!

By this point my head was spinning, maybe just from all the blowing but I was pretty sure I was struggling to cope with this - and then he took it away from me and asked me to play it by memory. I had only just started! This old codger was having a joke at my expense. Brass bands play with music in front of them, why can't we? "That's not how it works", he replied "just play me the tune". And I tried but couldn't. How could I play one tune from memory at this rate? "We play them in sets - 3/4/5 at a time". He handed me a set list detailing 20-30 tunes played in 5/6 set arrangements. The old guy was taking the piss. There's no way anybody could do that is there, surely?

Months and months passed, and I had less squawks than ever, and had learned all of the set list. I had lost stones in all the blowing, carrying around a heavy cat for ever, and learning to march properly with it. They were now talking about the uniform. Kilts, waistcoats, tunics, horsehair, bearskin, sealskin, vests, sporrans, sgian dhu's, hose, flashes, ghillie brogues, balmorals and glengarrys. All that ridiculous gear all costs money! And all my normal clothes no longer fit me as I was losing so much weight with all this practising! I was afraid of wearing all of the traditional garb, marching alongside the street with my set of screeching cats and my kilt falling down to show my private parts to the world. It would make me look so silly.

Now that I had a uniform, and I had learned all of the set list - I was announced ready to be unleashed upon the world. I played down the street with the band on a civic day parade and everything went quite well. I made a few mistakes but I was finally initiated. Ever wondered what those sticks were for? Well now I know. That old guy sure had some weird tastes.

Next the old man passed away, and I was very much saddened at his death. I set about a way of making him proud and thought of competition. If I won a competition and got a trophy; he'd be proud of making me his student! Someone else suggested what I didn't want to admit, to play his favourite type of tune. Piobaireachd.

There are reels, jigs, marches, polkas, slow airs, strathspeys, hornpipes, slow marches, privy tunes and piobaireachd. Piobaireachd ( I'll give in - it's pronounced pee-brock ) is taught using cantaireachd ( I swear, I'm not making these words up ). Basically I sat and had some other old guy sit and twaddle me with some gaelic words - a sort of singing me a tune with a set of instructions. It took a while but I was determined to make the old goat proud of me. I eventually took to all the incantations and played in competition.

I didn't win. Luckily though we got feedback sheets so that next time we could play better, knowing where we went wrong and maybe win. My one didn't prove all that useful though.

Now I'm back at the present day. I'm still trying to avenge my master, and hope that with the knowledge I pass on to you, I will make him proud.