What a Piper Learned from Other Musicians

Bagpipes and other instruments

I am fortunate to have had incredibly good tuition and I feel a lasting gratitude towards my piping teachers.

However, that has not been the sum total of my education as a musician. I also learned from listening to other musicians passing on their knowledge irrespective of what instrument they play. And I’m still learning from them. This knowledge has helped me in my approach to practice, and in preparation for better performances at gigs and competitions.

When I was 12, alongside my chanter lessons I took a couple years of   lessons on the piano and singing. That gave me a simple education in scales, note values and the importance of phrasing. After two years I abandoned my lessons but continued to potter on the piano for several years. However, I didn’t really understand what I was doing.

Forty years later I came across The Understanding of Music Seminar run by Duncan Lorien in London.  The promo was a bit hard to believe but as I knew Duncan, I thought it was worth a go.

That weekend rounded out my education in music and I was so impressed I persuaded him to repeat the seminar for my friends in Edinburgh. Years later those friends are still singing his praises.

Duncan’s seminar runs in several parts of the world and I thoroughly recommend it for musicians of any grade or experience.

Another valuable insight I received was from a professional conductor.  She was coaching an amateur string ensemble and noticed they tended to sway a lot. Her point was one I was familiar with, but her explanation really stuck in my mind.

“Swaying your body that much means you believe you are bringing out the music. But you’re kidding yourselves.  You are not bringing out the music and by swaying you are making yourself believe you are. Only the fingers can bring out the music, not the body. “

I confess I used to sway myself, but now I try to make the fingers do all the work.

If we think of ourselves as musicians not pipers, then of course there are lots of fellow musicians out there to listen to. An absolute gem I recently came across is Molly Gebrian. Molly is a violist, but she majored in neuroscience and talks enthusiastically about what it means for us as musicians in how to effectively memorise and practice our music and what to avoid at all costs.  After listening to Molly, I have altered my approach to my own practice and I am already seeing the benefit. Check out her recent series of short videos on what musicians can learn about practicing from current brain research. I passed these on, recently, to friends and they were equally impressed. I can’t recommend Molly’s insights highly enough.

These are just a few of the important lessons I learned from outside the piping world.  There are many resources available on the internet which we can learn from and share. The important thing is to keep learning.

Enjoy your practice!

Neil MacLure


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