Beginners guide to playing the Great Highland Bagpipe


25 April 2016
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Pipe Major Bill Robertson offers his expert advice to anyone wanting to learn how to play the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Pipe Major Bill Robertson offers his expert advice to anyone wanting to learn how to play the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Pipe Major William (Bill Robertson) has over sixty years experience of playing the bagpipes and was formerly with 1st Batallion, The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) where he was Pipe Major, and played at various locations around the world.

He advises beginners: Anyone wishing to learn to play the Highland Bagpipe is often inspired to do so by listening to good pipe bands and soloists, either “in the flesh”, online (such as the BBC’s weekly Pipeline programme) or through recordings.

A person who wishes to start playing The Great Highland Bagpipe should have what are often referred to as the three A’s:

  • Aptitude
  • Attitude
  • Application (Regular practice)

A good starting point for beginner pipers is to have one-on-one lessons with an experienced piper. You could seek a local piping band and ask them if they have anyone in the band who offers lessons, usually with a printed tutor book and a small practice chanter, such as the ones shown below.

With the advent of the  internet and computers, some teachers are able to offer SKYPE based instruction. This is of great benefit to those who are not in the position to connect with a locally based teacher, although not always convenient for beginners, who can access my interactive Beginners’ Guide (and others) anytime to revise with me on the computer monitor instantly.

Alternatively one can purchase printed tutors, of which some provide a CD/DVD with supporting audio and or video clips, although to the best of my knowledge these are not readily interactive. Such publishers include The Piping Centre, and College of Piping, both in Glasgow. See also Jim McGillivray’s modules online.

I always advise beginners of the limitations of the music of the Highland Bagpipe so that they are aware before beginning to learn. These limitations are:

  • The relatively small range of notes
  • Tthe lack of dynamics;
  • The constant sound level

The time taken to make a real start on the bagpipes could be between four to nine months, depending on three As above.

To find out more about Pipe Major Robertson's music and tutorials, visit his website.