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Adult Pipers Related to Adult piping or pipers, this is the place.

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Old 03-25-2014, 06:29 PM   #51
SquintingPatrick
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

From what I have seen, when a person starts young, the hands are more supple, and with practice, they grow and form in a way consistent with the execution of bagpipe techniques. An older person's hands are already formed to do other things, and certain movements seem distinctly unnatural. When an older person's hands are relaxed, and if he/she is untrained, then s/he often cannot naturally perform many of the movements. The right hand ring finger, for example, is always going to be weak, and that means a birl from B is going to be hard.

It is not just a matter of repetitions, of tapping the fingers out in certain sequences many times, but focused exercising of movements that seem completely impossible in order to build up the muscular strength behind those movements. Maybe it sounds contradictory, but the goal is to have enough strength so that even when relaxed, the fingers dance over the holes with power, and the movements come naturally crisp and clear. If a musician has to tense up in order to play certain passages, or if there is even just one unnatural stumbling block in the middle of the tune, then speed is impossible, and the musicality suffers.

There is no theoretical barrier, but an older person, such as I am, has to work harder. A teacher can point out what doesn't sound right, and what needs to happen, and an older person often then has to discover for him/herself how to make that happen, where the weaknesses are, and how to overcome them. The older player has to find the underlying weaknesses, face them, and then overcome them.

A lot of repetitions are needed, but an older player also has to analyze, and above all be patient, and take comfort in smaller improvements over longer periods of time, but there are no theoretical barriers. And if you are motivated and give it the time needed, then you cannot help but gain strength, develop insight, become steady in your blowing, develop a fine sense of tone, and improve. Most, who really are motivated, will become good pipers, and the few exceptional ones will become very good pipers.
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Old 03-26-2014, 07:09 AM   #52
bob864
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SquintingPatrick View Post

If a musician has to tense up in order to play certain passages, or if there is even just one unnatural stumbling block in the middle of the tune, then speed is impossible, and the musicality suffers.
My wife, who teaches violin, has told me that tension is the biggest obstacle her adult students face. There seems to be no way to combat it, other than to be observant of one's body, and to stop and regroup when it begins to appear. I don't think it has anything to do with strength of flexibility; I think it's entirely mental.

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A lot of repetitions are needed, but an older player also has to analyze, and above all be patient, and take comfort in smaller improvements over longer periods of time, but there are no theoretical barriers.
My limited understanding says it goes something like this: when a person is young, perhaps up to age 17, there is a coating on the neurons that makes it easier for the brain to re-program. The coating starts to go away, and by age 20 or so it's gone. So exactly as you say, it takes longer, and the improvements are smaller, because it is harder for the brain to reprogram itself. For that reason, I think it has nothing to do with the hands, per se.

I think that at least some older adult beginners (starting at 40 or 50) can, with time, play some tunes just as well as those who start in their youth. But they're never going to have the same number of tunes and it will take much longer to learn new tunes.
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Old 03-26-2014, 07:33 AM   #53
David
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

Tension--the Death Grip. One thing that helps is giving students a number of flowing, unpointed melodies that allow their fingers to keep forward momentum going, with no braking of motion. The typical heavily pointed 2/4 often causes a gripping panic. All those dots and cuts! A slower, even melody relaxes the finger.

I gave one 60-year-old student a very round jig, just to play slowly as an exercise, and it ended up knocking the tension right out of her fingers. But even the right slow air or retreat can help.

Not the whole solution, but it helps a bit.
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Old 03-26-2014, 09:55 AM   #54
bob864
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

You can have a lot of tension in your hands without a death grip too, just by allowing the muscles to tighten up against each other.
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Old 04-17-2014, 01:13 PM   #55
PunkPiper
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

I took up the pipes at age 35, it took me a couple of months to find an instructor but I checked that box. I currently can play strathspeys, reels, hornpipes and jigs. I don't know if just has come natural to me but I was playing the full set of pipes at 6 months and I competed in my first contest at a little after a year and won.

I can't say enough about my instructor who has helped me along the journey. However, I spend a large amount of time practicing and playing with a couple of friends and a band. I found the hardest part of learning paticular styles of music i.e. strathspeys is the expression of them. Once I kind of got the feel of them and got a few under my belt each one gets easier to learn. I spend a lot of time concentrating to eliminate the "death grip" that has been mentioned but it's totally worth it no matter what you play.
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Old 04-25-2014, 08:22 AM   #56
HighlandPark
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

I took up the pipes six months ago at age 50 -- a lifelong dream having grown up hearing pipes around town. I have an instructor and am attempting to learn at an accerated rate. I'm up on all drones and practicing mostly band tunes, primarily marches, many airs, and miscellaneous novelty tunes (E.g., Star Wars for my kid). I didn't think I'd be moving to strathspeys anytime soon (especially after taking a crack at Dorrator Bridge, which sounds 'easy' but which I just could not wrap my head around). However, I recently discovered Orange and The Blue, which is a dynamite tune, and was pleasantly surprised to find it is pretty darn straightforward -- it's easier than many of the marches I am learning -- go figure. Maybe it will be my 'Gateway Drug' to other strathspeys. Now to find an 'easy' reel and an 'easy' jig to ease me in...
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Old 04-25-2014, 03:48 PM   #57
Richard Strayer
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

Here's a slightly different take:

I don't dispute that the younger a piper begins the more proficient they will be as they advance in skill and experience - as a competitive piper who didn't start learning until mid-40s, my knees tremble whenever I see a teenager take to the boards before me. It usually means that I'm playing for 2nd place.

However, as some have pointed out this doesn't necessarily mean that pipers who started later in life won't reach a very high level of technical proficiency. But piping isn't just about technical proficiency, it's also about attaining a certainly level of musicality, and for a lot of the late beginners I know this is actually the more difficult skill to acquire.

Many of these pipers had not previously played any other instrument and, perhaps more importantly (and speaking from a U.S. perspective), didn't really grow up listening to pipes (or at least Gaelic/celtic music) regularly. Oh they may have enjoyed hearing pipes from time to time, perhaps even purchased some of the many generic pipe band records/CDs that are available in the U.S., but for the most part they weren't saturated all their lives in the culture and the rhythms and the vibe of really top-notch piping traditions.

Never was this more evident to me than on my first trip to Scotland with a band that was mostly made up of pipers who started late in life. I couldn't help but notice that as we marched and played with other local pipe bands at various venues in and around Scotland, by comparison we just didn't sound Scottish. At least not to my ear. There was just something about the music I heard there that was distinct, subtlety unique, that we just weren't accurately and faithfully reproducing.

After that experience I attempted to immerse myself in pipe music, listening to as many different recordings as I could get my hands on, both solo and band, and really made an effort to learn not just the technique of piping, but also the feel of it, aye.

I once knew a late starter who celebrated his 7th anniversary from beginning to learn the pipes, saying he had passed the milestone put forth by Neil Munro, "To the make of a piper go seven years of his own learning and seven generations before. At the end of his seven years, one born to it will stand at the start of knowledge, and lending a fond ear to the drone, he may have parley with old folks of old affairs," and so was now a "Real Piper."tm But in my own humble opinion he missed the critical part of that statement - "...one born to it." Someone born into a family of pipers (or at the very least, into a piping culture) and who therefore grows up listening to it, has a significant advantage over someone coming to that foundation later in life.

I think youngsters in the U.S. who begin learning the pipes have that advantage as well, because they begin to be saturated in the sound of pipe music at a much earlier age. However many of the late starters I know spend the majority of their time learning the technique from sheet music, but not otherwise developing their ear for it by listening to as many examples of great piping as they can. My personal opinion is that this inhibits their advancement as much as old hands and stiff fingers, or however else you care to characterize the ravages of age.
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Last edited by Richard Strayer; 04-25-2014 at 04:25 PM.
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Old 04-26-2014, 06:54 AM   #58
Adam Sanderson
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Default Re: Adult learners who can play straths, reels, jigs and h'pipes.

Well written, Richard, I enjoyed reading your post.

I would suggest that Munro was saying that the seven generations before are as important than the 7 spent learning, but I will also remind any pundits that after those 7 years the piper is now at the "start of knowledge".

My youngest daughter asked for a practice chanter for her 4th birthday. I was very surprised by this, but bought one for her. She played for a couple of years until the school began pushing the fiddle as her first instrument and the chanter went away in a drawer somewhere. When she was about 12 and had a few violin grades under her belt, she took up the pipes again, and progressed so rapidly it's been mind boggling, I am talking about learning 3 - 5 tunes a week to a good standard. When I have spoken to her about it, she says it has been easy as she already knows all the tunes from growing up with me playing them.

She is now 14 and I am already getting teased that she is a better piper than me. This might not be correct at the moment, but will be in a year or two, I suspect. I am happy enough with this, the roles will reverse and I will follow her fingers.

I completely agree that listening to pipe music as much as possible is of huge benefit. If an adult has to learn to read music for the first time, I can understand why that might absorb a lot of time, but if you have a commute to work, listen to pipe music on your iPod, MP3 player, on your car stereo, etc. When you go to bed at night have a listen for 10 minutes to a pipe tune. Richard is correct it will really help you get the subtleties of the music. You might end up like me, even if you can't get your fingers on target, at least you know what you are aiming for.
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