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Old 07-17-2019, 08:24 AM   #1
3D Piper
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Default Better teaching methods?

I am always looking for better teaching methods.

While I understand you may bend teaching methods to match a students needs, what is your basic teaching method?

Do you use a tutor?

Do you teach that goals must be achieved before moving on?

Do you teach basic music theory?

Do you teach to tap your foot while playing?

I have most of the tutors and the range of teaching is wide- from starting the student on advanced tunes that are simplified, to very methodical incremental lessons.

My favorite tutor is geared toward kids and teaches simple tunes for the skill level you are working on. Plenty of simple tunes with no embellishments, plenty of tunes with one-sound embellishments, etc. At the end of the tutor you finally get STB and some simple two part strathspeys and reels. To me, this method makes the most sense.

The last highland games we attended, I walked around to other tents and chatted about teaching methods. I was very surprised to hear "we don't use tutors, we just start new members right on band tunes".. Wha? No Hot Crossed Buns? No theory? Others said "we use a modified Sandy Jones tutor"
Am I missing something? I hope to crank out competent pipers and drummers. Is the monkey-see-monkey-do method the key?

Sadly, even with the best instruction, it comes down to the student to apply what they have learned. I remind my students: "I will not make you a bagpiper, YOU will make you a bagpiper." My job is to straighten their sails and point their SS Bagpiper boat back in the right direction, not move their fingers for them. If students don't have the motivation to do the work themselves, they will never progress.

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Old 07-17-2019, 11:15 AM   #2
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

It seems to me that the method you describe would probably be pretty good. It sounds a lot like how band an orchestra is taught in school. That's a big industry with a lot of competition to find the best methods.

If I was a student in a music education program and had the opportunity to do a research project, I might do a summary of teaching methods used in band and orchestra and how those might be applied to piping.

I've never taught anyone and probably never will, but if I did, I'm intrigued by the idea of starting them blowing drones fairly early in the process.
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Old 07-18-2019, 10:00 AM   #3
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

There are so many things to address (both in regard to the thoughtful initial post and to teaching methods). There is the philosophy/perspective of the instructor, just as there is of the band (if one is involved). Does that band seek musicians, or are they more about strapping on a kilt and "having fun" (frankly, I cannot have fun if the playing sucks...but that's just my perspective)? Is the student naive/unrealistic (which won't be for long) about the progression, and willing to put in the effort? Are they an audio, visual or kinesthetic learner (the latter, though more rare, is often a nightmare for memorization)? And so forth.

When working with young ones, I first want to know if this is the child's idea or the parents'. If that latter, I might be dealing with a parent seeking vicarious pleasure over something they never did...and less motivation from the young person.

I believe very much in getting fundamentals down solidly; for with the basics learned, along with open clean playing, I believe all else comes easy. For that, I do believe in tutorials. Not everyone is an auditory learner (most, in fact, are visual); but playing a tune is helpful in the process. I learned, like many, from the CoP 'green book.' But as I became an instructor, I felt that recognizable tunes help. I'd never heard of "Scots Wha Hae". I started switching to the Piping Centre book. More expensive, for sure, but I liked early recognizable tunes with a logical, progression on the fundamentals.
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Old 07-18-2019, 04:48 PM   #4
Joseph Diodato
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

I'm but a student myself, albeit with a fantastic teacher! I thought I'd chip in with my n=1 experience based on my last six or months on the practice chanter.

Originally Posted by 3D Piper
Do you use a tutor?
We use the NPC tutor book, also supplemented by Rhythmic Fingerwork, various handout sheets, and a set list of tunes from the local pipers' society (mostly consisting of common massed band tunes and those played in our region). The "Green Book" is still considered the gold standard of tutors, but I think the NPC tutor will definitely take its place over the course of the next decade!

Originally Posted by 3D Piper
Do you teach that goals must be achieved before moving on?
I'd say my instructor takes a pretty regimented approach in his teaching. (As I hope all instructors do!) he really emphasizes a focus on the fundamental building blocks and making sure I understand each tune idom before proceeding. We're just now starting to do some strathspey exercises, and I feel like I can pick up most marches and slow airs/hymns with a bit of woodshedding.

Originally Posted by 3D Piper
Do you teach basic music theory?
Not in my case. I came to the pipes knowing a lot of music theory, and we occasionally touch base on things specific to piping as they come up. Mostly matters of interpretation and how different idioms are expressed.

Originally Posted by 3D Piper
Do you teach to tap your foot while playing?
My instructor hasn't taught one way or the other, but we're both definitely foot tappers!

Originally Posted by bob864
I might do a summary of teaching methods used in band and orchestra and how those might be applied to piping.
I think this is a fantastic idea, although I'm not sure how transferable any promosing pedagoical practices might be. Speaking as someone who was practically raised in school band and orchestra programs, the sheer number of instruments and techniques necessisitates a common core progression of muscianship and technique.

Perhaps the greatest thing that piping tutors could do would be to make the tune selection for appealing to beginners, as EquusRacer put so well.
Practice is the best of all instructors. - Publilius Syrus

My Piping Blog- A student's musings on learning the Great Highland Bagpipe.
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Old 07-20-2019, 04:01 PM   #5
Jim Fogelman
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

My band has a packet that we hand out to beginners.

I make sure students get the basics down (good finger position, able to go up and down the scale, with and without grace notes) before moving on to embellishments. Depending on how the student is doing with the embellishments, I may have the student try a simple tune that utilizes only this embellishments.

I am a stickler for understanding how to read the music (I am a high school music teacher) and not relying on hearing the tune to be able to play it.

Foot tapping I donít care as much about but do focus on a it a little to make it easier to start marching.

Iím also of the opinion that students should get on the pipes as early as possible. When I taught the high school pipe band I would issue pipes right away to new students so they could get the mechanics down (just chanter - students had to play a HA for a solid minute before they could even start playing tunes on the pipes though). With regular bands this is more difficult as most bands donít have pipes for new students to play on.
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Old 07-20-2019, 04:15 PM   #6
Joseph Diodato
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

Originally Posted by Jim Fogelman View Post
Iím also of the opinion that students should get on the pipes as early as possible. When I taught the high school pipe band I would issue pipes right away to new students so they could get the mechanics down
I wonder if we might see a shift in the usual approaches to piping in that students are able to learn the proper mechanics and technique needed for blowing and perhaps a simple scale early on. Even the NPC tutor begins to introduce the actual pipes quite early on!
Practice is the best of all instructors. - Publilius Syrus

My Piping Blog- A student's musings on learning the Great Highland Bagpipe.
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Old 07-21-2019, 03:49 PM   #7
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

I have for a while been introducing sol-fa and takadimi work with my students, and I have found it so useful that I am considering abandoning the use of the chanter altogether until the student can sight-sing accurately relatively easily.

The other thing I've done recently is ditch the traditional method of teaching via scales of ornaments and hacking slowly through tunes. Instead, I've built a series of short melodies that start off only using one hand, and I grade the progression so that the student can play each one successfully with only a little practice. I have them beat time and then use a metronome right from the start.

I've now got my first few students through to their first few "real" tunes using this method and so far I'm extremely pleased with the results.
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Old 07-31-2019, 07:32 AM   #8
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

This might be a little piping heresy.

I encourage the students to listen to music...all kinds of music in addition to the great pipers. I want them to get the concepts of rhythm, melody, time signature , etc. from music they like. It is kind of the "Mr. Holland's Opus" approach after he had failed to impart classical music theory/knowledge to his class. He asked "What kind of music do you like?" He then played "Lover's Concerto" by the Toys which the students readily identified. He then transitioned their thought to Bach's Minuet in G as a classic example of the Ionian scale.

I assist and encourage them to train their ears to the pipe chanter scale and listen for contemporary songs or tunes THEY like and try to emulate them on the practice chanter. If they can hear/sing the tune they can play they tune. (Not quite "if you build it, he will come" but you get the idea.)

This segues into putting the melodies of the traditional tunes in their heads. It also gives them to opportunity to start self-critique of tunes/melodies they know.

I use the Green Book but do not like the fact that theory really isn't discussed until Lesson 8. I also use excerpts from Russ Spaulding's The Piper's Primer.

Great question and discussion Matthew.
piperdoc - (As long as the moon shall rise; As long as the rivers flow; As long as the sun will shine; As long as the grass shall grow, - Peter LaFarge)
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Old 08-26-2019, 12:34 PM   #9
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

Greetings to All,

Well... and again... late to the party... but might as
well join in with the dance...

This is a marvelous subject!!... and my thanks to
everyone for their thoughts... and postings.

To borrow a word from an above post... my leanings
in this area may well bumble into areas considered
"heretical"... but... and nonetheless... they run thusly...

First... I have never put myself forward as a teacher...
but there have been times when I have been asked...
and usually along the lines of... :"Gosh!! I really like
that!!... and would love to learn how to play... and can
you please show me how?"

And I have always responded with "Yes... I can help
you get started... and on a firm foundation... but after
a while... I must needs send you along to someone
else... for a further... and more full... education... with
and about... our Great Beast." :)

This has happened to me some dozen-odd times or so...
since I became reasonably competent with our Great
Waltz-About... and though two or three never became
pipers... (and that's probably the the not uncommon
percentage)... the rest are still playing in bands... or
just on their own... and all doing a pretty fair job of it... :)

I was taught by the Old Fellows in my first band... and as
they had learned primarily "by ear" (Read music? Damned
lucky to be able to read a newspaper!! :)... And all were the
working men of their times... and they had learned primarily
"by ear"... from some of the then U.K. regiments... That was
my first go... and I have found that such has more than stood
me in good stead... over this long passage... of Time...

Now, and of course... we had the Old Green Book... the then
Bible of us all... but as one well-known (and older) piper was
said to have once remarked: "Read music? Oh. Aye... but not
enough ta bugger up my playin'!!" :)

And so... and especially... since all of those whom I have
helped to get started... have all been over 30 and 35-ish...
I have a more relaxed approach... than most...

(Here cometh the approaching heresy part. :)

And I explain... that they can... learn how to do this... and
quite irrespective of any misgivings that they may have...
about their abilities...

And... we all do this... because we like it(!!)... and it's fun!! :)

And... the learning of it... isn't like... joining the army... or
pulling teeth... or killing snakes!! :)

So we do it... slow... and steady... and bit by bit... and adding
on... to what was previously... and properly... learned.

I am also rather relaxed (though not slack :)... about practice
time on the practice chanter... and how not?... These people
all have jobs... and families... and schedules!!... and at the
end of yet another busy day... if their salient wish (need?) is
to just sit down... and have a drink... and watch some vid film...
then that... is what they should do... and they can pick up the
pc... when the fancy... and their hearts... are again drawn to

I am of the firm (Yea!, rock bloody solid!) opinion... that any
forced practice... is no practice at all... and indeed!!... is but
a clear detriment... to any meaningful... progress...

(Remember? We do this... because we like it, and it's fun!! :)

I had one poor fellow... who was already a fine and competent
musician... on the clarinet... when he first began learning on the
pipes (some 20-odd years past)... but his then instructor (can't
really call him a teacher) was that overly didactic type... that calls
out the time (and much too loudly)... as the poor student is trying
to play... his just recently learned passages... And so... he just
gave it all up. (Ran... actually.)

He asked me if I could help him give it another go... and it did
not take him long. And since... he has played in two bands,,, as
well as on his own... and is still... doing just fine. :)

Well... enough of my ramblings...

Trusting that what e'er the forms employed... that all goes well
with the students... and for the music...

Regards to All,


My friends all know,
With what a brave carouse...

Last edited by Pip01; 08-26-2019 at 12:50 PM.
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Old 09-03-2019, 07:19 PM   #10
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Default Re: Better teaching methods?

I don't teach any more but years ago I had quite a few students.

The instruments I was teaching were Highland pipes, uilleann pipes, Irish flute, and Irish whistle.

My overall method was for me to adapt to the needs and wants of each student.

I was teaching individual lessons. Of course it's different when teaching groups.

But I had taught many workshops, both one-day and week-long, at various music festivals. I found that each workshop group was unique.

I was nearly always teaching adults.

With groups and with individuals the first thing I would do is to find out about them: their musical background, their experiences, what they had listened to (and perhaps more importantly what they had not listened to), why they were interested in the instrument and music, and where they wanted to go with it.

To me teaching is a two-way street, an interactive experience, where I learn as much as the student does.

With GHB, I had taught a condensed one-week beginners' course for several years at a music camp, and I developed a half-dozen page set of exercises to get the students to basic competency. Over the years I made adjustments and finally I was happy with its effectiveness, so much so that I would use it for my beginning individual students.

However I didn't impose my approach to people. Rather, I would first ask them "is there a book you have been using?" or "is there a book you would like to use?"

If they wanted to use a book, say the Green Book or the Sandy Jones book I was fine with that. In the end they're all teaching the same stuff.

Sometimes people would come to me saying "I want to learn bagpipe" and I would ask "what sort?" and they would respond "I didn't know there were different sorts".

So I would give them a demo of the Scottish pipes and uilleann pipes, and give them listening assignments. After doing the listening they could come back with an informed decision.

To me the most curious cases were the people who, after listening to numerous Highland pipers and uilleann pipers both solo and in ensembles, would come back saying "I don't care which, I just want to learn".

The most fun I had as a teacher was developing strategies for overcoming ingrained bad habits. One of the most fascinating and challenging was the person with chronic crossing-notes on every note-change. I basically had to go back to the beginning and teach him a new approach to playing the chanter, which was laborious for both of us. After a few months my strategy bore fruit and he never played another crossing-note (that I heard, anyway!)

One example of my allowing students to be self-directed to some extent was my approach to when they should start blowing the pipes.

Good teachers are all over the map on this issue, which tells us that it doesn't matter much.

So if a student was hell-bent to get a-blowin' on the bagpipes I would let them have at it. Since I didn't want to spoil our progress on the Practice Chanter I would cork off their chanter and have them blow drones to their heart's content.

Other students were fixated on getting good on the Practice Chanter and were in no hurry to blow the pipes and I let them do that.

One teacher I know told me of a student he had that sort of fell in love with playing the PC and showed no interest in playing pipes after a year. He had to give the student an ultimatum, saying if lessons were to continue then he was going to have to start learning the pipes.
proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; Son of the Revolution and Civil War; first European settlers on the Guyandotte

Last edited by pancelticpiper; 09-03-2019 at 07:27 PM.
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