Last April, 2016, I competed in a Grade 4 Adult (EUSPBA) event at the highland games in Dunedin, Florida, a true hotbed of piping in the Southeast United States. It had been raining heavily all morning, and I was due up in a large group for the 2/4 march competition, with Rab Mathieson as the judge.
When you play a strathspey, does anyone ever tell you that it “sounds like a march”? Is it difficult to get the correct strathspey rhythm, no matter how many times you play through the same tune? One method of learning a strathspey correctly is to use a metronome from the outset, and hear your playing improve.
We pipers know that playing “on the beat” is critical, not only for unison in a group, but also to attain total musicality in the music we’re playing. However, as an individual how many of us have been told that we play “consistently ahead of the beat”, or that we are “sometimes on the beat, but not always”?
How often have we pipers been told to “blow steady” or that our chanter notes or drones are “wavering” in and out of tune while we’re playing? On the other hand, how can other pipers seem to blow so steadily that one can barely see their arm move?
Most pipers have heard their pipe major or piping instructor, sometimes quite forcefully, urge you to “blow tone”! But how many PMs can fully describe what the term means, or how to achieve it?
Have you ever felt that you were struggling with your pipes, or that they were too hard to blow, or that you just couldn’t blow enough air into the bag to maintain the correct pressure? Can you play for no more than 10-15 minutes, even with an “easy” chanter reed? Have you answered "yes" to any of these questions?
Do you find yourself constantly adjusting the snugness of the joints of your drones’ tuning pins, or the joints where the drones enter the stocks, or your chanter joint? Wouldn’t it be nice to have joints and tuning pins so well hemped that little time at all is needed to make needed minor adjustments?
Do you know pipers who take their pipes out of the bag, put the drones together, and start playing without taking any time to “warm” them up? Unfortunately, the resulting sound is enough to make anyone dislike the sound of the pipes. But even if we play the pipes for a few minutes before tuning, how many of us have a deep understanding of reasons behind warming up?