New learners will start on the practice chanter. The chanter is where the piper puts their fingers when playing the bagpipes. The practice chanter is like the pipe chanter, but without the bag. The practice chanter allows pipers to concentrate on learning the proper fingering for the bagpipe and it helps develop mouth muscles for blowing. It is also much quieter than playing the full pipes. Even after they get on the bagpipes, pipers usually continue to use the practice chanter for personal practice, to learn new tunes, etc.
One will begin by learning how to hold the practice chanter, the basics of the scale, some simple tunes and typical embellishments (these make it appear as though the pipes can play more than 9 notes). You will also receive instruction on how to read music. After you have become comfortable playing a range of tunes on the practice chanter, you will be ready to move to the pipes.
Making the shift from the chanter to the bagpipes will be another learning experience and will also take some time. Besides just playing the notes on the chanter, one will also have to get used to tuning and playing with drones, as well as inflating and squeezing the bag. One will also eventually learn to march at the same time in step with the rest of the band. All music must be memorized.
When one can play four of the basic sets on the pipes (a demonstration of basic proficiency), one will graduate to a piper. This will allow one to vote at AGMs and so forth. It will also allow one to wear the pipe band uniform. Generally the kilt and jacket are provided by the band but all other items must be purchased by the member.
Advanced learning typically involves three things:
- improvement of technique
- performance of exercises (execution and timing)
- constructive review of technique
- practising at the chanter table with the other band members
- practising on the pipes
- bagpipe maintenance/tuning
- learning of new tunes
- includes memorization
- building up a repertoire keeps band members interested and adds variety
- new tunes may lead to new techniques
- performance in public
- dress and deportment
- marching technique/band drill