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Our Adventure with the Bagpipe

A few months ago our son announced he wanted to learn the bagpipe. The Scottish bagpipe. And wear a kilt. At first we thought it was just a phase, and we laughed it off. And ignored it.

But our son kept insisting. And looking up bagpipes on the internet. And kilts. So my wife and I decided to swallow our prejudices about bagpipes, and got him a "starter kit" for his birthday in December. It turns out to learn bagpipe you don't actually play a bagpipe for the first year or so, since it's rather complicated to keep the bag full of air and play music at the same time. You start out by learning the notes with a "practice chanter", which resembles the fingering part of the bagpipe and has a similar reed. It looks like a recorder, but takes a whole lot more air to play, and at first it sounds like a duck call.

But after a few days with the chanter, the book, and the CD he started playing actual notes. And he kept at it. So we started to look around for someone to teach lessons. That's not quite as easy as with more common instruments, where you can sign up at the local music store. You have to do some looking around. At we found Herbert Bartmann in Oldenburg who offers a day-long beginners course on weekends, and read that 12 is the perfect age to start learning. Oldenburg is an hour drive each way, somewhat impractical for weekly lessons, but I brought him in for the day course.

We found that we were on the right track for getting started. Our son could play the scale and read notes by now, and after 8 hours with Mr. Bartmann was even more excited to learn more. He helped us make contact with a teacher in Hamburg, and we've had two lessons with him so far. It looks like our adventure will continue.

As a lay person listening in on the lessons, I've found the bagpipe to be more interesting than I imagined, particularly how one works within the limitations of the instrument. Its range is limited (9 notes, a little more than an octave), has a constant volume (no way to play quietly), and has a constant, uninterrupted tone. All the music is in the fingering, with grace notes and doublings surrounding the individual notes.

Our son's goal is to play a bagpipe solo at his school's Christmas concert… this year would be a little soon, but 2013 is certainly an attainable goal. We'll see then if he's still serious about the kilt.

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