Technology has impacted every part of our lives, including piping. The internet has connected pipers from across the globe. Web sites, email, and discussion groups have given pipers fast and inexpensive ways to share information and organize events. It has never been easier to check on the latest competition results, shop for bagpipe products, and keep in touch with your fellow pipers.
As a full-time professional piper and bagpipe teacher, I am interested in finding innovative ways to instruct and help my students reach their piping goals. The internet has allowed me to successfully teach students almost anywhere, regardless of their geographic location. Through my website, BagpipeLessons.com, I have developed two long distance learning solutions: customized recorded lessons and real-time interactive video lessons.
Recorded lessons are simple. Students send me an audio recording of their tunes with copies of the sheet music. I listen to the recording and record a custom lesson, with a complete assessment of their tunes, suggestions for improvement, playing demonstrations, and strategies for practice. An advantage of this method allows the student to work at their own pace. Pipers have been exchanging cassette tapes for years, but the time delay required for international mail always slowed down the process. If the student is capable of recording and downloading their lesson in mp3 format, it speeds up the process considerably.
Interactive video lessons work just like regular in-person lessons, except I meet with the student via the internet using video conferencing software. I’ve taught students all over the world with this technology, and the sound and video quality are excellent. After a few minutes, you feel like you are sitting across the table from each other. All that is required is a web cam, microphone, video chat software, and high-speed internet access. Just like real in-person lessons the student receives instant feedback. I can listen and make suggestions for improvement that the student can implement immediately. And unlike the telephone, video lessons have the added visual dimension so I can comment on finger position, posture, and overall presentation.
I have taught pipers around the world of all ages and skill levels using these methods — all across the United States (California, Texas, Florida, New York, Georgia) to the prairies of Canada, and across to Europe (Sweden), and down to the South Pacific (New Zealand). I’ve even had a student on an expedition to Antarctica. But regardless of where they are in the world, pipers need expert guidance and motivation as they strive towards their goals of clean technique, solid expression, and beautiful tone. Some of my students are motivated by competition, others want to learn new and interesting tunes, and some are trying to learn their first tune.
It has never been a better time to learn the bagpipes, and it has never been easier to find access to good instruction. You don’t have to live in Scotland or be born to a famous piping family to achieve your dreams. With a practice chanter and a good internet connection, anything is possible.