Learning to Play the Bagpipes

You have decided you want to learn to play the bagpipes. The Bagpipe is a difficult instrument and like any instrument it is easiest to learn as a child or teen; however, a lot of adults have made a hobby of piping. By combining patience and perseverance with an intelligent approach and good instruction anyone can learn to play the bagpipe.

Good instruction is essential. The pipes are not an instrument you pick up on your own, no matter how many other instruments you play! They are a very technical instrument with a sophisticated system of gracenoting. Written tutorials do not always steer you clear of pitfalls. If you don't have a good instructor near you, there are instructors in North America who will teach by phone or online. You should use every opportunity you can to travel to workshops and summer schools.

To make significant progress, you should be prepared to practice in a very focused way for a minimum of 20 minutes a day at least 5 days a week. By focused practice, I mean not practicing while you watch Television! Students who work the hardest and spend the most time practicing are the ones who advance the quickest. Talent is only part of the equation; hard work is the key!


You do not start with a set of bagpipes. Instead, you will start with a practice chanter, which is a small recorder-like instrument that is quiet and also more affordable. In the first several months, you will begin by learning the fingering and gracenoting system required to play Highland Bagpipe tunes. Once you can play a few simple tunes and have them memorized, your instructor will probably suggest you acquire a set of pipes.

Practice Chanters

Practice chanters can be made out of polypenco (also called delrin), which is basically plastic. These instruments are tough that cost between $75 and $175. They may also be made out of African Blackwood; these can cost between $175 and $300, or even more if you want silver and engraved silver adornments on it.

Practice chanters come in two sizes: regular and long. The long chanter has finger holes the same distance apart as those on the bagpipe chanter. Younger children often start on the shorter version. Some companies also offer a child's chanter for very young children. To see a full line of practice chanters, see the links below.

Tutor Books

Your instructor will have his or her own recommendations, and may even have their own system. However, there are several excellent tutors on the market:

  • The National Piping Centre Tutor produced by the National Piping Center in Glasgow.
  • The College of Piping Tutors, best suited to learning with an instructor.

Another useful book Jim McGillivray's, Rhythmic Fingerwork. This book is not really a beginner tutor; it is a workbook or method book to help you master all the intricate gracenoting required to play Highland pipe tunes. It is one of the more popular instructional books best suited to students with at least two or three months of instruction under their belts.

Is It Supposed to Sound Like That? is a tutor and workbook that explains music theory as it applies to pipers and pipe music. It is clear and concise and helps demystify music, pitch, keys, tempo and more. If you have any other questions please contact me.