Practice Tips #1: Time

Every so often I will be posting some practice tips for my students. These topical posts are meant to give specific advice for how to practice effectively to hone the craft of bagpiping. This episode in the series will feature on practice duration and frequency, and how to best schedule your time for practice.


One of the biggest questions I always had as a student was “how long do I practice?” Over the years I have developed strategies and habits which answer that question. The answer to the question is two-fold: daily, and as much as you need to.

The more important of these two, frequency, is what we’ll talk about first. Practicing is about building upon material – creating a kind of snowballing effect where each time you pick up your instrument your skills grow. A key to developing skills quickly and efficiently is to practice each day, and if you can, multiple times in a day.

15 minutes per day, seven days a week, will produce better results for you than 2 hours on a Saturday every week. Sure, you may be practicing more hours on that Saturday, but between sessions you lose a lot of what you did the last time.

How long should you practice each session? Ideally, however long is necessary to achieve your practice session goals. Are you looking to memorize a new tune, and it takes you about a half hour to roughly commit one part of the tune to memory? Practice at least a half hour, then do the same thing the next day. However, it’s always better to get some practice time in a day than none at all. Even if you can practice one hour one day, and only 10 minutes the next, and an hour the next, that 10-minute session in between will help a lot in retaining skills.

For those playing pipes, you ought to dedicate two separate practice sessions – one on practice chanter, and one on the big pipes. Each session should focus on material specific to those instruments.

Here’s a couple ways you can do it:

Chanter Learner: 15 minutes per session, twice per day.
Beginner Piper: 30 minutes on practice chanter, 15 minutes on Highland Pipes
Novice Piper: 30 minutes on practice chanter, 30 minutes on Highland Pipes
Intermediate Piper: 15 minutes on practice chanter, 1 hour on Highland Pipes

the bigger time blocks can be broken up – a hour per day can be broken up into two 15 minute chunks, and one 30 minute chunk.

The big takeaways here are:

  1. Practice every day, even if it’s for just 10 minutes.
  2. Break chanter and full pipes time up into two practice sessions.
  3. Aim to practice as long as it takes to achieve a single day’s practice goal.

Our next practice tips will discuss setting goals at the start of each of your practice sessions.

TERMS

  • Chanter Learner: A bagpiper who is learning basic notes and fingerwork on the practice chanter.
  • Beginner Piper: A bagpiper who has graduated onto the full bagpipes, but is still learning instrument management, and has not yet progressed to playing full tunes on the instrument.
  • Novice Piper: A bagpiper who has begun to play full tunes on the Highland Pipes, but is still developing instrument management skills and mastering transferring fingerwork to the bagpipes.
  • Intermediate Piper: A bagpiper who is able to perform full musical pieces on the bagpipes, and is capable of playing with pipe bands, in gigs, and compete with full tunes.