Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Reed Book Interactive DVD-Rom

“Probably the most comprehensive product about reeds ever published”. This DVD- Rom contains a 57 page PDF book with many step by step full colour photographs to help pipers gain a complete understanding about reeds. A large number of video files are also linked throughout the publication showing how to carry out testing and manipulation of drone and chanter reeds.

Chapters have been included on the making of chanter and drone reeds so that the construction of reeds is better understood and therefore the principles behind many of the manipulations make more sense to the piper. Selection of reeds and cane are also topics discussed along with installing, setting up, refining, increasing/decreasing volume, altering tonal quality, problem solving etc.

Chapters include:
CHAPTER 1. Practice Chanter Reeds
CHAPTER 2. Pipe Chanter Reeds
CHAPTER 3. Making a Chanter Reed
CHAPTER 4. Selecting a Pipe Chanter Reed
CHAPTER 5. Setting a Pipe Chanter
CHAPTER 6. Tools for Working with Reeds
CHAPTER 7. Manipulating Reeds
CHAPTER 8. Problem Solving
CHAPTER 9. Tuning a Pipe Chanter (basics)

CHAPTER 10. Types of Drone Reeds
CHAPTER 11. Making Cane Drone Reeds
CHAPTER 12. Understanding Drone Reeds
CHAPTER 13. Reed Selection
CHAPTER 14. Setting up Drones
CHAPTER 15. Problem Solving
CHAPTER 16. Tuning the Drones (basics)


CHAPTER 17. Making Your Bagpipe Air Efficient
CHAPTER 18. Setting Up and Tuning the Bagpipe (basics)

Suitable for use on any computer with a PDF and DVD reader.

Now available from the School of Piping Shop.

Great price packages are also available including the Complete Pipers Handbook.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


We constantly aim for better tone and stability of our instrument. Here are some simple tips that will help:

• Check that all joints and tuning slides are well hemped and that none move or rock on the joint.

• Test that your bag is airtight and your blow pipe valve is working properly.

• Ensure that you have a suitable Water Trap or Moisture Control System installed.

• If using a canister system replace the drying agent.

• Check all hoses to your Moisture Control System. Some hoses may leak, replace them. Some brands of hoses offer more stability and reliability than others.

• Some drone reeds will not last forever. If any are suspect clean the reeds and replace the bridles. You may also need to replace your reeds if you suspect tongue fatigue.

• Balance your drone reeds for strength (the methods are highlighted in The Complete Pipers Handbook).

• If your chanter reed is old and not giving the best performance, replace it.

• If too much moisture is building up on the reeds invest in a new Moisture Control System.

• Practice blowing exercises, as a lot of instability can be caused by poor technique. A Bagpipe Gauge is available from the School of Piping Shop which you can use to monitor your blowing.

• Do not assume that instability is caused by your blowing, I see so many instruments that are poorly set and pipers just assume it is their bad blowing.

• Get a good maintenance guide to help you to learn to set your instrument up.

Too often I see old equipment that has passed its prime or badly set instruments and pipers ignoring it. They either put up with the bad results or assume it is their own failure to blow steady. It is the Pipe Majors catch cry to have difficulty with an instrument and tell someone to blow steady! This might not always be the problem.

Give yourself a fighting chance and try the above points to get a better result from your instrument. The Complete Pipers Handbook is a great guide to help you to get a better result from your instrument. Also the School of Piping Shop has great deals on many reeds and products, and we are always willing to offer help and advice along the way.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


It is our sad duty to report the passing of Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies on the 27th August 2011 at 47 years of age. Pipe Major of the Queens Own Highlanders and one of the top piping competitors of the modern era. Winner of the Silver Star for former winners of the MSR at the Northern Meeting a record eleven times. Three times winner of the Glenfiddich Championships.

He won both Highland Society of London’s Gold Medals (Argyllshire Gathering 1989, Northern Meeting 2004)

The piping world will sadly miss Alasdair and his jovial nature. May we extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Album Released by

The School of Piping website is pleased to announce the release of its second album of downloadable bagpipe tune lessons. The album titled "Lessons volume 2" features a collection of Intermediate level tunes: 6/8 Dundee City Police Pipe Band, 2/4 Duke of Roxburghe's Farewell to the Blackmount Forest, Strathspey Maggie Cameron, Reel Alick C McGregor, Jig The Kitchen Maid and Hornpipe P/M George Allan.

This will back up the previous very popular album "Lessons volume 1" which featured basic level and popular tunes.

The lessons can be downloaded from:

We trust that you will enjoy!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Greg Bassani, National Principal of Drumming with the Australian Pipe Band College has been awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2011 for services to music. Greg has put in a huge effort over many years to promote drumming in Pipe Bands throughout Australia.

Greg was taught at the CBC Pipe Band and moved on to become Leading Side Drummer of the Adelaide University Regiment, Royal Caledonian Society of SA, Scotch College-Adelaide and The City of Adelaide Pipe Band, winning several Championships along the way. He has served many years as the Vice Principal of Drumming in South Australia and more recently as the National Principal of Drumming. His scientific work on mid section tuning has been published by the RSPBA.

Well Done Greg, a recognition long overdue!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Piping News in 2011

So we have a new season upon us and all sorts of things happening.

The 2011 R U Brown Gold Medal Competition has just been run in Adelaide, Australia with Ross Campbell taking first place. Ross has won three times previously, always a class performer. Second was Brett Tidswell and third was Stuart Easton from New Zealand. Approximately 96 competitors over 10 events this year. Gold medal judges were Robert Wallace (Scotland), Sam Young and Jim Smith. Full results can be seen on the news page at

I see all sorts of comments and suggestions from overseas about how to stop discrepancies in judging. Judging is always someones opinion and so long as they are not ridiculously off the planet, it is those opinions that we want to foster. Huge variations between judges often come from listening to opposing sides of bands when a blooter or similar rings out. That is the nature of a live performance and the human ear. I personally think the only answer is to maintain the quality of training and ensure the quality of the candidates in the first place. Some extent of discrepancies and variation will always be a feature of what we do, even if the judges all listen from the same point. The way to overcome their effect is to have a larger judging panel and a rogue element will be over ruled by the weight of the majority. I see in Brittany they have a table of about 10 or 12 judges and none are measuring sock heights that I am aware of!

The other issue regarding judging seems to be the debate over the inclusion of mid-section judging in Canada to form a part of the overall results. Word has been spread that it is done in Australia, but that is 100% false. Mid-sections are already included in the drumming and ensemble components. In fact many judges seem to give them far to much space on ensemble sheets in my humble opinion. They form an integral part of what we do, but I am a strong believer in simplification in all things, not making them more complicated.

On the subject of simplification, I see the debate of band formations again appearing in a few publications. How should we perform for competition purposes? What formation is best for the public? Simplification! Start here and form up there however you want inside the confines of the circle. Bands choice; open circle, closed circle, V shape, thistle shape, scotch pie shape, west highland terrier shape, whatever the band likes. Simple, allows for variation, or not as the case may be. Bands will soon work out how they can convey their performance the best. I do not see any reason to impose a specific formation or even a fixed judging position.

The City of Adelaide Pipe Band in South Australia has now introduced a Youth Development Band that will be competing in the coming year. Probably starting in Grade 4 and Juvenile. We have great hopes for the young players of the future and many of our young pipers have already featured in the prize lists at the R U Brown event. Well done to them all!

With the inclusion of Olav Goud (ex Lothian and Borders, Strathclyde and Boghall) as lead side, the band is looking forward to a very positive season. Hopefully our drumming woes are at last behind us. Now a few more quality pipers would help!!!!

The Scottish Championship at Dumbarton will be on us in just under two weeks. It will be interesting to see the results of the years first major. I have heard some video footage from Gourock last weekend and detect some improvements in sound from some of the bands already. This was an amazing past year with the shuffling of grade 1 Pipe Major's deck chairs! Good luck to all of the new Pipe Majors, I hope you have a great season.

The School of Piping website has undergone a complete overhaul. Each page has had a facelift with a more modern design. Some new features have been added and a new shop. This includes both a Beginners and Advanced publication section, and includes not only the School of Piping publications but also the College of Piping tutors and PM Bill Robertson's excellent series of DVD-Roms. The highlight in our opinion being his 115 Piobaireachd Tutorials which features a basics book with video links, manuscripts, tune histories and audio lessons for 115 tunes. A masterpiece by the ex Pipe Major of the Royal Scots. Quality Bagpipes and Accessories are also available.

Work is continuing on a number of new publications from the School of Piping and we will keep you all informed when they are available.

Well, last year I think the Worlds was excellent. The bands were all able to be viewed from the mound beside the grade 1 arena, and as a competitor it was a delight to be able to actually see some of the bands playing. The big screen is certainly amazing too (except when you are facing it whilst competing). I wish you all the best for the coming season and look forward to hearing some great performances.

Thursday, April 21, 2011



We have been informed of the passing of Lewis Turrell in Auckland, New Zealand on the 21st April 2011 after a long battle with lung cancer. A sad loss for piping in this part of the world. Lewis was a much loved character and friend to all he met. A pupil of William Kennedy, George McLennan and PM Donald McLeod M.B.E. Lewis rose to legendary status in 1958 when he won the Gold Medal at Inverness playing the "Rout of the MacPhees" (the first overseas competitor to do so). On that day he also won the Strathspeys and Reels, the Jig and was second in the March. He has been Pipe Major of the Invercargill and Wellington Pipe Bands and has made such a huge impact on piping in New Zealand. Lewis will be sadly missed by all.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Latest Bash at Kilt Wearers

Today's Advertiser Newspaper has a ridiculous comment from former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, that just highlights what a pompous, more "English than the English" prat he really is. Suggesting that Prince Charles eccentricities including his kilt wearing do not sit well with most Australians. Well I would suggest that any such comments regarding a national dress are out of place, and a former Foreign Minister should be sympathetic to such matters. The large percentage of Australian's who are proudly of Scottish descent may feel differently, and I am sure many other nationalities who are proud to wear their own national dress would be supportive as well.

Can you imagine suggesting that a Royal from any other nation was eccentric for wearing their own national dress and that "it didn't sit well with most Australians"?

Speak on your own behalf Sassenach there are many proud kilt wearers in Australia.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bagpipe Instruction Manual Review

Bagpipe Instruction Manual Review by John Miner

“I recently had the opportunity of acquiring “The Bagpipe Instruction Manual “by Brett Tidswell. Not to be confused with the more comprehensive “Complete Piper’s Handbook”, this smaller, 32 page, manual was designed to provide as much useful information on bagpipe setup and maintenance as possible into a small, portable, booklet that can be thrown into the pipe case and reviewed at a moment’s notice.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a complete nut when it comes to bagpipe maintenance. I have always felt that there is a special relationship and connection between the piper and his/her instrument. The time and energy one invests in learning and caring for the pipe will be returned many times in the form of a pipe that sounds great and is reliable and dependable every time. I have long been a fan of Brett’s site and have found it a great resource for anyone who is interested in bagpipe care and maintenance.

I was actually very surprised with how much information Brett was able to cram into so few pages. Although similar in appearance to the old classic “Piper’s Handbook” by Pipe Major John MacLellan, I found the “Bagpipe Instruction Manual” to cover more topics and to be much more in depth. There is no time spent covering history or other topics. The book is 100% focused on providing clear and helpful information. It also contains many helpful photos, including detailed instructions on tying hemp bridles for cane drone reeds, diagrams of how to alter chanter reeds, and many others.

I think this book will become required reading for all of my students. The bagpipe can be an intimidating beast for a new player. This book provides a clear list of all the “must haves” for your pipe box, instructions on drone cords, bags, bag covers, valves, moisture control, reed basics, and many other topics. All very helpful for the novice player. Having said this, the book also contains enough valuable information to make it very much worthwhile to the intermediate to advanced players. The largest portion of the book is dedicated solely to reed trouble shooting and manipulation, both for drones and chanter. Pretty much every possible problem is addressed, and simple, helpful solutions are provided for each. It certainly goes well beyond the basics and is probably the best I’ve seen in the form of a small, comprehensive maintenance and setup guide. Certainly a worthwhile resource to have available for any piper. There is also some mention of matters of refinement, pitch, tone, and tuning positions, but readers are referred to the “Complete Piper’s Handbook” for more in depth discussion on these issues.

I appreciate this book because it helps take a lot of the mystery and superstition out of bagpipe setup. Certainly some these techniques take time to master, but many other tips can be applied immediately and become a great help to the player. There is no reason in this day and age that pipers of any ability cannot have a well set up, reliable, and pleasant instrument to enjoy. For those looking for a compact, clear, and comprehensive guide to “de-mystifying” bagpipe setup and maintenance, or simply looking learning a few new tricks to have a better sounding bagpipe, this book is a must for the pipe case.”

The Manual is available from

Monday, March 21, 2011

Whats on the Net!

Allan Hamilton of Strathclyde Police has developed a website called Pipers Persuasion that features interviews with prominent pipers. These are video interviews divided into segments. Allan obviously has a long history of interviewing people (probably not under the same circumstances) and gets his subjects feeling comfortable and talking about the topic they are all so passionate about. This is a site you can spend hours watching and is going to become a valuable historical resource.

Several new reviews have been posted at the School of Piping site, these include the new Bannatynes Bag, new Glass Fiber Crozier Drone Reeds, Bruce Gandy's new CD "Front Row Seat" and details on the new SoP publication "The Bagpipe Instruction Manual".

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Bagpipe Instruction Manual

Ever wonder why your bagpipes didn't come with an Instruction Manual and you had to fool around trying to make things work!

"THE BAGPIPE INSTRUCTION MANUAL" covers everything you need to know to set up a bagpipe and solve the most common problems. A concise, inexpensive A5 publication with 36 pages and demonstrative photographs. This is the perfect size to fit in your pipe case and help you when assistance is most needed.

Just like the manual for your TV or DVD player except easy to read and follow!!!!

Chapters include: What you will need, The Great Highland Bagpipe, Tying on Cords, The Bag and Cover, Blow stick, valve and mouthpiece, Joints, slides and hemping, Moisture Control, Drones (including set up and problem solving), Chanter (including set up and problem solving), Maintenance checklists, Caring for your Instrument. Everything you need to get you started and keep your instrument going well.

Available from for only $19 + postage.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teaching and Talent

There seems to be a lot of material being produced about how there is no such thing as talent. It seems in the modern era we do not like to suggest that some will naturally be better than others at a task for no apparent reason other than they are somehow gifted and naturally built for the task. Alternatively we have the Olympic coaches measuring kids up at school to see if they are naturally built to ride a bike or row a boat. Why is the bagpipe any different?

Over the years I have probably started hundreds of people off on the practice chanter. I have read a lot on this subject of talent and hours of practice, and like to think I am as open minded about these subjects as possible.

It does stand out to me though that there were a few people (only a very small number) who picked up the chanter and instantly looked comfortable and learned new lessons very quickly. There were others that were not so fortunate and seemed to struggle and take longer through the whole process (again a small number). A lot of this has to do with hand eye co-ordination and I am sure the same percentage would struggle to throw and catch a ball as well. The vast majority were similar in the rate at which they picked up new material and how much practice they did made a huge difference to their development.

The exceptional students (who could pick up lessons very quickly) also seemed to drop less in standard during the times when they were not playing. Some just seemed to have to always work hard at it.

Adult learners are another matter. I have taught many adult learners and the age at which you start makes a huge difference on the end result. As I get older, my hands (and brain) are not the same as they were 20 or 30 years ago. If I had to start again now, I would not progress at the same rate as I did when I was a child. However a good teacher and a realistic program can reap good results.

Now that I have spent many years teaching at seminars etc. I see a broad spectrum of students from a variety of teaching sources. I see many who are hampered by technical issues from being taught poorly or incorrectly.

Like any activity there are those with a natural ability for it. Some people just seem naturally co-ordinated. They will pick up new material very quickly, BUT they will not be the World champion pipers unless they put in the many hours of hard work needed and have good tuition. Likewise, those who struggle to pick up the lessons will have to work harder and probably will never be the next Worlds best piper (that is not to say that they will not become a good piper).

Realistically, there are those with a natural ability. There will also be those with less natural ability. Hard work and a good teacher will benefit both. The true champions are those with a natural ability who also put in the hard yards and have the quality guidance behind them of a good teacher.

There is information on teaching and lots of advice for pipers at

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Australian Pipe Band Association Summer School 2011

We have just seen the first week long Australian Pipe Band Association Summer School come and go! A lot of work was undertaken by the organizers and they should be commended for their efforts and the way it ran without hiccup apart from some post holiday issues with the University accommodation. Not a huge drama, but a small delay on the first day.

Piping instructors were: Jack Lee (Simon Fraser University Pipe Band), Brett Tidswell (APBA Piping Principal, Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, City of Adelaide Pipe Band), Ian Lyons (Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band, Clayton and Victoria Police Pipe Band) and Robert Crozier (Victoria Police Pipe Band). It was a great pleasure working with all of the instructors.

Drumming Instructors were: Reid Maxwell (SFU), Tyler Fry (Shotts), Dean Hall (Band Club), Nick MacLeod (Warrnambool), assited by Rob Bennet (Rats of Tobruk) and Greg Bassani (APBA Principal of Drumming).

Admin was undertaken by Greg and Christine Gordon.

A very professional group but also capable of tremendous humour!

During a session on bagpipe set up, one tutor commented that he sets his 'high A' 20 - 30 cents lower than the octave and later, when demonstrating one of the other tutors stated that it sounded more like a dollar! Any comment on tone invariably resulted in some truly impressive Ian MacLellan impersonations!

Overall there were 92 students, all of whom demonstrated a commitment and enthusiasm for learning. Piping was broken into 4 groups and personally I found that each one was a pleasure to teach. The range of students went from those who could only play a handful of tunes through to a reasonable Intermediate standard.

Each day had a full program of lessons starting at 8.30am and went through to an evening class finishing at 8.30 - 9.00 pm. Chanters could be heard in the accommodation block as students worked on material for the following day and the end of school performances.

It was great to see all states represented and also students who travelled from as far as Singapore to attend the event. Each state branch of the Association had given scholarships to outstanding candidates, and this all bodes well for a great future for the event.

I tremendously enjoyed the opportunity to assist in presenting a two night ensemble discussion along with Reid Maxwell and Tyler Fry. Some of us were not always on the 'same page' as to tenor drum tuning and numbers, but that is what makes these discussions so valuable.

The final Friday saw students present some pieces they had worked on as ensembles with the drummers. This seemed to go down very well and it was good to see that so many had learned a considerable amount of new music in the week. That night we moved on to the LaTrobe University theater and a recital was put on by the instructors. Brett Tidswell opened the show with Ian Lyons and Jack Lee also performing solo. Reid Maxwell and Tyler Fry also performed and later were joined by Alby Copeland, Robert Crozier and the other pipers for a full performance scraped together virtually the day before with no chance to rehearse or tune at all!

A number of prizes were awarded for tune composition which were donated by McCallum Bagpipes. The winning tune by Donna Stemberger was a very pleasant 3 part air. Second prize went to Matthew Gervasoni for a very nice Hornpipe.

Piping scholarships for next year were given to Fergus Barry-Corderoy and Alexandra Culver. All instructors thought these students showed talent and outstanding enthusiasm. A separate scholarship was awarded to Ong Wei Shi to attend the Canadian Summer School.

The awarded Brett Tidswell's CDs and The Complete Pipers Handbook to students that we considered were enthusiastic and deserved commendation.

Lyons Highland Supplies also donated Crozier Drone Reeds as prizes for students.

It is hoped that students will continue with the material taught at the school and it will provide some first class tuition and broaden their musical view point. This has the potential to greatly improve piping throughout Australia. I look forward to seeing everyone again next year. I am sure everyone not only had a rewarding learning experience but also made friendships that will last a lifetime.

Further learning material, reviews, photo albums, sound files and other entertaining material can be found at the School of Piping website. This is an online piping workshop that can be accessed anytime!