Bagpipe Lessons Frequently Asked Questions

How do I book a wedding, funeral or other performance?

I can be reached by phone at +1-587-600-0013 or by email at bagpipes@ksfraser.com.

 How much does it cost for a wedding, funeral, party or other event?

My base rate for 2017 is $175.00 for the first hour on-site ready to play.  Additional time can be purchased in 30 minute increments for $30.

For a wedding, I am also available to attend the dress rehearsal,  for an additional flat fee of $60 plus any travel charges that apply.

If the performance is out of Airdrie, travel charges apply.  I charge $1.50 per kilometer (one way) from my house to the performance site as calculated by Google Maps.

Can you provide an example of a wedding?

Many weddings I am asked to play for 20-30 minutes before the ceremony to pipe the guests arrival.  I would arrive before that time, check in, and then warm up and tune up.  I would then start piping at the scheduled time.  I would then pipe in the groomsmen and groom, then the bridesmaids, and finally the bride.  I’ve on occasion been asked to play during the signing.  I would also pipe the bride and groom out for the recessional.

I can also be available for the reception.  I’ve played during the receiving line, as well as piping in the head table.

How much does this cost?

The costs for this example would be as follows (assuming no travel charges apply):

Wedding + 30 minutes prelude = $205.

Wedding + 30 minute prelude + dress rehearsal = $265

Late afternoon Wedding + dress rehearsal + early evening receiving line + head table = $325.

How do I book lessons?

I can be reached by phone at +1-587-600-0013 or by email at bagpipes@ksfraser.com.

When will my lessons be?

I am currently available every night and most weekend days for lessons.  I am also available week-day afternoons.  Normally we would schedule a weekly lesson, but I am flexible.  If a fixed night every week doesn’t work (i.e. shift work) we can schedule what works best for both of us.

To see available spots, you can look at my Calendar

How much do you charge for a lesson?

For a lesson at my house, I would charge $40 (2017) per lesson, and the lessons are between 30 and 45 minutes at first.  However, the lessons may run longer depending on how things are progressing during that lesson, as well as depending on what stage of progress you are at.  For example, on the lessons that you are starting on the pipes themselves, you would get about 30 minutes on the practice chanter and another 15-20 minutes on the pipes during a lesson.

If the lesson lasts between an hour and 90 minutes, the charge for the lesson will be $60 (2017).

If the lessons are to be at a location outside of Airdrie, there would be an additional charge (see above) depending on distance I would be traveling.

How can I pay?

I accept payment by cash, cheque or e-interac.  You may pay at the end of each lesson, or you may pay for a number of lessons in advance.  I use accounting software to track all lessons (I generate invoices, printed upon request) and all payments.

What if I can’t make it to a lesson  Do I still have to pay?

If you advise me you can’t attend your lesson 24 hours or more in advance, you will not be charged for the lesson.

If you advise me that you can’t attend with less than 24 hours advance notice, you will be charged for 1/2 of your normal lesson (i.e. if you normally have a 90 minute lesson you will be charged 1/2 of the 90 minute lesson rate).  Certain exceptions shall apply (e.x. blizzard/extreme winter road conditions)

If you do not advise me before the start of your lesson that you can’t attend, you will be charged for the missed lesson.

You may advise me by phone, SMS (text) message or email that you won’t be able to make it.

NOTE:  If you are unable to attend 3 lessons within a 6 week period, your scheduled time will be released so that other potential students may book that time.  You will then be required to fit your schedule into my openings.  Alternately you may pre-pay for 4 or more weeks to hold that spot but you will be charged for those lessons regardless of your attendance.  The only exception to the 3 in 6 rule shall be if you are going out of town for an extended period of time (vacation, work trip) and you advise me with at least 6 days notice.

What if my friend or spouse or kids want to learn as well.  Can we get a group rate?

If you and your friend want a group lesson, that can be arranged with the cost per person per lesson being reduced.  Please note that more people in the lesson means less time devoted to each student.

Do I have to commit to a minimum number of lessons?

If you are receiving private lessons in Airdrie, then I don’t require a commitment.  However I would recommend you make a commitment to yourself to continue long enough that you are playing at least one tune from memory.

If you will be part of a group lesson or back to back lesson in Calgary, then I will require a minimum commitment of 12 weeks.  This minimum commitment is because of the impact on the other student’s costs since group lessons and back to back Calgary lessons will have a shared cost split between the students.

How soon will I be able to play a tune?

While progress really depends on the student and the amount of time they spend practicing, you will generally start with a nursery rhyme such as Baa Baa Black Sheep in the 3rd or 4th week.  A week or two after that you will be introduced to an elementary setting of Mairi’s Wedding (A popular folk tune sung by the Rankins and others).

What is an elementary setting of a tune?

An elementary tune has the same notes as the normal setting but has many of the gracenotes removed or simplified.  These settings are used to allow newer players to learn the tune and play along with more advanced players in a band (group) setting.

How long until I play an actual set of pipes?

This depends on the student, the instructor, and the availability of pipes.  When I learned, I didn’t touch a set of pipes until I was able to play half a dozen tunes from memory, which was shortly after the 2 year mark.

I have found that having to wait 2 years doesn’t help the motivation level.  Therefore I have my students blowing a set of pipes as early as possible.  If the student has their own set, they would blow them for a few minutes during the first lesson.  Otherwise it would normally be your third or fourth lesson when we take my pipes out.

What does learning to blow the pipes look like?

You will start blowing just 1 drone.  Once you are able to blow one without too much difficulty, we will add in the second drone, the third drone, and eventually the chanter.

Normally we would add one drone or the chanter each week, so it would be the 4th week of blowing the pipes when you are playing the whole instrument.  By this time you would normally have Mairi’s wedding memorized and therefore able to play it on the pipes.

Do I need experience playing other instruments before learning the pipes?

Absolutely not!  Having experience with other instrument can help but may also hinder slightly.  For example, having played another instrument would help because the music theory for the bagpipes is identical to the music theory you would have learned from the other instruments with 1 or 2 exceptions.  The one way it might hinder slightly is because the way you shape your fingers holding the chanter is very different from playing a sax, clarinet, flute or trumpet.

What things I should consider before starting to learn the pipes?

The first thing you should be clear on in your mind is why do you want to learn the pipes. This isn’t meant to be discouraging.  On the contrary, this is so that you have a goal to work towards, which will help motivate you to make the progress you want.

For example, do you want to become a solo player competing in the World Championships in Scotland,or are you aiming to play for friends and family?  Do you want to play with a band that plays local parades?  Do you want to play with a band that is competing locally, and perhaps at the World Championships?

The second thing you should consider is how much practice time each day and each week are you allocating?  The amount of time practicing as well as how frequently you practice will have a great impact on your progress.  More often but shorter will result in faster progress than 1 long practice a week.

Where will my lessons be?

I teach out of my home.  However, I am willing to teach you where ever you are most comfortable (for example your home).  However, if you don’t live in Airdrie there will be an additional charge to cover my  time and travel expenses.  I am willing to travel in the area with the following towns as boundaries:

  • Canmore/Banff
  • Didsbury/Olds
  • Chestermere/Strathmore
  • Okotoks

How much is the additional charges?

The exact amount will depend on how far I have to travel to get to the site of the lesson.  For rough estimation purposes, you can use $1.50 a kilometer traveled (one way distance).  Communities around Fish Creek Park in Calgary can expect around $75 for the additional charge.

Isn’t that additional charge rather high?

At first glance, it is.  However, lets look at the case of a lesson near Fish Creek Park.  If the lesson is at 7:30 P.M., I would be leaving Airdrie around 6:30 P.M. and wouldn’t be back to Airdrie until 9:15 P.M. or so.  Therefore this lesson would consume the entire evening and I wouldn’t be able to teach any lessons in Airdrie that evening.

Sharing the additional charges

I am willing to schedule either group lessons or lessons back to back in an area assuming all students are willing and their schedules agree.  This would result in the additional charge being shared amongst the students.  However, I would require a minimum commitment of 12 lessons from each of the students once the scheduling is aligned so that one student not continuing after a few lessons doesn’t have an immediate adverse effect on the additional charge for the other students.

What do I need to get started?

You will require a practice chanter before your first lesson.  These are available at Scottish Shops in Calgary (i.e. Celtic Pipe Line, The Scottish Shoppe, The Highland Shop, etc), as well as online. You may also purchase the College of Piping Tutor (green book).  However, I do not teach out of the Tutor.  I teach the same material as the Tutor, but in a different order.  I will provide material as we progress but the Tutor is an excellent reference.

What practice chanter should I purchase?

I recommend that you purchase a practice chanter that has full size (countersunk) holes and full size spacing.  I would strongly recommend a plastic chanter, and I wouldn’t spend money on fancy silver ferules, engravings, etc.  This type of chanter  (full size) is the most similar to the one you would play on the pipes themselves.  The last time I looked the practice chanter was around $75, depending on manufacturer.

You may purchase a wood practice chanter, though they take more regular maintenance.  For example, if you don’t dry it out after each practice, the wood may rot.  I have also seen wooden chanters break where as I have not yet seen a plastic chanter break.

Are there any age limits on starting to learn the pipes?

I would recommend that the new learner be at least 7 or 8.  I know of 1 person who started at 4, but his father is the pipe major of a band that regularly wins at the World Championships.  The ability to concentrate and stay focused for about 30 minutes at a time is what is needed in order to successfully learn the pipes.  I have a couple of nephews that are 7, and their attention span while learning musical instruments is about 10 minutes.

Purchasing a set of pipes

Recently (Fall 2011) on the Calgary Kijiji there was a used set of pipes listed at $500.  I’ve heard that new pipes manufactured in Pakistan are available for about $700, but these would be the very base starter pipes.  Decent starter pipes should be available for around $1200 and anywhere up to $20,000 depending on the wood used, the adornments, silver, engravings, etc.

When purchasing the pipes, 2 important factors is the length of the blowstick/mouthpiece and the size of the bag.  I am 6’4 and play the largest bag and longest mouthpiece.  Students of mine who are under 5 feet need the smallest bag and the shortest mouthpiece.

Another consideration is leather bag or synthetic bag.  They are about the same price and the pros and cons of each include:

  • the synthetics will need a water trap, especially in moist climates.  Leather bags *may* need a water trap.
  • My leather bag has lasted me 15 years but that is unusual – the usual lifespan for a leather bag is normally 5 years or so.  I haven’t heard of synthetic bags needing to be replaced unless they aren’t taken care of and end up ripped, etc.
  • Leather bags need to be seasoned where as the synthetics don’t.
  • Leather bags hold their shape better than the synthetics when they are only partially inflated.

I purchased my set of pipes in 1989 and they are still in good shape.  If you take care of the pipes, they can last you a life time.

Where can I purchase Pipes, Practice Chanters, Reeds, Books, etc?

My sister and I have recently opened a Highland Shop (Fraser Highland Shoppe at http://fraserhighlandshoppe.ca).  We carry all of the products that a piper needs.

Alternatively, you can purchase from one of the Scottish shops in Calgary.  There are also any number of online Scottish shops.

I don’t live in/near Airdrie.  How do I find an instructor?

If looking on the internet hasn’t helped you locate an instructor in your area, my approach would be to seek out local pipe bands.  Some bands provide instruction for free.  Most pipe bands will have at least one piper that is willing to teach outside of the band.  If your area has multiple bands, the lower level bands (grade 5 and 4) are more likely to be willing to teach brand new beginners.  Higher level bands would be willing to teach people already playing as that is how they will increase their own strength.

You can search for grade 5 or grade 4 bands.  Also, don’t discount coming out to Airdrie for lessons.  I have students coming to Airdrie from as far as Carseland, Red Deer, Calgary and Okotoks.