Precious Practice Pads

November 26, 2008 on 7:24 pm by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping, Stories, Tips | 4 Comments

A huge number of us are  stricken with the chronic challenge of trying to find a suitable place to practice the big pipes.   If a single chanter can reach 122 decibels and a pneumatic drill can reach 104 decibels, well, then, we all  know we need some fairly sound-tight space to rehearse our tunes of glory.  Hell, we didn’t need to know about the drill statistic; it’s simple, we need space to play our pipes.  Period.

I’m lucky to live in a detached house.  For the most part, I can play my pipes whenever I like – sort of.  Even at the best of times, I shut the windows and generally make sure I don’t play after 9:00 pm.  My neighbours say they like the pipes but I really think they mean they like them played “Far, Far Away” – at a distance.

When it comes to productive practicing I can tell you one big truth I’ve learned: the best practice on the pipes happens when you know you’ll not be interrupted and when you’re sure your tunes are not intruding on the peace of any one person in earshot.  I’ve always found my mind wanders and worries and just gets distracted when I know I am annoying people or getting on their one frayed nerve.  Lack of focus and distraction: surely the biggest enemies of a fruitful practice session.

The practicing piper’s reality?  We take what we get.

I’ve practiced — and tuned up – in some weird and not wonderful places in my life.  The weirdest might’ve been the reclined front seat of a Renault 5 (on Dunollie Terrace in Oban in the pouring rain).  The urinal-caked echo chamber, the toilet, is another that I suggest is common for us all.  Outside of home, the second most common practice space for pipers, or competing pipers, might be the toilet.  The perennial room-next-to-the-final-tuning-room – a truth the world over.

When I did live in an apartment and worked in downtown Toronto I can clearly recall begging the Property Manager (named MacPherson, for what that was worth) of the Bay Street office tower where I worked to find a room for me to play at lunch hour.  I thought myself lucky to be given the keys to a storage room adjacent the third sub-level of the underground parking to use as I liked.  A festival of echoes, for sure, but I may’ve only bothered the rats.

Finding a suitable place to practice the sweet music is a constant challenge for pipers everywhere.  I think we should embrace this challenge as an integral and seldom-said part of the bagpiping fraternity.  It’s a real and serious common struggle that binds us.  In fact, drummers, too, feel our pain, I’m sure.

Practicing: If it doesn’t make us deaf or cause riots in the streets it’ll make us stronger.

Have you ever considered the oddest place where you have tuned up or practiced (that you’ll admit)?



  1. Not only is it a challenge for one piper, but try a house with 5 people and three pipers. I’m sure Jack Lee’s family could tell stories…

    I love the story that Donald MacPherson has told in interviews about building a “practice box” in the attic of a rental house in England…sneaking sheets of plywood and insulation into the loft and building something just large enough to stand in and blow the pipes, so he could get ready for Oban and Inverness.

    When we lived in Vancouver, we were in an apartment block that had mostly recent immigrants from Chile, and I played in the graveyard across the street, in all weather. [East 43rd] This was a change from my days in Paisley, when I used to practice in the St. James Churchyard on Underwood Road, until I was evicted. Then, I joined the local YMCA, and practiced in a room there in the basement during the day, when no one was about. I also used to go to the RSPBA, or the SPBA as it was then, on Washington Street, and used their practice rooms.

    Currently, I am blessed, or cursed [you decide] to live in a detached house with neighbours on one side only, and two other pipers. I also have access to practice rooms where I teach, and there the sound of bagpipe mixes it up with cello and violin lessons, and the percussion instructor on the same floor.

    Don’t we all dream of that perfect “piping room” in the house? I wonder how many attain it?

    Comment by iainmacd — November 27, 2008 #

  2. The perfect piping room, Iain in the house?…hmmmmm…couldn’t do it where I lived so almost 30 years I bought the perfect house! … on 15 rural acres 15 minutes from town… no neighbors within earshot… a natural outdoor amphitheatre for good weather playing, pets that don’t mind the volume of the pipes (helps to have a dog with a hearing disability) and voila…instant piping heaven… but now I have no excuse 🙂


    Comment by Captain — November 27, 2008 #

  3. Didn’t John Wilson (Edinburgh/Toronto) dig a trench in his basement in Willowdale that was just big enough so that his bass drone didn’t hit the ceiling? When we lived in a basement appartment (Bruce and Bev’s before us) I practiced at the school across the street. In return I played for the kiddies a few times a year. In warm weather I used to go to a nearby cemetery, find a stone with a Scottish surname and practice there. I was only stopped once, but I told them that I was playing for my dear, late uncle, so they figured it was okay. Why dead “uncle Iain” was enjoying twice-over sets of jigs must have confused them . . .

    Comment by aberthoff — November 27, 2008 #

  4. o Iain – a “practice box”! Almost surprised someone hasn’t tried to market something like that: the PipersJoy Brand ‘Piper’s Box2000’ … neat stories

    o Kenny – sounds like your dog has a natural affinity with a few judges we know 🙂

    o Andrew – John Wilson did have a marching ditch in his basement – I’ve played in it. “Uncle Iain’s Jigs” sounds like a tune name.

    Comment by mike — November 27, 2008 #

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