The purpose of this page is to provide a sequential guide to the typical growth that might be observed for those who are learning to play the bagpipe. Times have not been tightly associated with this list because most people will never make it beyond the first few levels - regardless of the time spent playing. Also please note that learning occurs at different rates in different areas and most players will have attributes of the different growth levels at any one time. No one fits into any of the middle categories in all facets of their playing. Grades are approximate.

Chanter student

Motivation: Vague and varied ideals. Influences include romantic, historic, genealogical, military, cross-dressing, musical.

Skills being learned: Ability to play nine notes. Ability to read musical notes and understand timing. Ability to understand the concepts involved in grace-notes, doublings, embellishments and to reproduce these movements on demand. Ability to hear and correct crossing noises. Ability to memorize several tunes with proper embellishments. Understanding the time commitment needed to support a set of pipes.

Abilities/Limitations: Can play note patterns corresponding to basic tunes accurately from memory.

Elementary piper (Unrated through Grade IV)

Motivation: May be similar to chanter student, but also includes time commitment.

Skills being learned: Ability to rationalize financial and time commitment. Physical coordination and lung capacity. Begins to take on a greater role regarding synthesis of information to be able to diagnose fingering and playing problems. Begins to learn about blowing and tuning. May have an interest in more advanced tunes.

Abilities/Limitations: Plays tunes on the pipes. May not be able to tune own pipes very well. May not be able to blow steadily. May play in a mechanical manner. May not be able to diagnose nor be aware of own playing limitations. Plays mostly marches and a few other tunes.  May be suitable for a few tunes at simple (small, no weather issue) events.

Intermediate Piper (approximately winning Grade IV through competing in Grade III - not less than four years)

Motivation: Probably quite competitive. Strong musical interest.

Skills being learned: Ability to tune own pipes and to blow steadily for a few minutes at a time. Good understanding of the mechanics of the bagpipe. Has accurate fingering and routinely diagnoses fingering and playing problems. Starting to search and find the "music" in the tunes. Beginning to listen to advanced pipers and evaluate and incorporate their styles. Realizes in what sense that the music is a "guide".

Abilities/Limitations: Begins to play many tunes more musically, but may overreach his/her technical abilities from time to time - in public. Can probably conform to a given style for playing in different settings. Can probably play for beginning dancers. Can play 4 parted MSR's and H/J's. Tuning is generally fair and may not be entirely steady. May have written a few tunes.  Probably solid enough for most funerals and basic weddings.

Advanced Piper (approximately winning Grade III through Grade II - not less than six years)

Motivation: Very strong musical interest in piping. Highly competitive.

Skills being learned: Learning to set up an excellent bagpipe and a good band. Can interpret the musical guide to derive the intended feeling for the tune. The repertoire is increased in breadth and depth in all areas.

 Abilities/Limitations: Ability to play some piobaireachd is likely. Plays multiple MSR's and SA/H/J's. May play multiple settings of same tune depending upon the situation. Tuning and blowing are routinely solid. Suitable for dancers and all audiences at all events. Has real knowledge and shares it with others. Has probably written a few tunes.

Open/Professional Piper  (approximately winning Grade II and up - not less than 10 years)

Motivation: Professional quality piping. Very strong musical interest. Enjoys performing.

Skills being learned: Coping with realities of recording contracts and walking the fine line of divorce.

Abilities/Limitations: Excellent technique. Very high degree of musical understanding. Can reproduce most piping. Brings own style and music to performances when appropriate.

Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016