March 26, 2009


Tannoy.A few days ago I posted a tweet on Twitter (@pipesdrums) or status update on Facebook (I can’t remember) that said, “Hilarious how people with so little experience have no problem proclaiming themselves experts before unknowing people.” I was prompted to post that because of the incessant “authoritative” tweets by someone not from the piping/drumming scene who I know has almost zilch experience. She simply does not know what she’s talking about, but says it anyway dozens of times every day on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else she can get away with it unchallenged.

Ever since emerged in the mid-1990s as the first piping/drumming “forum,” the scene has been shaken by the fact that everyone can spread their opinion widely, no matter what their level of experience.

As I have said for many years, I like that. Encouraging dialog by pipes|drums and Blogpipe readers is an example of that attitude. Provided comments stay within the stated policy, no matter how discordant or ignorant I may think they are, they will stand.

But I was surprised at the number of people who responded online or in a “dm” (to use the social media parlance) to me personally about my little tweet. Clearly I’m not alone in that thinking.

There are those with seriously little experience and knowledge who see the Internet as a great way to try to carry off an inflated persona, who preach to the even-more-ignorant, and who have strangely built up their reputation in piping/drumming not by what they know and have done, but by what they spew online as gospel. They strive to strike a tone of authority, when they should be realistically deferential and humble. These are the people who “talk a good tune” (an expression that I love and which has been around solo piping circles forever). Because of the net we’ve grown used to all this spew, and, just like everywhere else, it has become an accepted part of the culture.

Around 1990, just before the Internet took hold, a very prominent piper commented to me that he couldn’t stand massed-bands / march-pasts because inevitably there would be one or two near-beginner-level piper-oafs who would wander over to him and other famous people, not to learn something, but simply to be seen talking with him. They would try to discuss high-level topics, name-dropping all the way, and they just would not go away. His pre-Internet peeve is really no different from what happens online, except since the mid-’90s it’s magnified thousands of times over.

On the other hand, there are the majority who choose to learn, who practice humility, whether it’s on the net or at massed-bands. They strike the right tone with what they say and how they say it. In more ways than one, they know who they are.


  1. It is amazing what the Internet can enable people to pull. The anonimity (sp?) of hiding behind your keyboard and using an esoteric screen name can allow one to speak as if they have the voice of experience. Ultimately it is experience (on the ‘net) that allows others to hone their BS detectors and filter the trolls out.

  2. And unfortunately, when a rogue poster gets their nails in deep they can usually transform the group think. I’ve seen ideas form in internet forums (not related to piping) that are wrong, really wrong, perhaps dangerous and yet they become part of the Forum Psyche — if you will. I’m glad that pipers/drummers have a forum and responsible editors (on this site) that can serve as a beacon for our music/culture.

  3. Everything that is posted on the net should be taken with a grain of salt. For that matter, the same thing goes for other forms of written media. Just because someone has credentials of some kind doesn’t mean that they are right or know what they are talking about. Unfortunately most people are sheep and will follow almost anything. How else could the whole economy world wide have come to the point of collapse? One has to use some thought before formulating opinions or literally following something. History is full of examples of this. Was it P.T. Barnum who said “A sucker is born every minute”? Perhaps I’m just being pessimistic……..I’ll conclude with “reader beware”.

  4. The internet is no place for a beginner piper, ever,
    There’s just too much B.S. amongst the decent stuff, and until a person knows enough to know the difference,
    They’re time would be much better spent practicing !

  5. I think I’m too old to know what a Tweet on twitter is! I notice, in addition to what you’re saying,- that as well as people with little or no experience proclaiming themselves experts in front of UNknowing people, they seem also to do it (even more cringeably) in front of KNOWING people. All they’re doing is propping up their ‘false self’ for yet another very brief period of time, and of course it’ll soon wear off and they’ll have to do it again- and again – and again………. much to the embarrassment of any in-the-know onlookers.

    Re Blogs and Forums and the like, I like the beginner comments as well as contributions from experienced people. Keeps it fresh, and it allows the age old questions to be turned over constantly and re-thought. Problem is that there are the various armies that come marching in as soon as you post anything – the Challengers, the Toppers, the Wouyld-be’s and so on, and of course we can all be guilty of temporarily joining one or the other group.

    It would be nice to think that people have minds of their own, and can suss out what’s real and what isn’t, but alas this isn’t always the case. There are those who are swayed by a puff of a breeze in this or that direction.

    For me, Blogs and Forums are a great thing, as I only took up piping aged 50, and will never be at weekly band practices with Grade 1 colleagues where you could get involved in discussions on the finer points of piping and drumming. But being a prof musician in other ways the urge is very much there to do so. Discussions such as these enable someone like me to learn a huge amount from those more experienced, to be involved with the ‘scene’ and perhaps make a contribution.

    But for best use to be gained from accessing Blogs and Forums, as Andrew states, the more you can know who you are, the better, I think.

  6. Respect, r..e..s..p..e..c..t. that’s what it’s all about. Wasn’t that Aretha Franklin? You respect others that have gone before, your respect others that have accomplished much, you respect those who have the knowledge and experience, you show respect for the instrument and finally you demonstrate a little self-respect.

  7. I remember talking to (insert respected piper here ______) the other day about this very subject when (insert old instructor_______ )who said he was once told by (insert legend _______) how he didn’t much care for the way (insert un popular band at the time_______) played Highland Laddie in a parade, and he him self, went and told the (insert PM______) how it should be played.

    This is true, sometimes I feel it’s great to have all this access to these people now-a-days. But at the same time it’s amazing how all these people feel they really know everyone. I actually appreciate being able to truly be introduced to someone of high standard and hopefully being able to get to know them. If it doesn’t happen, then that’s the end of that relationship. So yes, young pipers…..stay off the internet until you are winning all of your grade 2 contest at least.

  8. Touchy subject about Credentials Andrew, but does need to be addressed.

    Many people look great on paper, just look at their resume and you think they could cure cancer or solve Cold Fusion. And the older we get, the longer our titles get too, a School Janitor is now a senior engineering maintenance floor manager for an advanced high education firm.

    Same holds true for internet forums as people strive for credibility, 30 years playing experience can be vastly different for all, yet that along with associating their name to more familiar names is used to prop up their own image.

    People drop names like they’ve known these names like a neighbor, but I don’t think meeting anyone at a weekend clinic constitutes a life long friendship or a 5 day summer school is grounds for solid instruction from that instructor. I don’t say i was taught by Seamus MacNeill just because I went to his summer school once when I was 12. True BTW.

    Point is, how do readers seperate the real information from the propaganda of a used car lot salesman? (yea come on in, we got the best product for ya at the best price!)

    I constantly have to remind myself when reading forums that you don’t need a gold medal or had to play in a gr1 band to convey some good information as there’s a lot of knowledgable people in the gr3 and 4 arena. Notice I don’t say lower grades or down in those grades as it’s just a snap shot of where students are today, some are on the verge of progressing tomorrow.

    Some hold the attitude it’s all or nothing, but you just never know who you are dealing with and what they can bring to the table with all the various engineering teaching and musical backgrounds out there. There’s something to learn from everyone despite their grade level, as long as it’s not passed along in terms of absolute fact.

  9. Very well said John. My teaching bio would be two pages long if I put in summer camps and workshops. Also there is a lot of talent out there, that is unfortunately placed in a part of the country where they can’t do much other than talk through the internet.

  10. Andrew B., good points.

    I have to disagree with those who recommend that beginners should stay away from the Internet. While the Web was in its relative infancy when I started piping, it proved to be a wealth of knowledge and greatly reduced my learning curve. Others thinks so too. Just as an example, Bruce Gandy told me he sends his students to my website to learn about drone reeds.

    Also it should be noted that sometimes otherwise really good and experienced pipers make unfounded claims (“Teflon doesn’t work with air, it’s designed for water”) or space out and get something backward (“lower the drone top to flatten the pitch”).

    The great thing about online forums is if someone is spouting nonsense, the record gets set straight pretty quickly. I do wish that beginners would preface their opinions with “I’ve only been piping for six months, but I’ve found . . .” or “My instructor, so-and-so, says . . .” Unfortuately, that doesn’t always happen.

    I do agree that one-sided posts from unknown sources (e.g.,Twitter) without rebuttle can be dangerous for beginners.

    Regardless, the trick is to read a lot and double-check what you do read. But to throw out the entire Web I believe is to miss out on an incredible resource for beginners.

  11. It’s like anything else. A lot depends on how you use it. One person can use a shovel to dig a hole and plant flowers. Another might use the same shovel to crack you over the head, dig a hole, throw you in it, and cover you up.

    Some pipers go to piping workshops and schools to learn how to improve their playing, learn some new tunes, and maybe have a good time with people who have similar interests. Some go so that they can hang out for a couple of days with So-and-So, and then go around telling everyone else how they got such-and-such a tune from So-and-So, and that their buddy So-and-So says this is how the cow ate the cabbage. And chances are So-and-So wouldn’t recognize that person two weeks later if they were standing in an elevator together.

    Some piping teachers go to those same workshops and schools to share their knowledge. Some go to make a buck.

    Some pipers, at whatever level, use the internet to communicate, exchange ideas, and converse with people who have similar interests. Others use it to prop up their egos. Once in a while you come across someone who’s just bloody nuts. It becomes pretty obvious after a time who falls into what camp.

    The nice thing about the internet is you can choose to ignore those who don’t interest you. If you see a name of someone you know is full of beans, you can choose to skip over whatever they have to say. Or you can also choose to have a verbal donnybrook, where the analagous fists fly fast and furious. I love alliteration.

    The internet can be a GREAT tool for a beginning piper, if they are bright enough to differentiate the fluff from the stuf. Both are out there.


  12. Interesting post. I remember the days when…was the only online forum around. What a bunch of garbage it was! I do have one contrarian point however. On public forums, it is that..public. And on those forums, I have seen plenty of the best players/PM’s in the world spew a lot of garbage. Whether it be egotisitical rants about playing styles, defense of certain actions taken by a world-class band, or far-flung opinions about the merits of a mid-section. Because some of these people are outstanding individual talents does not justify the concept that their opinions or beliefs are any more valid. There are plenty of amazing talents that couldn’t instruct their way out of a wet paper bag. Like the general poulation, many are paranoid, insane or just outright incorrect in a lot of what they spew as gospel. Everyone has an agenda. Most of it is worthless to the masses. The best forum for so-called experts to help advance the art is through edited published work by media outlets that have stood the test of time. Public forums are for jerk-offs like me.

  13. I agree with most if not everything you say Jason. I have also noticed the novice players or players with little or no knowledge approach the more informed. Sometimes these people could be blamed for being very keen newcomers who’s eagerness along with their inability frustrates the more informed. They are in awe with their new instrument and their mentors/judges and perhaps need to feel that they belong. I have also experienced parents of not only novices but amateurs and professionals approach judges and even invite them to stay in their homes in order to introduce them to their child. Like yourself I have listened to the rantings of professionals and leaders of bands who ridicule others ideas when asked for their opinion on a topic at seminars only to use those same ideas at the next workshop and to use the ideas of others as their original thought thus making them appear heroic. I witnessed pro’s approach judges and while it’s not necessarily a bad thing,it could present the same image. Image is everything, some judges like the attention while others like to complain and the bottom line is when they do, it’s just another avenue to make themselves look and feel important. After all, judges don’t do it for the money, it’s the glory.

  14. In additon to the obnoxious novice, the piping scene is not without our version of the “parents of the ice skating, tennis, gymnastics. etc” prodigy! Although, it does seem to be much worse in competative highland dancing circles. There is never any excuse for boorish behavior and that includes novices as well as the most accomplished. I will say this, having been out of the piping scene for over 2 decades, ’73-’97, what has noticiibly changed is how much more approachable people are these days. But fair is fair. One would never expect to get free tuition from Van Cliburn, so why do so many expect that of champion/accomplished pipers/teachers? And just because I have an old upright piano in my family room, doesn’t make me an expert on the care, maintenance, tuning and harmonics of the instrument, let alone a concert grand!

  15. Accomplished instructors YES, Champion piper’s NO – I don’t think that the two are always the same and in reality should rarely be used in the same breath. In some, not all instances champion piper’s have the need or greed to charge much more than what is a reasonable amount. Charges are based on cups and medals won and not their proven skill performance/track record as an instructor. There are many forms of instructors, those that avoid the sometimes hard task of developing and molding a player and those who prefer to finish and apply the polish. Once again two very important ingredients that sometimes one person/instructor is incapable of but when it comes to cost, they are both equally as valuable and yet their talents could be opposite to one another i.e. average player/great instructor – champion player/average instructor. What is a fair and reasonable charge for bagpipe and drumming lessons? Maybe this would be a good question to put to the members? Sometimes I see people who act as instructors and who are simply out to put themselves through college or university or as a form of income and the quality of lessons are mixed but rarely full value for money. Some instructors are prone to giving lip service to their students on a weekly/yearly basis and have little or no real interest as to their students progression. Has it in most cases become another money making racket?

  16. It would be interesting to know what the perceived fair market value is for instruction and advice for both bands and individuals. Learninig experiences would also vary depending on the level of interaction between the instructor(s) and the level of instruction that a particular band or individual needed. Sometimes a little high end polish is all that is needed to go from “good to great”. Other times, “back to the basics” is the route required. Maybe website testimonials and decriptions of instruction offered would help to match up the correct instructor to the required course material, so to speak. Do we need to create an instructors guild?



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