LET'S LEARN A PIOBAIREACHD
From May 5th to June 2nd 2023, join Dojo U to explore piobaireachd while learning one!
Hi, I'm Andrew Douglas.
I'm the co-founder of Dojo University, and I'm also a 2x World Champion, multi-prize winner at the Silver Medals in Oban and Inverness, and certified bagpiping examiner with the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Join us this May as we set off on this path through some of the history, traditions and foundations of the great art and tradition of piobaireachd!
What's the deal with this "Piobaireachd Month"?
Piobaireachd – pronounced ‘pee-brock’, and also called ‘ceòl mór’ (‘big music’) – literally means ‘pipe music’, but now refers to large works of classical piping that have a distinctive, almost meditative feel.
These ancient pieces of Scottish music are a unique style that is not found anywhere else in the world.
Many pipers dismiss piobaireachd as too nerdy, obscure, difficult, or boring to learn – but this couldn't be further from the truth!
This unique and beautiful form of classical bagpiping is for everyone.
So in May 2023, we're on a mission to help you learn your first piobaireachd (or to further your interest and deepen your knowledge if you're already hooked!).
We're taking over our online bagpiping school this May to cover some of its fascinating history, work through the fundamentals of technique, and learn an entire classic piobaireachd piece together in this comprehensive course.
Here's what we'll be covering each week...
YOUR APPREHENSION IS NORMAL – HISTORY AND FIRST VARIATIONS
Piobaireachd is like wine, single malt, fine cheeses - an acquired taste! In the first week, we'll dispel some myths, look at the ingredients of a piobaireachd, review some history and background on how piobaireachd developed, and learn how to read the musical notation and structure of piobaireachd music.
TACKLING THE "TOUGHER" PARTS – TAORLUATH AND CRUNLUATH VARIATIONS
Most people know piobaireachd as 'that music with the "harder" embellishments'... so for week 2, we're going to kick off with the variations that feature embellishments we should all be pretty familiar with – taorluaths! From there, we'll explore the crunluath, or "crowning moment" variations, which are naturally the climax of any piobaireachd.
GOING TO GROUND – LEARNING ABOUT THE FIRST PART "LAST"
Urlars, or “Grounds,” are the opening melody of any piobaireachd. They're typically fairly slow, stately, and expressive, and many have special, unique, embellishments that add to the beauty of the tune. Now that we’ve learned some of the basic variation types, it’s a good time to learn an Urlar, so that we can construct a full Piobaireachd!
Putting It All Together – FULL TUNES, PACING AND TRANSITIONS
Now that we've explored all of the different pieces of a piobaireachd, it’s time to put it all together. We'll learn how to progress the variations in a well thought out, musically exciting, way, by learning about pacing and transitions - the two most important aspects of piobaireachd assembly for a beginner to consider as they put together their first tune.
LIVE WORKSHOPS WITH EXPERTS
We're looking forward to welcoming some world-famous piobaireachd specialists to the Dojo this May for some fascinating deep dives in our guest instructor workshops.
Dr Jack Taylor
Gold Medallist and long-serving former President of the Piobaireachd Society
One of the foremost competing pipers and piping educators in the world today, with 9 Glenfiddich wins and 4 Bratach Gorms
Piper, National Piping Centre livestream host and author of Piobaireachd is for Everyone
Piobaireachd is a rich and complex artform, so mastery won’t come only from taking an online course.
However, our Piobaireachd course will give you an overarching understanding of the history, form, and structure of piobaireachd, guiding you through the basic building blocks from A to Z.
From this foundation, you can venture further into the deep, amazing world of Piobaireachd playing.
SIGN UP FOR DOJO U AND GET LIFETIME ACCESS TO THE FIRST 2 CHAPTERS OF OUR COURSE!
Meet the Dojo University Teaching Team
Our Dojo University team are led by world-champion bagpipers who have been master instructors for decades, working with bands and soloists all over the world, from complete beginners all the way up to professional pipers and Grade 1 bands.
Our teaching faculty are all leaders in their own bands and extremely experienced instructors, performers, and band leader, with decades of experience.
As a Dojo U student, you'll be getting the best advice in the world, from people who don't just talk the talk; we've walked (and won!) just about every walk there is at every level in the bagpiping world.
We run between 3 and 6 live online classes every weekday, and a few classes every weekend as well. During the May Piobaireachd-themed month, we'll be running at least two dedicated daily classes to help you work on the weekly topics and nail the basics for your first piobaireachd!
BOOK PRIVATE LESSONS
Dojo U Members can now book private lessons with members of our teaching for dedicated 1:1 instruction.
Join today to receive a special introductory four-pack lesson offer, to supercharge your piobaireachd experience!
Demystify the most ancient form of bagpiping...
In more than 20 years spent teaching bands and players all over the world, I've noticed a persistent mindset that plagues pipers of all ages and stages...
...dislike, disdain, and sometimes, even fear of Piobaireachd.
And look, I get it.
Piobaireachd – a structured, classical form of bagpiping – can seem very difficult to get involved with.
It can sound 'boring' to listen to, or 'too hard' to try to play.
It can seem dauntingly different to any kinds of tunes you've played before.
And frankly, when you're new to it, it can be a bit overwhelming to know where to begin.
Plus, most of us just want to play the fun stuff, right? Hornpipes, jigs, reels, marches – we want to learn the tunes we love to play, and that our adoring public love to hear!
And those are all valid reasons to have steered clear of it... so far.
But as a long-term piobaireachd enthusiast who genuinely loves playing and performing it – I guarantee that if you've never explored piobaireachd before, there's an absolute treat waiting for you.
What if I told you... that it will unlock an entirely new dimension to your piping?
One where you'll enjoy a meditative, serene feeling that comes from playing this unique style of music?
Where you'll master entirely new forms of fingerwork, embellishment, and expression, that will actually improve your skill at other tunes?
And where you'll find yourself picking up your pipes purely for the pleasure of feeling calm, rather than stressed about practice?
A brief warning before we go any further... for this reason, piobaireachd can be very addictive! Nearly without exception, every single one of my students who has dipped their toe in ends up getting hooked.
Curious? Let me very briefly introduce you to 'zen and the art of bagpipes' through piobaireachd...
What is piobaireachd?
If you've been piping for a while, you’ve probably heard the word 'piobaireachd' (pronounced 'pee-brock') mentioned here and there – sometimes with an eye roll and derisive tone, I'm sure.
But what is it, really? Just slow, boring scores a bunch of old guys like to force competition players to learn because of 'tradition'?
Piobaireachd can be very hard to describe in any quick or easy way because it is an entirely different paradigm than bagpipe 'light music' – which is another name for every other kind of tune you've played, like marches, strathspeys, reels, jigs, airs, and hornpipes.
At its core, it's a style of bagpipe music, with a set structure of repetitive movements – not unlike a symphony you might hear an orchestra play – that increase in tempo and difficulty, before returning to the calm beginning movement to finish.
However, it's so, so much more than that. You see, it's ancient – it existed before 'Western' music had any influence on the bagpipe music of Gaelic cultures.
Think Bach, Mozart, Beethoven – all those 'old, classical' composers? The first piobaireachds pre-date them by centuries (even though there are new piobaireachds composed all the time, even today)!
Like most older styles of art, it can be a bit different to the forms and structures that we're used to in modern music – so it takes a little longer to get acquainted with.
That's why we've created an entire, four-year program to introduce you to it!
Initially, we think that piobaireachd was probably less about music as it was about storytelling, socializing, and just plain entertainment. In many cases, it likely evolved from traditional songs of Gaelic culture.
Because these were largely passed on through oral tradition, many are lost to us today, and were probably not originally played on the bagpipes.
And so, for all of these reasons, it's just plain different to light music. The vast majority of these light music tunes were composed post-Culloden (see opposite), with plenty of Western music influence.
Also, later light-music tunes had a heavy military influence – their strong beats, fast tempos, and quick fingerwork were necessary to fulfil a specific purpose on the march.
So, as we dive into piobaireachd, it's important to establish that it’s completely different from what you’ve done before. Approach it with an open mind, an eager attitude, and be patient.
It's normal not to 'like' piobaireachd to start with – but like fine wine, single malt whiskey, and fine cheeses, this acquired taste is well worth the investment.
A very brief history...
Although you'll likely read many books and stories that may seem to claim to give the 'definitive' history of piobaireachd, the truth is that no one really knows for sure where it came from.
However, the generally accepted history now tells the story that in the early 1600s (and probably earlier), the MacCrimmon family from Skye possessed the world’s best pipers, and as time moved forward, they passed their knowledge of piobaireachd down – through family and their famed piping school in the highlands – in an unbroken line, all the way until the mid 1700s.
If you've ever watched the popular TV show Outlander – and if you're a bagpiper, I'm guessing you have (or if not, you're missing out!) – you'll be familiar with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which saw many of the highland clans unite to attempt to secure Bonnie Prince Charlie the British crown.
History wasn't kind to the Jacobites, however, or the Scots for that matter – after the last Jacobite rebellion was put down at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Gaelic culture was heavily weeded out of Scotland, to put it very kindly, in a period of Scottish history known as the 'Highland Clearances'.
This isn’t to say that all of the Gaels were wiped out, but the pressure to conform to the new English way of life both socially and economically was quite literally impossible to withstand for most, and so, over time, the population of definitively Gaelic people drastically diminished.
Although it’s been disproved that the pipes were officially banned after the ‘45 (the colloquial name for the Jacobite uprising), it’s doubtless that being a piper was heavily frowned upon during the clearances period.
It's worth noting here that some sources contradict this idyllic representation of the MacCrimmons' legacy, with post-Culloden bagpiping circles carrying on their traditions in an unbroken line – but that's a story for another time, and perhaps even a different course in the future!
We do know that the post-Culloden squelching of bagpiping culture continued across the Commonwealth for generations.
As you can imagine, that had a disastrous effect on the widespread continuation of the tradition, history, and culture of bagpiping in Scotland and beyond.
Today, we play a form of piobaireachd that has evolved through the efforts of groups of enthusiasts (like the Highland Society of London and the “Piobaireachd Society”) who have worked for centuries to preserve the art form and traditions that we know today.
Miraculously, piobaireachd survived all those wars, occupations, cultural clearances, and immensely heavy odds, all the way to the present day – where it's now accessible to you, a piper who is continuing the legacy of all those ancient highlanders, today.
Indeed, if you learn piobaireachd in the present (from me or any of our fantastic, world-class instructors here at the Dojo, or elsewhere), you will be able to draw a direct line from yourself to the great teachers and performers of history – some more than 500 years in the past!
Are you ready to become a part of the living, (literally) breathing history of piobaireachd?
I'm excited to show you the way!
And for a strictly limited time, you can get lifetime access to our first two piobaireachd courses giving you access to our May Piobaireachd Month plus everything else Dojo U has to offer.
Dojo University is the longest-running and most successful online bagpiping school in the world.
We teach thousands of students around the world how to play good music – mastering the art of learning and playing the bagpipes in the process – in a highly accessible way that is completely unlike anything else you'll find online or in person, anywhere in the world.
We created Dojo U because we noticed that too many pipers were struggling out there in the world. Bagpiping should be a joyful experience, each and every day you pick up the pipes. If it's not, we strive to fix that before it's too late.
And whether you're a complete beginner, a parade player, an experienced piper, a pipe major, or a pro-level competitor... you can free yourself from musical frustration at Dojo U.
At Dojo U, we do things a little differently to how you may have approached learning to play the bagpipes before.
One of the key reasons for our ongoing success is that we're always evolving, improving, and growing, so if you've been a student and left us for any reason – you'll probably notice that the Dojo looks a bit different to what you might remember (and has a lot more value to explore).
We'd love to welcome you back and show you around!
How Does Dojo U Work?
Many students start with us wanting to 'choose their own adventure', hoping to find quick solutions to specific topics – like 'fixing' their embellishments, blowing, tuning, and instrument maintenance.
And you definitely can find courses, resources, articles, and classes that cover all of those things (and so much more) in our in-depth, self-paced course catalogue...
However, most students eventually realize that the fastest path to mastery (and the best value in being a Dojo U member) is to follow our main teaching stream, which our live classes and supporting resources complement.
Here's a quick preview of what you'll enjoy access to as a Dojo U Premium Member:
What People Are Saying About Dojo University
“I feel a genuine sense of belonging...”
"Through Dojo U I’m finally getting much of the formalized and theoretical training I never obtained through private instruction in the past. On top of this, I’m regularly able to have my playing constructively critiqued to continue to focus my improvement areas and moving forward.
Dojo U has been very accommodating with their instruction from all sources and I feel a genuine sense of belonging with so many that participate in the various programs. Thanks Dojo U!"
British Columbia, Canada
“The Dojo has given me an extremely affordable outlet where I can learn on my time from some of the top pipers in the world..."
“In today’s technological age, Dojo University has created an educational institution where pipers of all levels can obtain much needed instruction. Offering not only live weekly classes that suit anyone’s schedule, they also have a full back catalog of old lessons covering all aspects of piping.
Living in Memphis, I am devoid of higher instruction, so the Dojo has given me an extremely affordable outlet where I can learn on my time from some of the top pipers in the world!"
“The success of improvement builds on my desire and I look forward to the time of day I get on my pipes!"
“I've been piping for 30 plus years and struggling along the way. The Dojo U method works! My family and pets have seen and heard the improvement in my piping!.That has been the best kind of feedback for me. The success of improvement builds on my desire and I look forward to the time of day I get on my pipes! Thank You Dojo!"
Washington State, USA
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"Don't Believe" in Online Bagpipe Lessons?
Believe me, you're not the first person to have doubts about the effectiveness of online bagpipe lessons.
Our school is indeed a big shift from the typical "master-->apprentice" approach to teaching bagpipes.
It is indeed harder to teach certain skills over the internet (as we can't do much that's truly "hands on.")
It's true, some of the "in person magic" that you can get from a truly great solo lesson or group session might not seem to be as magical in an online setting.
The Thought Experiment
All of these difficult challenges indeed crossed my mind one beautiful day in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It was the year 2011 and my wife and I were on our honeymoon. We were sipping frozen cocktails, and daydreaming. My wife was presumably daydreaming about normal things... but not me. I was, of course, daydreaming about bagpipe stuff.
The daydream went like this:
- "I really used to love bagpipe camp as a kid.
- As an adult, I love teaching at bagpipe camps, because no one has more fun (and gets better faster) than at a bagpipe camp.
- It's too bad bagpipe camps are so expensive, require so much travel, time away from work and family, etc. It's really too bad...
- You know, if you could do a bagpipe camp using the internet, the price and challenges of going to piping school would be greatly diminished, and the school could serve far more people.
- But that will never work. (and here I proceeded to list all the reasons an online bagpipe school would never work. It included many of the "objections" we discussed above)
- Ok, ok, but what if somehow we could make it work. What would be gained?"
And so, I proceeded to think about all of the incredible benefits that could be had at a fictional, mystical "online bagpipe school."
- Instead of a great bagpiping experience for one week per year, we could up it to 52 weeks per year!
- The price of this service could be much less than "real" bagpipe camp. Much, much, much less.
- Wherever you were in the world, you could experience incredible bagpipe sessions from the world's best pipers.
- No commute, no gas money, (and in 2020 and beyond - no health risks!)
- We could teach students with a longer-term strategy (not confined to just one week).
- We could teach students the art of integrating bagpiping into their daily lives; not that bagpiping is just something fun you might get to dive deep into one week per year at a far off place.
- We could develop an incredible community of pipers that grew together over time.
- And the list of "good" things went on, and on, and on.
So, just over a decade ago, it became clear that I couldn't afford not to try to build the world's first "online bagpipe school." And so that's what I did (with the help of my extremely talented team, and amazing world-class instructors).
All of the challenging bits above are still challenging. It would be amazing if I could some how magically reach through my computer screen and help a student whip their pipes into tune.
But the reality is, these challenges have made student and teacher better as a result. And meanwhile, the positive benefits (many of which I predicted back in 2011) keep proving greater, and greater, and greater.
Advantages vs Disadvantages of Online Bagpipe Learning
Dojo University is a fantastic product for bagpipers with and without access to in person instruction:
Bagpipers without access to in-person instruction can utilize Dojo U to (quite literally) ascend from the very first day picking up a practice chanter to becoming an advanced bagpiper. Many have already done it!
Bagpipers with access to in person instruction can and should supplement their in-person lessons with the Dojo. The Dojo can help you develop a more rounded skillset than private lessons typically offer, and can provide you with the support an community any bagpiper needs to be successful.
The Pros List
Here's all the reasons Dojo U works so well
The Cons List
Here are the downsides of Dojo U
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Andrew's "Double Your Money" Guarantee
You are "double protected" by Andrew's Satisfaction-Guarantee. Simply keep a short-form practice journal to show that you've diligently attempted to follow our program, and we'll double your money back for up to 6 months of your membership if you're not satisfied with the results.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to quit my private lessons to do the Dojo?
Just kidding, of course!
At the Dojo, we have plenty of students who supplement their private lessons with our classes and courses.
In fact, their tutors often remark on how rapidly it improves their knowledge and ability – due to our common sense, objective approach, we're a wonderful way to 'fill the gaps' that solo lessons can't provide, in your own time and at your own pace, with a whole community of pipers around the world cheering you on.
Do you offer classes in my time zone?
Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: We have worked hard over the years to expand our live class times to accommodate North American, European, and "Down Under" Time Zones.
It's a work in progress still, but you should find some live classes that fit your schedule regardless of where you live in the world.
We're always expanding and refining the classes we offer, and welcome feedback. We also try to accommodate as many of our students as we can – so if you have some bandmates you want to invite to join who are in your timezone, it'll help make the case for us to put on more classes for you!
Dojo U is clearly just for beginners. Is there anything for me, the more advanced player?
Dojo U is a methodology that can greatly benefit any player, regardless of their current "level."
With a growth-mindset, advanced players can find the breakthrough they've been looking for at the Dojo.
It happens all the time, to students who have been graded by associations in many grades (including those 'advanced' ones!).
As long as you're ready to embrace a "beginners mindset", to roll up your sleeves and walk the walk with us, and to get down to work with us and with our program, we guarantee you'll see marked improvement in your piping.
Dojo is just for solo players right?
This is the assumption about the Dojo that gets under our skin the most!
The Dojo is most certainly NOT just for soloists.
It's for anyone who wants to master bagpipe technique in order to achieve true musical control and expression.
Band players of the world: Is it not your intention to develop great technique in order to help manifest the musical vision of your pipe band?
If that is indeed your intention (and I hope it is!), the Dojo is an ideal place for you.
Whew! Ok, we're done with our rant now.
Is the Dojo for beginners?
Our "Bagpipe as an Extension of your Self" Tutor course, combined with our constantly varied (and infinitely scalable) weekly program of classes and tunes, makes the Dojo the very best place in the world for a beginner to get started.
And, if you read my guarantee above, if a beginner diligently follows our program for 6 months and doesn't see great results, I'll double their money back.
What do you have to lose?
What computer gear do I need for Dojo University?
This is a great question. To get started, you really only need two things:
- Any computer/device that can play videos and operate a "Zoom" conferencing platform.
- An internet connection that supports at least 5mbps download speed and 1mbps upload speed. Test your speed here.
Dojo University Is Different
Yes, you can find bagpipe instruction elsewhere on the internet and in person, but Dojo University is unique because it's built and taught by real-world bagpipers who have actually built these resources based on real-world experience (read: successes).
In other words, we aren't people who couldn't do so we made a course instead. We've been in the trenches teaching AND performing - we detest untested theory and believe that the best way to learn something is to roll up your sleeves and get your hands a little dirty. If that sounds appealing, then welcome! In Dojo U you've found your bagpipe home.