Piping Tradition Faces a “Silent Decline” Warns Charity

More than 30,000 young Scots would learn to play pipes and drums if they had the chance but only 6,000 are learning so far, according to a national charity.


With the pipes and drums set once more to become the centrepiece of Hogmanay celebrations across the world, the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSPDT) is warning of a threat to our musical heritage.


Opportunities to learn piping have disappeared in many communities when local pipe bands have folded and tuition has also stopped in the area’s schools.


In response to the issue, SSPDT – in partnership with councils, education authorities, schools and local communities – is set on a mission to bring the opportunity to learn pipes and drums to thousands of youngsters across the country.


By developing local and long-term models of learning from an early age and into further education and adulthood, the charity aim to help to bring back the pipes to communities, and to give every young person in Scotland the chance to learn.


Research commissioned by Creative Scotland and conducted by The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland found that more 100,000 pupils want to learn an instrument at school but are unable to. Based on the popularity of the pipes and drums whenever SSPDT helps to introduce them to schools, it estimates between 30,000-54,000 pupils would want to learn to play but only 6,000 are learning in state schools across Scotland.


Alexandra Duncan, Chief Executive of SSPDT, said: “It’s clear that there is a huge unmet demand to learn pipes and drums amongst Scotland’s pupils.
“When bands in our towns and communities vanish quietly, and when there is no tuition in local schools either, we lose a precious cycle of teaching and learning – and it’s this silent decline that we’re trying to address with partners.
“Both Moffat and Girvan had local pipe bands which folded in recent years. But by helping to introduce tuition to surrounding schools we hope to be able to resurrect these pipe bands together with the communities.
“In the Garnock Valley, a pipe band was last heard 60+ years ago, until more than 100 pupils began to learn and now play together. In areas like Lossiemouth, Elgin, Forres, Duns, Kinross and Blairgowrie, new tuition programmes are being set up to boost community pipe bands.
“Piping and being part of a band gives young people a sense of belonging and develops a wide range of life and employability skills including teamwork, individual and shared achievement, discipline, commitment and self-confidence. We believe it can change lots of young people’s lives for the better.”


Alexandra added that even where the pipes and drums are offered to pupils after they have had the chance to take up different instruments, demand is very high. For example, in Kilmarnock, the pipes and drums are only offered to pupils who have not already taken up other instruments, yet more than 180 pupils are choosing to learn the pipes and drums in local schools.


To support sustained learning from an early age SSPDT embeds their tuition models within learning communities which comprise of a secondary school and its associated primary schools.


Working together with schools and councils, the charity supports free tuition for all, or in fee-paying programmes supports an ‘inclusion’ mechanism for pupils from less affluent families, helping to address inequalities in access to music tuition and providing additional opportunities to those eager to learn.


The Trust also helps to establish steering groups which administrate tuition and bring together parents, teachers, members of local bands and other people from within the community to engage self-employed tutors, complementing the services already provided by the council.


Alexandra added: “We believe that traditional music should be cherished and the skill to play the pipes has the potential to become one’s lifetime pleasure.
“The demand we have seen so far proves that piping and drumming is still popular but the lack of opportunities for learning puts it at risk – there is still a lot of work to be done.
“We are grateful to the parents, schools and local authorities that are working with us to overcome this disadvantage.”

SSPDT aims to advance the arts, heritage, culture and community development by encouraging youngsters to learn how to play Scotland’s national instrument.


The Trust has helped 47 schools pipe bands to form so far, building on tuition provided in 265 schools. It also supports existing youth and school pipe bands with grants and the free loan of bagpipes. It is currently supporting projects in 22 local authority areas.


For more information on SSPDT and its work, please visit: https://sspdt.org.uk/

Latest Articles