How long does it take to learn to play the pipes?
If you wish to improve and grow, it will take the rest of your life - but it's a great journey!
The more serious answer is that the bagpipe is among the more difficult of musical instruments to get started on. With many other instruments, the average person can be playing a basic tune on the instrument inside a week. With the bagpipe, it will take six to twelve months. The ability at that time will be similar to a nine or ten year old child playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb". It often takes two years or more to play "Scotland the Brave" in a manner suitable for the general public.
Actually, there is an old quotation that starts "To the make of a piper go seven years... At the end of his seven years one born to it will stand at the start of knowledge, and leaning a fond ear to the drone, he may have parley with old folks of old affairs." (Neil Munro from The Lost Pibroch 1896) This quote reflect not only a much earlier practice of several years of apprenticeship and indenture to learn the art, but also a contemporary reality.
Not everyone can play at the same level after the same period of study. It takes tenacity, drive and several years of intensive study to play this instrument at a semi-professional level. Realistically, not everyone is really driven to put in the time and effort to play at those levels.
With reference to the "seven years", what I've noted is that, after seven years, you'll be able to see your final plateau. Your achievable level of performance generally depends on how actively you choose to pursue this activity. After seven years, you'll know in your heart where you'll end up.
Fortunately, there are many rewards along the way at every level. Many students (Remember, we're all students!) find great enjoyment with the music and being part of the camaraderie of a street band. For a few that are truly driven, there are outlets and opportunities for travel and competitions. In either case, there is the opportunity for a lifetime of learning.
The learning process involves growth at several different levels. I've tried to capture what I understand of this in my progress and growth of a piper chart.Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016