Improve your piping on the HND Music – Piping course

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Derek Doyle is the HND Co-ordinator at The National Piping Centre
Derek Doyle

Derek Doyle is the HND Co-ordinator at The National Piping Centre and one of his main roles is the organisation of the Higher National Certificate and Higher National Diploma Music – Piping courses. It started life as an HNC in 2016 and then the HND Course was added in 2021, giving the opportunity for two-years of full-time study to achieve the HND.

The course is open to people of all ages, and Derek explained the essential criteria for being accepted onto the course: “We assess a candidate’s current standard of piping and the potential that they have to grow and develop their piping and musicianship.

“The course works best if a student can attend in-person full-time, which would be two and a half to three days per week in normal term time, but there are part-time opportunities too, and it is also available online (but for UK-resident students only).

“It’s a broad course covering a lot of topics related to the music industry. The first study instrument will be pipes, but in addition to this, and developing their live performance skills, students will also study music history, music contract, music copyright, and even tax returns, as well as composition and learning some very useful recording techniques.

“The students will receive two individual music lessons each week, one on piobaireachd and one on light music.  This is unusual as other HNC music courses only offer one lesson per week and in some cases that may be a group lesson. On the HND Piping course (which is year two of the 2-yr course) the lessons change to one piping lesson and one on the second study instrument, which is whistle.

“The HNC/D students will come to The National Piping Centre for lessons either by commuting or relocating to Glasgow.  They are allocated their own practice room on the days they are here, so when they don’t have a lesson or a class they can practice.

“The course is not all performance-based, and there is some written work, as that is the nature of an HNC/D. There will be essays to write about contract law, copyright, aspects of the music industry, and music history.  But we make the course as practical as we can and integrate topics of the course to make it more meaningful, and to give a more realistic sense of what it’s like to work as a musician. The individual subject names just provide a framework to timetable, so when certain topics crossover into other subjects we will make those connections for the students.

“The second year HND follows a similar format to the first year HNC, with some similar subjects to study as well as some new ones, but the level of challenge is raised on the HND.”

Although the current HNC/D students need to be based in Scotland while they study, there are plans in development to allow overseas students to come to Scotland from 2024 to take the courses. Derek explained: “We are currently working for The National Piping Centre to be licensed to issue student visas which would allow students from beyond the UK to come to Scotland and study the HNC/D. It should be an attractive option for an overseas piper to come and study in Glasgow, being right on the doorstep of Piping Live! and Celtic Connections, and to be able to immerse themself in all the piping and traditional music that the city has to offer.

“Beyond our courses, when the HND is complete, is the University of the Highlands and Islands, and our successful students can get direct entry into Year 3 of the BA in Applied Music.  The National Piping Centre provides the piping tuition for the UHI’s BA in Applied Music. Ailis Sutherland, who is part of The National Piping Centre staff, graduated from the UHI BA Applied music degree – it’s a very, very good course, with outstanding student satisfaction.

“We also have students graduate with an HNC and go across the road to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for the BMus in Traditional Music – Piping, but with that being a typical ‘conservatoire’ course, all students must start in the first year of the RCS course. A number of former HN students have taken that route and all have found it to be a truly great choice.”

For anyone interested in applying for the HNC Music – Piping course, they have until the middle of August this year to apply for the 2023/24 intake.  Derek said: “Anyone waiting on exam results can apply and be auditioned while waiting on their results. Or for anyone who doesn’t get the results they hoped for and would like to do piping for a year, then we would certainly support them with that.  And for more mature students who may be thinking of a change of career, or want to pursue music for a while, they are also very welcome on the course.  

“There is a very thorough FAQ on The National Piping Centre’s website https://www.thepipingcentre.co.uk/learn/accredited-courses/hnc-piping, which should answer the most common questions that interested folk may have. That would be the perfect starting place for anyone who wanted more information.”