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3 Essential Reasons to Learn Tunes S.L.O.W.L.Y
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3 Essential Reasons to Learn Tunes S.L.O.W.L.Y

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slow downI recently taught a Dojo U class on John MacColl's March to Kilbowie Cottage (Part 1 Here, Part 2 Here) and I found myself blabbing a bit about how important to learn tunes slowly.

Even if you are (quote-un-quote) an "advanced" player, it's still extremely important to learn tunes slowly. Even if you are "capable" of playing/learning it at a faster tempo, there are still essential musical elements that need to be reflected upon in order for this new repertoire addition to have any musical merit and staying power for you.

Here are my top 3 reasons I advocate learning tunes slowly:

One: Technical Pitfalls.

This one is probably the most obvious, but it's very common for "advanced" players to mess this one up, and to think their technique is good enough to be able to do a rush-job learning a tune. There are so many technique traps in so many tunes that it's downright foolish to try to learn most tunes at a super fast rate. Think of all of the fundamental errors that need to be avoided in each tune:

Wow! That's a lot of stuff. What makes us feel like we can tackle all 9 of these (and then some!) at full speed?!?!

Two: Expression Points

At the Dojo, we advocate transcending the "usual" phrasing templates (you know, Strong-weak-medium-weak, or "Heavy Left Foot," or the like) by highlighting your own key melodic points.

But, playing too fast can leave you with out much to hold on to. During the learning phase, we want to have time to reflect on what key passages might yield in the future, expression-wise. If we're too focused on surviving the tune and can't focus on how we're going to make it special... what's the point of learning it???

Three: Personal Enjoyment

I used to be very impatient when it came to learning tunes, playing things super fast. It's true - I was a gifted young piper. So, I could "get away with" learning things at light speed.

But the weirdest thing happened to me as I got more and more into teaching bagpipes to others (and therefore going through tunes much more slowly than before)....

I started to enjoy the tunes more!

There was SO MUCH MUSIC to be enjoyed and reflected upon that I was totally missing before, because I hadn't had the patience to slow things down and really listen. It's sort of like laying in a hammock in the back yard. The yard then becomes not just something that you have to mow each week - it becomes a beautiful place where there's so much to soak in!

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Andrew Douglas Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, having been active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He's also the founder and creator of Dojo U and of PipersDojo.com

Comment(12)

  1. 1930's golf instructor Harvey Pennick told his students to practice their swing as slow as they can, then go slower. It is the only way to be aware of what is happening. I don't know if practicing slow or fast makes any difference in developing speed anyway.

  2. After years of lessons, with a few different instructors you seem to be the first to say slow down, or I seem to be ready to hear it! Thanks Andrew, I enjoy Dojo University. I have learned a great deal and it has allowed me to stay connected to the piping world.

  3. Thanks! ......I'm going to read this post again. Nice to get permission to enjoy what we actually are doing with
    our fingers. Stop and smell the roses....or should I say grace notes etc.

  4. Excellent. Making "music" goes far beyond correct fingering. Playing slow is an opportunity to incorporate musical elements along with technical playing. Pipe bands generally suffer from lack or sync... sounding like one piper. Learning and practicing a tune slowly pays great sync dividends. Great advice, Andrew. Thank you.

  5. This is definitely true! Especially if the tune has those tricky bits in some parts, which many of them do! Sometimes it's tough for me not to just blow through the memorizing/learning phase and slow way down, but you are correct, the parts I spend the most time on and break down slowly usually become my favorite parts of the tune

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