We all love piping and would be perfectly happy spending hours a day playing our bagpipes, right?
In real life though, practice time is a valuable resource and a rare commodity. So many things are crammed into our calendars trying to claim those precious hours. We owe it to ourselves to make the most of the time we use to improve our playing. Here are four ways to make the most of our practice time, and to make sure you get the most bagpipe time out of your busy days.
Write your practice time in stone. There’s something to be said for squeezing in a few extra minutes with your pipes or chanter in between other tasks. But that shouldn’t be how you get all your practice time in. Commit to a regular schedule of practice sessions. If you keep a calendar, enter your practice times on it. Force yourself to keep to it for 3 weeks, and you’ll build up a habit.
Work, then play. Don’t use your precious practice time to give yourself a concert! Running through your repertoire is fun and appropriate at certain times, but it’s not going to resolve the issues that are holding you back. Begin with exercises that address your weak embellishments. Follow with some work on the trouble spots in your tunes. This concentrated effort on problem areas will give you big paybacks.
Practice away from your chanter/pipes. There are lots of opportunities in life to spend a few minutes thinking about your piping—at lunch, while walking, sitting in traffic, etc. Bring a book of piping music to lunch and read while you eat. No need to play along, identify the names of the notes and imagine what it should sound like. Sing them in your head. When walking, you’re creating a personal metronome. Sing your tunes to yourself to test your memorization. Think about what’s happening around the beats. Stuck in traffic? Turn off the shock jocks and listen to the recording of your last session (see No. 4). Think about the steps of a taorluath. Sing your piobaireachd. DO NOT PLAY YOUR CHANTER WHILE DRIVING! It’s not only dangerous, it’s an ineffective way to practice as your brain is not fully engaged.
Record yourself. When you’re playing, you are using most of your brain power to operate your pipes and play music. You have very few brain cells left to listen to what you’re doing, so a lot of little (and not so little) things can slip by. By recording yourself playing, you have an opportunity to use all your brain power to listen. Be your own judge—listen carefully and make note of any slips, sloppy embellishments, missed beats, etc. This will give you a list of items to work on for your next session (see No. 2).