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Mark Olson

Mark Olson
Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.

Practicing Slowly

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Perhaps you’ve been to a live performance and have noted how relaxed and fluid the piper sounds. His or her finger work is spot on; each embellishment is crisp and even. You think to yourself, “I can do that!” Inspired by such a performance, you rush home, fire up the pipes, try to push the tempo, and the death grip sets in. You are anything but relaxed and your fingerwork becomes sloppy.

Cultivate Your Work Ethic

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I work with a number if brilliant people. Many of them have an incredible understanding of theory and can posit ingenious arguments for why we should do something in a particular way. Many of them, however, could not work their way out of a paper bag if their life depended on it. While they have great intellect, the lack an important characteristic, work ethic. The really good people with whom I’ve worked are not the most brilliant. Many are not the sharpest tacks in the box. But they have one thing that separates them from the others, many of whom are far more brilliant thinkers. They have work ethic.

Practicing Your Bogeys

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Golfers who want to improve their games pinpoint their shortcomings and come up with a plan. Bagpipers can too.

Identify, Determine the Cause, Solve the Problem

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Things go wrong. It is our condition as humans. We aren't machines that execute tasks perfectly every time. In piping, we have a multitude of variables to which we need to attend in order to have a successful performance. Some of those variables, such as the temperature and the relative humidity, our out of our control.

Visualizing ALAP/ASAP—Part 1

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On the bagpipe, we cannot play a note with more volume in order to add expression to a phrase. Indeed, our goal is to play at a steady pressure so that the pitch of the chanter and the drones remains constant. Nor do we have techniques such as staccato or legato available to us on the Highland bagpipe. On the Highland bagpipe, we express our music by holding notes longer than we would normally hold them, playing them As Long As [Musically] Possible (ALAP) and playing contrasting notes As Short As [Musically] Possible (ASAP).

As You Improve, Slow Down

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You've logged more than a few hours practicing. The desk has a little bit of wear where you set the sole of your practice chanter. Your gracenotes are becoming tidy. Your embellishments are becoming consistent and crisp. Your natural inclination is to reach over to the metronome and crank the dial up. Stop! You still can reap the benefits of practicing slowly.

Deliberate Practice and Practice Habits, Part 2

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In the paper, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, K. Anders Ericsson, et al, note that “the maximal level of performance for individuals in a given domain is not attained automatically as function of extended experience, but the level of performance can be increased even by highly experienced individuals as a result of deliberate efforts to improve.”

Deliberate Practice and Practice Habits, Part 1

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In the paper, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, K. Anders Ericsson, et al, note that “the maximal level of performance for individuals in a given domain is not attained automatically as function of extended experience, but the level of performance can be increased even by highly experienced individuals as a result of deliberate efforts to improve.”

To Improve Your Piping...Mix It Up—Part 2

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While repetition is a mainstay in the practice room, recent research in motor skill learning and sport psychology suggests that an interleaved practice schedule can have benefits.