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Deliberate Practice and Practice Habits, Part 2
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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.”

Ericsson attempted to discover the characteristics that played a role those performers who were considered exceptional. He argued that most people believe that “the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults.” However, he concluded “the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

In this post, we'll apply the conclusions from the previous post to physical blowing mastery.

In Part 1, I presented four conclusions from Ericsson and Duke’s studies:

  • Deliberate practice—focusing on making improvements during each practice session.
  • Feedback—we need, and need to respond to, feedback.
  • Making practice a habit.
  • Focus on the long term.

We can apply these conclusions to our blowing mastery. All we need is a set of pipes and manometer.

Physical Blowing Mastery

In Step 6 of the 13 Steps to Great Bagpipe Sound, we learn to blow a steady tone by mastering our blowing while using a manometer. By step 6, we have determined that:

Now, we practice deliberately with the manometer. Adjust the manometer so that it is marked at the chanter’s sweet spot; make a second mark one inch below the sweet spot. The goal is to keep the pressure within the two marks. Without doing any finger work, steady your blowing at the sweet spot. Being deliberate is important. If the pressure wavers, determine whether the change in pressure occurs when blowing, squeezing, or transitioning. Here, the manometer provides immediate feedback.

It is important to play either a steady note or a scale very slowly so that you can note why the pressure changes. Being steady and deliberate will yield results. The temptation is to break into one of your favorite tunes. If you can play a tune and keep the pressure steady, good for you. However, in most instances, at least in my experience, we fall into bad habits and make mental blowing mistakes.

In order to improve, it is important to focus on keeping steady pressure for a length of time. It does not need to be a long period of time. It could be five seconds. It could be a minute. Keep a record of how long you played steadily.

Practice as a Habit

Your first session with a manometer may be disastrous. The pressure may be up and down. If you practice with the manometer on the next day, you will note that your pressure has become steadier. As you practice, day after day, you will get the feeling that your bag is solid under your arm. You will begin to get a sense of when you are blowing steadily and when you are not. You will also be able to play tunes slowly and maintain steady pressure.

Every day, try to beat your record from the previous day. If you played a steady note for ten seconds yesterday, aim for fifteen seconds today.

Do You Want It Right, or Do You Want It Right Now?

I worked my way through college as a waiter. Often, a patron would want her or his dinner “right away.” Being the diligent servant, I would relay the patron’s wish to the Chef. His response was predictable, “do you want it right, or do you want it right now?” The same adage applies to piping. With every passing day on which you practice, you will build on the experience of the previous day. If you find your pressure varying, step back and play a single note. Determine where you are making the error…blowing, squeezing, or transitioning. Through deliberate practice, you will get there.

Take Action

Mental and Physical Blowing with a Manometer [Vintage]
13 Steps to Great Bagpipe Sound
How to Improve Blowing Steadiness

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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.

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