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How to Think, Part 2
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How to Think, Part 2

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In Ed Boyden's ten rules on How to Think, he has two that are particularly applicable to our lives as pipers:

  • Always have a long-term plan, and
  • Make your mistakes quickly.

Boyden, the winner of the 2013 Brain Prize, is a primary investigator in the Synthetic Neurobiology Group at MIT. His "rules" can be characterized more as practical advice rather than rules. However we classify them, the provide guidance that can help us as pipers.

Always have a long-term plan.

The notion of having a long term plan is solid, practical advice and is hardly a thought that Boyden originated. Boyden notes, “even if you change it every day. The act of making the plan alone is worth it. And even if you revise it often, you’re guaranteed to be learning something."

Take an example, assume that your long-term plan includes being able to play three piobaireachds from memory, expressively, in three years' time. The goal is simple and straightforward. It can, however, be broken down into smaller goals. Let's assume that I want to learn "Queen Elizabeth the Second's Salute," by Donald MacLeod as one of my piobaireachds. If I examine the tune, I would discover that I would need to be able to execute the following embellishments:

I could apply one of Boyden's rules, work backward from your goal, and assign time frames for learning each of these embellishments and applying them to the phrasing and melody of the tune.

Once again, Boyden's rules are not necessarily original but they are practical. Working backward from your goal is a page directly out of the Dojo U playbook. Whatever the case may be, by creating a long-term plan and working backward from the goal, one learns something. In this case, just by examining the score, one becomes familiar with the tune and with piobaireachd embellishments. From there, one can change the plan, creating further refinements. For example, one may bring her or his crunluaths up to speed by practicing [name of subpart of crunluath]. So, without picking up the pipes or the practice chanter, we can learn, just by planning.

Make your mistakes quickly.

Bowden notes "you may mess things up on the first try, but do it fast, and then move on. Document what led to the error so that you learn what to recognize, and then move on." When we learn embellishments, if often takes us a period of time to develop the motor skills to execute them properly. As we bring the tempo up to speed, errors in our embellishments may creep into the music. That is the perfect time to slow things down and get them right. Recognize what led to the error, slow it down, and get it right. It is worth noting that bagpipe embellishments are complex and to get them right, it does take time. Progressing slowly, another page from the Dojo playbook, will be the most rapid method for getting your embellishments up to speed.

Bowden adds "get the mistakes out of the way. As Shakespeare put it, 'Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.'"

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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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