As much as we would like to, we can’t practice all the time. Working to improve your playing everyday is important. With only so many hours in the day time on the practice chanter and bagpipes can be limited. However, there are things you can do to help improve your playing and pick up other skills at the same time.
One of our most important tools in playing the bagpipes are our fingers. Strength, dexterity and the ability for each finger to kind-of do its own thing are important attributes. If you get creative and think a little outside the box then you can find many different techniques to improve each one of these attributes.
Probably the simplest way to improving each finger's ability to work independently is through touch typing. It also improves your ability to let your fingers do their thing without watching them. It’s a skill that has gone a bit out of style recently. Not to age myself too much but, when I was in high school they still taught touch typing in the classroom—on typewriters.
The thing about touch typing is that each finger has its own keys that it is responsible for. Learning how to touch type is skill that requires muscle memory. When you are learning you have to start slowly, and build up to a working speed. You start with certain groups of letters then slowly add more until you have them all down. Timing is also important, when you are typing each letter has to come in its proper order but not too soon or too late. Does this sound familiar?
If you want a skill that can impress your friends and family and is something you can work on while at home sitting on the couch, try card tricks. Card tricks require a high degree of finger strength, a lot more than you would think. Dexterity and independent finger movement are a must as well. If you do a quick search on YouTube for card shuffling tricks you will see that even the basic ones get all the fingers involved.
When you are working on the tricks you can follow all the Dojo principles. Break each trick up into smaller parts and steps to learn them. Then add the parts together until you get the whole trick. Parts you learn in one trick will pop up in other tricks. You start slowly, then speed up as you get better.
It sounds crazy, but give it a try. I work on card tricks all the time. It drives my wife nuts, mainly because I don’t like card games. Learning these tricks has helped improve my playing. I have always had a problem with a lazy D finger. I have been learning card tricks for a few weeks and I have noticed it’s perceptively easier to get that finger to do it’s thing.
A basic, and impressive, trick to start with is the one handed break. Every finger gets involved in the action and you can learn how to do it with either hand. You will be griping cards between your fingers, spreading your pointer and middle finger far enough out to fit cards between them, then squeezing them back together enough so you don’t drop any of the cards. You are going to develop muscles in your fingers you didn’t know you had.
Another fun skill to learn, and another that might show my age, is yo-yoing. I’m not talking about just throwing a yo-yo down and back up. If you look at videos of yo-yo tricks, you will see that they can get pretty advanced. Yo-yo tricks require timing and finger dexterity and strength. Like card tricks, they also can be learned with the Dojo U method.
There are basic skills you have to learn. You learn each skill on it’s own, then put them together in different ways to make each trick. As you progress you speed up the tricks and learn more advanced ones, but they all are made up of the same, individual parts.
Like bagpiping, these tricks have their own language to describe the parts. You can say things like tacum, rodin, or birl to any bagpiper and they will know exactly what you are talking about. In yo-yo tricks you have things like the forward mount, the breakaway, the man on the flying trapeze. Whole tricks can be described as a series of phrases. One trick, called Skin the Gerbil, is a breakaway, Two flips, Double Trapeze, Double Trapeze, miss, Double Trapeze, off, with a bind.
These are just some examples. If you look around you can find all sorts of skills like this that will also help improve your playing. Your friends and family will end up being equally impressed with your improved piping skills as well as the added bonus of a card and yo-yo trick or two.