Golfers who want to improve their games pinpoint their shortcomings and come up with a plan. Bagpipers can too.
In order to achieve a lower score, golfers practice their bogeys. Golfers bogey a hole because of shortcomings in their games. A golfer may miss the fairway more often than not or lack touch around the green. Most golfers who want to improve have identified the part of their games that cause bogeys. They will, consequently, dedicate a portion of their time at the driving range practicing those bogeys. They have examined their games, they have pinpointed their shortcomings, and they have come up with a plan for improving. Bagpipers also have “bogeys,” those aspects of our playing that get in the way of a musical performance.
What is your bogey?
The C doubling is my bogey. When I play a C doubling, I can play the G grace note to C, get a cup of coffee, catch up on the morning news, and read a few articles on the net before I play the D grace note. Unfortunately, my overly open C doubling is now a habit. When I play it in tunes, it remains open and, in many cases, subdivides the beat.
So I practice my bogey. A golfer might be missing her or his fairways because the club face is too open or too closed when it strikes the ball. A golfer will then break the swing down into its component steps and practice those steps until the club face strikes the ball squarely. As pipers, we can do the same thing. For any bogey, we can break the embellishment down into its component steps and practice those steps.
Breaking it down: As with any embellishment, there are specific steps that one must follow to correctly execute the movement. Whether you are bringing your edre up to speed or refining your grips, the steps are well defined. (A full description of these steps are in the Dojo Tutor, Version 2).
For example, the steps for executing the C doubling are:
So, in my case, I focus on those component steps and practice them slowly.
Complicating factors: Andrew writes in the Tutor that, “when broken down into their steps,” embellishments are ‘quite basic.’” However, there are cardinal rules that will lead to perfect embellishments:
1. Each step must be played accurately.
2. Each step must be the same length (with the exception of the final step, which could be any length).
In my case, I follow Andrew’s Tutor advice and build speed gradually. “Never sacrifice the cardinal rules for speed,” Andrew adds.
However, my practice is complicated by the fact that my instructors want me to push the tempo. That isn’t necessarily a true complicating factor; one can’t languish at largo when the tune calls for a quick march tempo. Sooner or later, one has to speed things up. If I push the tempo too far, though, I either crush the C doubling or subdivide the beat. When that happens, I return to a slower tempo, focus on the steps, pay attention to the cardinal rules and build speed, again, gradually.
Testimonials: “I practiced the exercise that you outline on page 12, I went from hitting a slice to being able to willfully hit a fade or a draw and went from a twenty handicap to scratch.” The golf rags are filled with testimonials similar to that. I wish that I could say that, by practicing the component pieces of my C doubling, I’ve moved up to Grade I and can now play strathspeys at well over 130 BPM accurately. I can’t. I can, however, say that I’ve been able to significantly push my tempos and play tunes a lot more accurately. As I continue to work, I find that my C doublings are now more consistent. While they still need work, as I find that I am executing my C doublings clearly and far more musically than I had before breaking them down.
There is no magic fix, though, that will place me, or anyone, in Grade I by tomorrow. It takes time. But, like fixing your golf swing and hitting the ball squarely, focusing on the steps, paying attention to the cardinal rules, and building speed gradually, I have improved.