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The Thirteen Steps, Part I
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The Thirteen Steps, Part I

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I was first introduced to Dojo University several years ago.

I saw an advertisement on Facebook from the Dojo that promoted a set of videos on calibrating drone reeds. I was drawn into the video series. Andrew outlined a logical set of steps to follow in order to calibrate your drone reeds.

The steps for calibrating drone reeds are part of a larger process that Andrew has outline in the video, "13 Steps to Great Bagpipe Sound."

I am, by trade, a software engineer. Engineering a piece of software, such as an app, is akin to writing a novel. One breaks the app down into smaller tasks and then one writes the code for each smaller task before building all the pieces into an app. To build the smaller tasks, one has to solve lots of little problems. For example, a certificate would have to validate against a chain of trust before you could implement encryption.

“Thank you for boring me to tears,” I can hear you saying under your breath, “what’s your point?”

In piping, we need to solve lots of little problems in order to build a great bagpipe sound. We need to solve these little problems every time we pick the pipes up from our cases.

“OK, I see what you’re saying,” you might be saying to yourself right now, “what are the little problems.”

Andrew broke the problem of great bagpipe sound into thirteen little problems. Thirteen steps, actually:

Step 1: Ask the question “is my bag airtight?”
Step 2: Ask the question “are my joints airtight?”
Step 3: Ask the question “are my reed seats airtight?”
Step 4: Ask the question “are my drone reeds properly calibrated?”
Step 5: Find your chanter reed’s sweet spot.
Step 6: Physical blowing mastery.
Step 7: Mental blowing mastery.
Step 8: Bagpipe acclimatization.
Step 9: Balance the chanter using the “graduated tuning effect.”
Step 10: Tune one drone to low A using the “blow trick.”
Step 11: Tune the other drones to the first drone:
Step 12: Repeat steps 10 and 11 as the chanter changes in pitch over time.
Step 13: If needed, fine-tune the chanter notes (using the blow trick again)

If we break these steps into categories, steps one through four, having an airtight bag, joints, and reeds, as well as calibrating drone reeds would be maintenance tasks. Steps five through nine, sweet spot, physical and mental blowing mastery would be physical skills and applying those skills to finding the right pressure for your chanter reed. Steps nine through thirteen would be the process of actually tuning the bagpipe.

Each step presents a little problem. If we solve the little problem in each step, we can progress to the next step. If we solve all of the little problems, we will have an instrument that sounds great.

“Ok,” your are hopefully saying, “press on.”

I will. In the next post I will talk about steps one through four and highlight the logic and Andrew presents to solve these little problems. I’ll also show you that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Take Action

13 Steps to Great Bagpipe Sound
Bagpipe Maintenance
Is Your Bag Airtight? Part 1

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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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