“How do I find the motivation to practice fundamentals?”
I think this question hits on the most difficult thing about learning Highland bagpipes. It’s not the music and it’s not playing or maintaining the instrument. It is practicing or, building the habits to practice.
A good practice session can take many forms. You can explore the depths of the Dojo U archive and find loads of tips to help you build a practice framework, along with what kinds of things to fill the time. Let’s face it, working on fundamental skills is not terribly exciting. But working those skills has big payoffs in your playing and your practice time is well spent on them, in spite of their unpleasantness or more boring elements. But having a good practice is different than the impulse to practice. For that, you will need to build the discipline and habits of mind to get you going in the first place—and keep it going. Part of this requires developing the proper mindset and building habits that just happen without much thought or effort. It means changing your outlook a bit so that practicing fundamental skills becomes a more enjoyable part of a broader effort. Here are some “tricks” to stir the piping pot and keep motivation bubbling to the surface.
Explore the music. Listen to recordings. Play around with tunes. Dive into the Dojo U tune index. Don’t be afraid to simply “make noise” every now and then. The idea is to instill (and keep) excitement and love for making music.
Practice with a group. The social interaction of pipe band rehearsal is an excellent motivator for improvement. If you are already familiar with the band scene, find a few piping or drumming friends and carve out some practice time together to play around, swap advice, and help each other.
Stay connected. Keep up the friendships you form with other pipers. Get in touch with the piping community by learning the ins and outs of your home piping and drumming organization or become involved in organizing piping events in your area.
Keep the instrument handy. Piping and drumming is often jokingly referred to as an addiction. Well, this is one addiction that should be indulged at all times! Don’t store the pipes or practice chanter away after you play them. Leave your instrument and your music out and always within reach for a quick blast. Ten minutes of solid fundamental work here and there in random bursts on the practice chanter beats 0 minutes, always. What typically happens is that ten minutes turns into twenty, then turns into thirty. Before long, you won’t be able to stop yourself.
Don't make practice a chore. Sometimes making the time to practice can feel like making time to do laundry. It’s literally the last thing you want to do, but it must be done. When that happens, it’s time to figure out activities for yourself to make practice more fun. Yes, fun. There are software and tools (much of it free) to help you record your playing and that will allow you to create a personal CD of your tunes. Put on a “concert” for family or friends at your next holiday gathering. Run an informal music session. All of these will give you an opportunity to stretch your musical boundaries and get you working toward your personal best.
Take small steps. Instead of thinking about all the fundamental skills you need to improve during a practice session, take some time to do small, simple things. Tune your instrument. Pick one embellishment and spend a few minutes breaking it down and working on it. Instead of working on a skill ad nauseum, working on it for bit and then take a break. Set a timer for 5 minutes and at the end of that time, you can choose to continue or not. Give yourself the option. Like “Keep the instrument handy” above, you might find that you will not be able to stop yourself.
Keeping the Excitement Alive
If you haven’t yet figured it out, the above tips are designed to keep you excited about playing bagpipes, excited enough to overcome your aversion to somewhat unexciting fundamental work. By developing a constant excitement about the music and the instrument, we drive action. Build the habits to keep the excitement alive and you will be working to realize that excitement as much as you can.