There are those who would claim Highland piping is difficult. It may be, but perfecting a crunluath a-mach is nothing compared to the task of perfecting your own self-critiquing skills.One of the hallmarks of Dojo U is that your bagpipe learning is individualized and largely self-directed. There is a lot of expectation placed on the individual piper to be able to assess their own playing and identify when things are not quite right. Yet, it is probably the hardest thing of all to become your own judge and lend an objective ear to your own playing. After running through your repertoire or drilling your technique a number of times, it may well be impossible to get a sense of how well, or how poorly, you are doing. Time to put yourself in the judge’s seat and subject yourself to...yourself.
Ultimately, you are your own best piping judge. Our personal goals and sense of progress is what keeps us moving, not necessarily wins, or lack thereof, on games day. One trick to train yourself in the art of self-judging involves simply recording your playing and giving a listen as a member of an audience—as if you were at a major solo piping contest watching from behind the bench.
This is not as silly as it sounds. When we focus and listen, we are attuned to the performer in a way that is impossible to bring to bear during our own playing. In fact, there is a fair amount of research to suggest that our understanding of music is processed differently when “active” (i.e., playing) or “passive” (i.e., listening).
Pretending to be part of the audience, or in this case the piping judge, will focus your attention on areas that may get lost during your playing. Think about it. A judge is sitting, focussed on you and the various aspects of your performance: tone and tuning, tempo and timing, expression, technique—all the things you are practicing. While you, on the other hand, are focussed on producing those very same elements. What typically happens is that we take the judge’s comments and try to make sense of what we actually produced. Did you really play the way the judge mentions on the sheet? What is the judge really hearing? Were you really as good/terrible as you thought? Can you be sure you assessed your own performance accurately? The goal is to fill in that perception gap and answer those questions definitively yourself, thereby creating a feedback loop of observation, understanding, and execution.
And it’s really not that hard. Create your own personal piping evaluation sheets much like you would be given at the end of a day of solo competition. Make several copies, turn on your recording media of choice, sit back, and listen to your recorded tunes. Evaluate your playing and critique yourself as a judge might do. Really listen. Make notes on your personal score sheet as if you are the judge. Not only will you learn to assess your own skills objectively, but you will notice areas needing improvement (or areas that are coming along nicely!) that might have been missed in the hubbub of your rehearsals.
Record several days of practice and do this once per week. You will amass quite the record of your opinions about your playing. Before long, you will train your ear to pick up the weak areas, as well as recognize your strengths—while you are playing. Give it enough time and you will gain a more accurate picture of yourself as a player and develop the listening skills you need to keep moving forward.