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Going Deep with Your Piping

Going Deep with Your Piping


May was a good month. I was on top of the world. I was practicing regularly and I was, I thought, in a position where I could play well and compete successfully.

Then I recorded myself. I sounded terrible. I had been recording my performances on a regular basis in the past, but, for some unknown reason, I fell off the wagon. Pity, because the recording was revealing.

I would be lying if I were to say that I wasn’t dejected. I was. Wallowing in self-pity, though, does not pay the bills and it certainly does not make one a better piper. After dealing with my dejection, I sat down and made a list. I enumerated everything on the recording that did not sound up to standard.

First and foremost on the list were my throws.

My throws were far to open and, for the most part, came in ahead of the beat. In addition, I was playing them unevenly, placing heavy emphasis on the low G. These were flaws that my instructor had mentioned to me on several occasions but I did not recognize the problems until I listened to my recent recording. I shared the recordings with my instructor during one lesson. I felt that this was a critical step. It is easy to convince yourself that you are executing an embellishment correctly as you play through a tune or exercise. It is not so easy to convince yourself when you have recorded evidence that this is not the case.

So I went back to the well. I worked on D-throw exercises with the following points of emphasis:

I practiced the classic Dojo U exercises for the D-throw starting on low G and working up the scale. I recorded the exercises every day to track progress. Then, I practiced them in context. I had been working on the "Australian Ladies". There was one area that was particularly problematic: Each section of the tune ends some rather snappy tachums and a nice D-throw followed by a D strike.

My D-throw was coming in consistently before the beat. I did two things to rectify the issue. First, I slowed the tempo down—way down. That allowed me to focus on starting the D-throw right on the beat. Second, I looped through only the last two bars, once again, slowly. When I practiced the "Australian Ladies", I only looped through these two bars; I did not practice any other part of the tune. I focused on playing a short low G and a crisp grace note on C. In looping through this section, I noted that I was also coming in early on the double E.

By focusing on only these two bars, I was able to bring them into line, as it were.

In Dojo U parlance, this method is referred to as practicing an inch wide and a mile deep. It makes sense. If you can play through a tune but only execute seventy percent of it correctly, you won’t score well on the boards. More importantly, if you are making mistakes on thirty percent of the tune, you aren’t playing up to a quality standard.

Look, my situation may not be that interesting, but it is not uncommon. As we work our way toward that higher standard, we can better utilize our time by focusing on the smaller problems when we practice rather than the entire tune. Practicing a inch wide and a mile deep will help to solve problems that you face as a piper. You can then solve a lot of small problems that will help you build up future tunes.

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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.