Home Media News & Blog Identify, Determine the Cause, Solve the Problem
Identify, Determine the Cause, Solve the Problem

Identify, Determine the Cause, Solve the Problem


Things go wrong. It is our condition as humans. We aren't machines that execute tasks perfectly every time. In piping, we have a multitude of variables to which we need to attend in order to have a successful performance. Some of those variables, such as the temperature and the relative humidity, our out of our control. We do, however, control many of the variables that lead to a good performance. Most notably, we can control what we do when things go wrong. When things do go wrong, there is a reason; and we need to identify the reason. We need to determine the cause and find a solution.

In the world of professional sports, numerous teams have recovered from disastrous starts or horrible seasons. Some go on to achieve the pinnacle of success:

  • The New York Islanders hockey team started the 1980 season with a record of 6-11-4. Realizing that that they had a lot of talent, the team developed their young players. By midseason, they had worked their way back to a .500 record. At the end of the season, they hoisted the Stanley Cup over the ice.
  • The Chelsea Football Club, despite finishing 10th in the table during the 2016 season, hired a new manager, adjusted their formation on the pitch, and brought in some key talent. They finished the 2017 season at the top of the Premier League table.
  • In 1991, the Minnesota Twins baseball team started the season at 2-9. The Twins had a strong pitching staff and they stuck with them. In the last game of the season, Jack Morris refused to come off the mound and pitched 10 scoreless innings, winning the game and clinching the World Series.

In each case, the team took stock of where they were, made adjustments, and righted the ship. Those adjustments may have been minimal. The Islanders and the Twins were confident in their personnel and their training regimen. The Blues, on the other had, had to make more drastic adjustments to meet their goals.

As pipers, we don't have the resources of professional sports teams at our beck and call. We can however, identify a problem, determine the cause, and implement a solution. Consider playing a grip on high A. Assume that, despite our best efforts, we are not playing it consistently. So what is the cause of the problem? Are we closing the chanter properly without any crossing noises? Are we playing the D grace note on low G so that the embellishment is even? When we return to high A, is the movement clean? Are there crossing noises? Our technique relies on a foundation, if we cannot execute those prerequisites properly, we will be unable to execute the grip properly. It may be the case that we are practicing the high A grip, but we are not practicing it properly. Closing the chanter from high A is basic scale navigation, and we can correct it with the following exercise:

The key to this exercise is to be deliberate. Play it at a tempo where you will not have any crossing noises. As you gain proficiency, you can increase the tempo, but never to the point where you have crossing noises. If crossing noises creep back in, slow it down and practice at a tempo where you can execute it so that all your fingers move simultaneously. The goal here is to solve a problem, not to create more.

Once you have the movement from high A to low G down rock solid, then introduce the grip movement. Play the D grace note so that the two Gs are even, then make a clean movement back to high A. Playing the grip on high A cleanly, slowly, and deliberately will lead to a better, consistent grip. It is a far better approach than blasting through the tune and hoping for the best when you come to a grip on high A. Playing slowly, cleanly, and deliberately may slow our progress, especially if we are working toward a target tempo and are failing to meet our goal. If our embellishment quality is not good, then we will have difficulty meeting our goals with regard to tempo. It is worth it, though, to identify our problems, determine the cause, and implement a solution. This may slow us down in the short term, but in the long term, it will pay dividends.

There are hundreds of posts here at Dojo U that can help you to work through almost any problem that you could imagine:

Problems with the Pipes: The Thirteen Steps will get you pointed in the right direction.

Problems with rhythmic accuracy: Learn a thing or two about rhythmic accuracy through the tune Banjo Breakdown.

Problems with grace note or embellishment quality: Learn about grace note quality by studying the tune Mrs. John MacColl.

Problems with ALAP/ASAP: One of my favorite Dojo classes (dealing with the "deduction" principle).

As a piper, you are part of a team. If you are in a band, the band manager is the front office. If you are a soloist, you are the front office. Your pipe major and teacher are your coaches (Dojo U can also be your coach). In a pipe band, you are part of the roster. If you are a soloist, you are the roster (sorry, no roster moves allowed in that case). Whether you are a member of a band or a soloist, you will always encounter problems. When you do, remember that the problems do not mean the end of the world. Remember the Islanders, The Blues, and the Twins, they encountered some rough patches but went on to greater glory. You, too, can identify problems, determine the cause of the problems, and implement a solution to the problem.

Your championship season begins now.

Take Action
Bruce Gandy - Steady Blowing [Vintage]
Robert Mathieson - Mastering Grips, Taorluaths, and D Throws [Vintage]
Embellishment Practice Tunes



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.