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Important First Steps:
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What follows is a text-based instruction manual teaching you the ins and outs of the Bagpiper's Practice Planner. For a full visual, video-based course all about using the Piper's Planner for bagpipe goal setting, we highly recommend purchasing the sister-course to this planner. It contains detailed content about the rationale and philosophy behind setting better goals for our piping, despite our busy schedules. After that, we do a detailed video-walkthrough of exactly how to use every inch of the planner.
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Using The Bagpiper's Planner
Below is a detailed text-description of all of the important tools and elements of the Bagpiper's Planner.
Personalizing Your Planner
On the first page, write your name and best contact in your planner, just in case you lose it.
The annual goals page is where you should write down your main goals for the upcoming bagpipe year. This is just a 100-day planner, but nonetheless we still want to have a clear view of where we want to go in the next full year.
Want to graduate to the Grade 4 band? Write down that goal. Make sure it’s a “SMARTER” Goal, as per planning expert Michael Hyatt - A S.M.A.R.T.E.R goal means: in the sentence you write about your goal, it clearly shows how this goal is:
Want to get an above grade-level in your solo competitions this year? Write it down.
Want to pass your Level 5 PDQB Exam this year? Write it down. It’s that simple!
There are a few more tools on this page to help you get organized. You don’t have to use all of these features, but for some the element of specificity is what keeps them going!
Check-box column - check off your goals as you achieve them!
# Column - Number each of your goals by their priority level.
The “Q” Column - What quarter of this year will you see the completion of this goal?
Goal Detail Pages
In the Goal Detail pages, we’ll flesh out the details of what we laid out on the Annual Goals page.
Is this an achievement goal or a habit style goal?
Is this a goal that will be complete when something specific is achieved, or is it a piping habit you’d like to implement?
Example of an achievement goal: Win the grand-aggregate this year in Grade 3 solos.
Example of a habit-goal: Play at least 1 tune every day on full bagpipes for 100 days.
This is basically a re-statement of what you wrote on the Annual Goals page. Feel free to flesh it out a bit. Make sure each layer of the “SMARTER” acronym is clear - your goal must be:
What are the main reasons why this goal is important to you? Write the main points down, and draw a number by each one (if you’d like) to rank the importance of each motivation.
What are the first few things you need to do to put this goal in motion? Be specific. Start at the beginning.
This is the fun part! Commit to giving yourself a reward when you achieve your goal. If you do get upgraded to Grade 2 at the end of the season… what will you do to treat yourself? Buy that new blackwood solo chanter you always wanted? Get one of those electronic chanters? You decide. Make it cool.
For habit goals, this can be a great way to “tally” the days in which you actually follow through on your prospective new habit!
Monthly Calendar Pages
You should begin this planner on the first day of a month. On the monthly calendar pages, you should fill out all three months that this planner will encompass.
Just like a normal calendar, you’ll want to write in day-specific events.
Because this is a bagpiping planner, you want to write in two types of events:
- Bagpiping events; like brief practice plans, performance days, memorization deadlines, etc.
- Life events that will “conflict” with your piping. Going on a long weekend away? Put it in the calendar so you know you’ll have to plan your piping around it. Same with work trips. Same with doctor’s appointments that will interfere with your usual practice plan.
The main reason a lot of us fail at our piping goals and aspirations, and that our passion can sometimes melt away, is that things that are (frankly) more important than piping take precedence. This is good and normal!
What we need to do, and what this planner will help you to do, is to work around these life-realities so that we can achieve our goals even though this is “just a hobby.”
Daily Practice Pages
This is where the real meat of the planner exists, and it’s going to be your day-to-day practice companion. If you take 5 or so minutes to write in your planner before each practice session, you’ll be amazed what you can achieve in a short practice time each day.
Self Explanatory. When I use my planner, I write ALL the dates in my planner ahead of time when I first receive it.
This is a small little check-box but it might be the most critical to practice success. Turn your phone in airplane mode. Make sure your spouse and kids buzz right off! The next few minutes are bagpipe-only time. Tick the box when you’re ready.
At Least 1 Tune On Pipes
At the Dojo, we strongly believe that, above all other priorities, a bagpiper should play… well… bagpipes. Every single day. Before you do anything else, grab your pipes, whip them roughly into tune (or not!) and have a tune. There. Done. It probably took about 65 seconds. Now let’s focus on our specific practice plan to get better.
This seems nerdy, but it’s a really cool feature of our planner. Buy a digital hygrometer from Amazon (they’re about $10), and stick it in your practice room. Each day as you begin to play, take note of the temperature and humidity in the room.
I started doing this a few years ago and was stunned to learn the role room temperature and humidity played in my practice session success.
Even 1 degree below 70 Farenheit and my fingers didn’t work quite as well as I wanted them to.
If the humidity dropped below 40 percent or so, my bagpipe joints were loose and it took much longer for my pipes to “settle” into comfortable working and tuning order.
Just start writing down these stats each day. A recommended starting point for your practice room is 40-60 percent humidity, and right around 70 degrees fahrenheit.
How much time do you plan to spend practicing today? Then, at the end of your session, write in the actual amount of time you spent. At the end of the week or month or quarter, this will be handy data for you to use to evaluate your progress.
You should physically write out whatever it is you’re working on, right here in this planner. You’ll be amazed how much more clarity you experience after writing out today’s area of focus. (More on this in Part 3).
Whatever you’re working on, do it in what we call the 5 “Learning Stages.” Clap the rhythm (check), sing the tune (check), memorize how it goes (check), play the segment simplified (check), then play the fully embellished version. More on this in Part 3.
In everything you play, carefully ensure that the 5 essential fingerwork fundamentals are correct. Check off things that are in good shape. Circle the weakness so you remember what to focus on moving forward.
For a detailed look at the Dojo Fingerwork Fundamentals, we recommend the Fingerwork Fundamentals Course, available here or as a Dojo U Premium Member.
Have you asked yourself the four questions today?
Each time you pick up your pipes, doing a check of the four questions will ensure your pipes are always operating in peak performance shape.
To learn more about the 4 Questions (and the other 9 steps of a great bagpipe sound), we recommend our Instrument Fundamentals Course, available here. It’s also available as a Dojo U Premium Member.
Our secondary priorities are larger-scale playing projects, but we should still make sure we’ve taken the time to go through each learning stage with them. This could span a few days or weeks.
Don’t just blast through your tune and hope for the best. Spend all weekend just singing the tune. Maybe, by Sunday, you pretty much know it by heart. Then, on Monday, graduate yourself to playing the tune in a simplified fashion. By the end of the week, you’ll have it up and running in a way you’re truly proud of and that shows real progress.
Use this as a place to plan out your session, and/or report on what you actually did. If you deviate from the plan, make sure you update this so you have clear data later when looking back at how you practiced in the past.
This area is for whatever you want!
Weekly Preview Pages
The Weekly Preview is something you should tackle when you have a few minutes at the beginning of a week of practicing. It’s going to help us clarify where we are, and how we can best use the time available to us this week.
First, date the weekly page with this week’s dates in the top right corner. Then, let’s dive in.
Step 1: Last Week’s Wins
What went well last week, based on your goals and your expectations? Did you have any purposeful breakthroughs as a result of your game-plan? Or, were there any unexpected pleasant surprises?
Notice how we’re not that concerned with failures from last week, even though there may have been several. This would be negative and counter-productive. Failures are totally normal, and, as you’ll see, we’re going to address them, and then seamlessly build them into next week’s plan.
So, let’s not worry about them for now. Just write down your wins here - this proves you’re making progress.
Step 2: Priority Review
Note: If you’re on week one, you may not have had specific priorities written down yet (there is no weekly preview for the first week’s-worth of Daily Practice Pages), and that’s ok. This will only be an issue the first time you use the planner. Once you’re on your second planner, you’ll already have priorities from your “Next Quarter Preview” at the end of the previous planner.
Here, you should quickly re-state your priorities you’ve set up from the previous week’s Weekly Preview Page. How did you do this week? Do we feel like we’ve mastered the Crunluath, or is there still more work to do? Are we on track, or do we need to re-evaluate the game plan?
Take a few notes here.
Step 3: This Week’s “Life” Challenges
This one’s very important. What’s going on in your life this week? Are there things that trump your piping plans? If so, write them down. Then, write down a few ways you could change your piping plans to do your best to work around these challenges.
Remember: It’s ok and expected for things in life to be more important than piping. What’s not ok is to let piping slip off your radar for big chunks of time.
Step 4: This Week’s Playing Priorities
We’ll now have some clarity on what we should focus on this week and what’s reasonable to try to achieve based on any life conflicts that may have crept in. So, now we set our key playing priorities for the week.
Priority #1 (Smaller Scale)
It’s very important that your primary practice focus this week be on something “small.” If you’re a beginner, this could literally be one bar of Scotland the Brave. If you’re a professional soloist, “small” would naturally mean something different… perhaps one of your competition Strathspeys.
Why is it important that this is a small scale? It’s important because we are going to get better by carefully addressing details in our playing (not generalities). If we bite off too much material, no specific work will get done. Meanwhile, if we take a small chunk, we give ourselves a chance to get in there and actually move the needle forward on our playing THIS WEEK.
Priority #2 (Larger-Scale)
“But what if I have to have the whole MSR down by next week?”
It’s common to have goals that include a large chunk of material. So, it is a priority to do some “run-throughs” of larger-scale pieces of material during practice sessions.
But - let me be very clear here:
Run-throughs are a lower priority than detail work! Forever and always. It’s more important that we get better during a practice session (whatever small period of time that we have) than we get repetitions.
This is especially true if you only have 10 minutes today. If you only have ten minutes, in my opinion, you should
- Quickly have a single tune on the pipes.
- Focus entirely on detail-work pertaining to a small bit of material.
- (Forget about doing any “reps” of larger scale stuff).
The better you get, the easier it will be to do repetitions. See how the pecking order works?
Larger-scale reps are a secondary priority each day. If you have time, awesome! If not, skip it.
Where Should I Be Right Now?
Write down some notes about where you’d be right now in the perfect world. If your competition is in 6 weeks, so you should have your music memorized by the end of this week, write it down. If your pipe major is expecting you to deliver Scotland the Brave, completely memorized, this week, write that down.
You may be a bit ahead or behind, but this area serves as a measuring stick for you - how are you doing relative to your goals’ basic checkpoints?
Towards the back of your planner, we have put 10 “performance pages.” These are similar to Daily Practice Pages but are designed with the specifics of a bagpipe performance in mind.
Obviously, at any performance we want to present our very best, and this will be a great place to take the logistical notes you need to make sure your playing can be your primary focus on the day.
Whether this performance is a gig or a competition or a parade with your band, you’ll want to fill in the gig’s key information at the top of the page.
If you’re playing a funeral or a wedding, you’ll want your primary contact’s phone number, and whether or not they want you to call or text them. Don’t leave home without this written down!
Lastly, what’s the plan to receive payment (if applicable)? Do you have to meet up with Timmy’s brother’s cousin twice removed for him to pay you half in cash, half as a cashier’s check? Write that down here.
You can use this as simple record-keeping, or, as I do, as a predictive tool. I go on my weather app to determine what the temperature and humidity is expected to be at the location of my gig. If it’s going to be colder than I expected, I’ll now be mentally prepared for it. If it’s going to be hot and dry, I’m now aware. Above the box, I also write in the basic weather conditions; rainy, cloudy, all sun, etc.
These are pretty self-explanitory checklists for bagpipers on the day of the gig. To double-check I didn’t forget anything, I check the boxes when something is prepared, and then cross the items off as I’m loading things into the car.
Also, we’ve left some empty spaces here for you to write in items you use that perhaps we didn’t put in.
On gig day, this box is more important than ever. We want to put our entire playing schedule in here, and INCLUDE travel-time to any event, so we’ve clearly mapped out how much time it will take us to do everything.
“Reverse Engineer” the timing of your day so that you don’t accidentally mess up your commute or your warm up process just because we’re travelling.
Before You Leave…
Before you leave the house for your gig check that you’ve checked in on these four items (if applicable).
Have You Asked the Four Questions?
I like to do this twice on performance day. Once at the house before I leave (check the boxes), and then once as I get my pipes out upon arrival (cross the lines out). Today is the day we cannot forget to do our basic bagpipe checks.
If something isn’t perfect, don’t be afraid to make minor changes just because it’s performance day. At the same time though - if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Next Quarter Preview
When you reach the end of your planner, before you “close the book,” you want to plan out your next quarter (100 days). What went well this past 100 days? What could improve? What will be my larger-scale priorities moving forward to the next 100 days? What challenges lie before me?
Finally, picture yourself in 100 days. Where would you like to be?
There’s ample extra space at the back of the planner to take written and/or musical notes!