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You're confused...

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One of my all time favorite skits features Ricky Jervais as an acting student, soaking in a lesson by Ian McKellen (Gandalf from Lord of the Rings).

It's hilarious, but not just for the obvious reasons:

Is it possible that acting really IS as simple as McKellan claims? Is it really just pretending to be the person one is portraying in the film or play?

This skit rings especially true to me because, sometimes, as a teacher of bagpipes many of my lessons are basically along the same lines:

Me: "How do I express so well?"

Student:  [befuddled]

Me: "What I do is I extend the important notes and shrink the less important notes in the phrase I am attempting to play."

Student: [befuddled]

Me: "You're confused..."

...And so the skit carries on.

It's perfectly understandable that piping students end up feeling like expression is a big complicated thing, and that you have to be oozing talent in order to pull it off. As I look back through hundreds of hours of lessons that I've had with many famous pipers throughout the years (Alasdair Gillies, Jim McGillivray, Jack Lee, Donald Lindsay, my Dad, and so on), I had many great lessons regarding expression.

The lessons usually went something like this -

Me: (playing, but then gestured to stop by the instructor)
Instructor: You need to hold note 'x' longer. Try again.
Me: (playing, but then gestured to stop by the instructor)
Instructor: That was a bit too much. Try it like this (instructor demonstrates.)
Me: (another attempt, but then gestured to stop by the instructor)
Instructor: Nononono, you can't cut that note there that short. It has to be soft like this (demonstrates)
Me: (playing, but then gestured to stop by the instructor)
Instructor: Nonono, that's too soft. Like this, like this.
Me: (playing, but then gestured to stop by the instructor)
Instructor: Much better - but you forgot to hold that orginal note. Let's try again.
Me: (playing, but then gestured to stop by the instructor)
Instructor: Better, better, we'll try it again next lesson.

Of course, these we all great lessons, taught to me by some of the best players in the world. And, every single piece of advice I received about expression was spot on - but there was one realization I had to make on my own that really let everything click.

Here was my revelation, after a decade or more of high level instruction:

Wait a second. I am actually being taught the same basic concept, over and over again, and it really never changes.

I wouldn't say this clicked overnight, but gradually I did start to realize... if I simply integrated this one system for expression tunes... my instructors were increasingly quite content with my expression. Lessons became just about slight tweaks to what I was doing, and interesting ways to deviate from what was expected to produce a more personalized result...

Isn't this what we all want, and what we all strive for when it comes to playing the pipes? We want to develop a foundation of fundamental skills, and then we want to produce our own music using that skill-set!

Well, over a long time I finally realized what it was my instructors were getting at. Perhaps they didn't have the perfect way of explaining this basic fundamental, and so we ended up taking the long way to get there. And that's ok! That's the way a lot of great learning happens.

With that said, I did figure out how to put what they wanted into words, and I implemented it with my students to yield great results. The concept has become affectionately named "ALAP/ASAP" for reasons you'll figure out if you'd like.

I've put together a free "Bagpipe Expression Handbook" to share my realizations about expression with the world, and I'd love for you to check it out.

It's 100% free, and you can access it by clicking here.

Take Action!

Download our free "Bagpipe Expression Handbook" - 2 fundamental steps you need to master 95% of the art of bagpipe expression. Hint! None of this involves hocus pocus, fairy dust, divine providence, or the bloodline of legendary pipers! Let's learn to do this the right way!

Click Here Now to Download the Bagpipe Expression Handbook!

 

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Andrew Douglas Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, having been active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He's also the founder and creator of Dojo U and of PipersDojo.com

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