These are words that are frequently spoken when I’m giving a bagpipe lesson. I don’t teach that often, and have only one student at the moment, but I still say it a lot. I’ll ask him to play an exercise or a bit of a tune, and after two of three tries he’ll play it pretty close to right. He looks at me seeking approval, and my response is “Good! Now do it again.”
At first he would always look disappointed when I told him this. “But I just played it right,” his face would say. And I can see how it could come across as being a bit harsh, but he quickly caught on that when I told him to play something again it wasn’t to play it better, but just to play it again. Things like grips, throws, doublings, birls, etc have to be repeatable. If you once played a C doubling correctly that’s great, but if you can’t do it on command it won’t do you much good. Like the brakes on a car, it’s all well and good that they used to work; it’s very important to know that they work now, and perhaps more important to know that they will work when you press the pedal in the near future.
I’ve heard the saying that “Winners practice until they get it right. Champions practice until they can’t get it wrong,” and I like that quite a bit. In piping terms, it’s the difference between being able to play a tune and being able to play it while thinking about what you might fix for dinner tonight.
I’ve seen a number of bands (mostly non-competing) that are willing to settle for “good enough.” When that same level of playing becomes “pretty good,” the band has doomed itself to mediocrity until the attitude changes. When the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band was practicing their medley, what did they do when they played it well? I would bet dollars to pesos that they played it again. And again. And again. When they stepped onto the field at the Worlds, how many times had they played their competition sets? I don’t think I can count high enough. As a result their performance wasn’t “good,” nor was it “pretty good;” it was “really good,” or even “really damned good.” At the end of the day they were world champions, and it was smart practice and preparation that got them there.
I’ve lately adopted this mindset while I’m practicing. At the end of a session I always remind myself that I could have played better, and when I finish a tune pretty I tell myself, “Good, now do it again.” It’s not a “pretty good” performance that wins prizes, and settling for “pretty good” is not good enough for me.