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Monthly Archives: May 2011

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Structure your practice to excel #2: Focus

This is the second installment in a series on how to structure your practice time to seriously improve your piping. Click here to for Part 1: Set goals

When you practice, be sure not to mindlessly play your pipes. Listen carefully to every tune you play, whether it’s a slow air that you’ve played for years or a new competition tune, and listen for places to improve.

You should find things to improve on every tune you play, every time. There’s no such thing as a perfect run through, and if when you finish a tune you don’t have a list of at least a few things you can improve for next time, you’re not listening carefully enough.

We all have at least a few tunes we can play completely on autopilot, and those are great to play while warming up at the beginning of your practice. Since you don’t have to think so much about what note comes next, use those tunes to focus on perfecting execution and blowing steady tone. Listen to improve every tune, every time.

Develop an ear to critique your own playing, and apply it every time you pick up the pipes or practice chanter. Focusing carefully on your practicing is a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd, and it’s what separates great pipers from mediocre pipers.

Structure your practice to excel #1: Set goals

This is the first post in a series on how to structure your practice time to seriously improve your piping. It was inspired by the the April 28 episode of the Bagpipe Nation podcast.

I’ve written before how practicing is different than playing, and it’s practice that is required to get better. Practice involves critically listening to your playing, identifying and correcting rough spots, and repetition to enforce corrections. It’s hard to structure your practices all the time because it takes some serious mental energy and focus, but it’s the only way to get better.

The first installment in this series of structuring your practice time is about setting goals.

Why should you set a goal? Well, you have to know where you’re going and when you get there. Like George Harrison sang, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

  1. Make your goal measurable, and give it a deadline. This can be a tough hurdle to get over, because giving yourself such a firm deadline introduces the possibility that you might fail. However, it also gives you a definite time when you’ve completed it. Instead of saying the ambiguous “I’d like to play better” or “I’d like to learn more tunes,” try “I’d like to XX tune in XX competition.” That gives you specific criteria to meet. You should be able to mark your goal on the calendar and assess its state of completion by answering either yes or no.
  2. Be optimistic with your goals, but realistic as well. Challenge yourself to give yourself room to grow, but don’t overreach your ability. Learning The Little Cascade as your first competition reel is probably overly optimistic, and it’s a good way to get yourself depressed. Set your goals at a level that you HAVE to work to attain them, but at a level that CAN attain them.
  3. Set your goals based on things you can control. Winning competitions is not a great goal because you can’t control how the other competitors will play. You could play the tune of your life and still finish third due to no fault of your own.
  4. Write your goals down in a conspicuous place and refer to them frequently. If you can see them, you’re more likely to remember them.
  5. Grab a practice buddy, and hold each other accountable to your respective goals. Exercising is easier when you have a partner to drag you to the gym, and so is playing music. Set a time to get together and a list of new music you’d like to play for each other by that time.
It’s really easy to read this blog post and say “Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” It doesn’t help you become a better piper until you actually do it, so give it a shot.