• pipehacker_smalltunes_2014

    Small Tunes Podcast: “Kilmartin Castle”

    Friday, October 17, 2014

    Today’s tune is an inviting quick march “Kilmartin Castle,” composed in the late nineteenth century by Donald Campbell. The real Kilmartin Castle still stands overlooking the village of…

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  • child-leaping-through-meadow

    Hack Your Practice: Big Bagpiping Improvement Le...

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

    Is the end of another bagpiping season upon us already? Where does the time go? The weather here on the east is getting cooler and the AC is…

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  • z score3

    Hack Your Practice: Become an Awesome Bagpiper W...

    Thursday, October 2, 2014

    Setting focussed music goals and working to achieve them is the quickest path to improvement as a bagpiper. But setting proper goals can sometimes be daunting and it…

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  • The Bagpipe Happiness Principle

    Friday, September 26, 2014

    Time is money, they say. If that is true, then what are you spending your money (time) on? “They” also say money can’t buy happiness. But I disagree….

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  • john-coltrane

    On Being a Great Bagpiper

    Monday, September 22, 2014

    As pipers and drummers, it is easy to get so wrapped up in the “Highland” arts that we forget that the experience of making music is mostly the same for players of any instrument.

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  • P1020731

    Pipehacker Project: The Chanter Cap Reed Dryer

    Monday, September 15, 2014

    The chanter cap has become as ubiquitous a part of the pipe box as a roll of black tape. But moisture left on the reed after playing can…

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  • pipehacker_smalltunes_2014

    Small Tunes Podcast: “The Red Coat”

    Friday, September 5, 2014

    “The Red Coat” is tune that evokes the image of pressing red-coated English infantryman—something that has been forever burned into the American cultural consciousness. The “strathspey” is also something forever burned into the musical consciousness of all pipers. Download the score and listen to the podcast for more background and a rendition of the tune on the bagpipe.

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  • pipehacker_smalltunes_2014

    Small Tunes Podcast: “Jack Ashore”

    Friday, August 22, 2014

    In this episode we travel to Victorian England and get a taste of life on the docks of London with “Jack Ashore,” a tune composed by Harry B. Murray in 1909. The term “Jack ashore” was a common reference to a sailor or sailors, or a Jack Tar, who had come into port with the carousing and antics one would expect after being at sea for many months. Download the score and listen to the podcast for more background and a rendition of the tune on the bagpipe.

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Oct
17

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Small Tunes Podcast: “Kilmartin Castle”

pipehacker_smalltunes_2014

Today’s tune is an inviting quick march “Kilmartin Castle,” composed in the late nineteenth century by Donald Campbell. The real Kilmartin Castle still stands overlooking the village of Kilmartin. Download the set score and listen to the podcast for more background and a rendition of the tune on the bagpipe.

pipehacker_kilmartincastle

Oct
9

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Hack Your Practice: Big Bagpiping Improvement Leaps with Marginal Gains

child-leaping-through-meadow

Is the end of another bagpiping season upon us already? Where does the time go? The weather here on the east is getting cooler and the AC is not cranking like it was. It is the perfect time of year to reflect on one’s bagpiping and set some big improvement goals for the next year! There is no one true path toward constant improvement in bagpipes. Many pipers have their own personal plans when it comes to goal setting and learning. But one of the more interesting approaches toward setting actionable goals I’ve heard in a long while, and one that can integrate seamlessly with a piper’s practice regimen, comes from the world of competitive cycling.

Team Sky is a professional cycling team based in Manchester, England. Back in 2010, they set the bold goal of winning the Tour de France by 2015. At the time, that was like an American pipe band saying they will win the Grade 1 World Pipe Band Championships in five years. There has never been an American winner at the Worlds in the entire history of the event, just as there had never been a British Tour winner in its 97-year history.

But in 2012, British riders took first and second place in the Tour and repeated in 2013 (three years earlier than their goal, mind you). What was their secret? A principle coach Dave Brailsford calls the “aggregation of marginal gains.” Here is coach Brailsford explaining the approach.

If you take a tip from Team Sky, and if you had to measure it, how much better would you need to be in order to be more successful in bagpipe performance? (This goes for soloists and bands.) Is it 10%, 20%, 30% improvement? Saying you will make a 30% (or a one-third) improvement in your bagpipe playing ability might seem like a silly thing. Playing bagpipes is not an athletic endeavor where performance can be measured with time and distance. You can’t really put a number on it. (But you can if you create your piping Z-Score!)But our improvement can be perceived and tracked. Striving to be “one-third better” is not really an achievable goal. Or is it? What about a 1% improvement? One-percent is, in common parlance, just a little bit. It’s certainly possible to perceive a small improvement in some aspect of your bagpipe playing. What if you focussed on thirty different aspects of your piping and improved them by just a little bit? Together, they make that one-third jump in your progress. That’s the aggregation of marginal gains. Tiny improvements, worked for constantly and added together, equal large overall improvement.

What aspects of your bagpiping could you list that could improve by a tiny 1%? Technique? Sound production? Timing and rhythm? How about your physical conditioning? Your posture? Your reed quality? Your attitude? Your instrument care? Your diet? The list is potentially endless and that is the secret to the success of this approach. It relies on identifying all aspects of you and your music. Don’t think anything is off limits. Team Sky’s approach analyzed everything that had an impact on their cyclists’ performance. Nothing was overlooked or considered trivial. The cumulative effect produced dramatic results.

Keep in mind that radical breakthroughs are not the objective. I particularly like Brailsford’s comment about focusing on the process and always asking yourself, “What can I do today that will move toward better performance?” Small improvements across multiple aspects add up to large results. And it doesn’t stop there. Just because aspects of your bagpipe playing are improved a tiny bit, keep pushing those elements another bit still, analyzing more aspects, and improving those. Over time, your improvement is constant. It might not feel like it, but I daresay that the changes are more sustainable and permanent because they are small and manageable.

Project: Aggregate Your Marginal Gains

1. Take out a piece of paper and list all of the things you can think of that influence a good bagpipe performance. Don’t just focus on music fundamentals. Dig deep. Yes, things such as “clear technique” will be on that list, but so should “adequate practice/rehearsal” and “tune memorization” and “an airtight bag.” Playing well should also make you feel good about your piping, which also has an impact on performance, so something like “a positive attitude” would also be on that list.

2. Once you have your list, pick out three items. These do not have to be areas in which you are weakest. They can also be what you feel is strongest. Assess each and rate yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, where you personally score on each of them.

3. Spend the next two to four weeks focussing your work on improving those three aspects from your list. Utilize all the tools at your disposal and truly focus on those single elements. You are trying to move your self-rated scale on those aspects one point (4 to 5; 8 to 9; 2 to 3; etc.). This is where recording your practice work is a necessary component of the process. Much of what you will be working for will be heard in your actual playing. But other things, such as mood or physical comfort might require personal reflection and comparison. Be honest with yourself.

4. Repeat until you feel you have moved your score one point. Then repeat the process adding three more items from your list. When you have moved your score on those, start again and add three more. Continue to focus on these nine aspects of your piping and continue working on them all.

Over time with this approach, you will build the habits of mind to be aware of your own progress and instinctively work to make things better in concrete ways with necessary control. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? In piping, as in much of anything, a desire for instant gratification will sometimes get the better of us. We want it all and we want it now. But “getting it all” begins with small steps. And lots of small steps, together, equal large leaps forward.

Projects

P1020731

Pipehacker Project: The Chanter Cap Reed Dryer

Monday, September 15, 2014

The chanter cap has become as ubiquitous a part of the pipe box as a roll of black tape. But moisture left on the reed after playing can…

pipehacker_reedtech18

Pipehacker Project: The Reed-Hack Survival Pack

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Highland bagpipers need to be versed in all the skills to sound their best. In the true Pipehacker tradition, here is a sporran-sized, exquisitely portable survival kit for reedsmithing and manipulation. Make your own pipe-hacked, miniaturized versions of the tools you need for reed-hacking while practicing or fine tuning before performance time.

pipehacker_bagpipe_gauge_00

Top Pipehacker Project in 2013: The Piper’s Perfect Pressure Gauge

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The bagpiping world seems to be divided up into two groups: 1) The denizens of bagpipe internet forums who are sure manometers, i.e., tubes filled with water, will…

watertrap

Pipehacker Project: The Black Strap Water Trap

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Moisture to the bagpiper is like DDT to the mosquito. A build up of too much moisture in your instrument means certain death of your reeds and nothing…

ZoomH2pipehacker

Pipehacker Project: Recording Your Professional Personal Piping Performances

Friday, June 29, 2012

You’re serious about your bagpiping, right? Of course you are. You take all the necessary steps to treat your instrument with care and acquire all the skills and…

pipehacker_bagpipe_gauge_00

Pipehacker Project: The Piper’s Perfect Pressure Gauge

Friday, February 3, 2012

The bagpiping world seems to be divided up into two groups: 1) The denizens of bagpipe internet forums who are sure manometers, i.e., tubes filled with water, will…

pipehacker_waxedhemp9

Pipehacker Project: Waxing Hemp-ish

Friday, November 4, 2011

Having well hemped joints on your bagpipe is a critical part of a well set-up and efficient instrument. The hemp used should use a good amount of black…

practicechanterreedrebuild

Pipehacker Project: Rebuild and Resurrect a Practice Chanter Reed

Friday, June 24, 2011

Never chuck a good reed. Wait. Did I say that already once before? Well, it’s true, and if you’ve been at this bagpipes thing for any length of…

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