You’re Always Young Enough for Bagpipes

We all want to be “kick-ass” don’t we? There is quite a bit of brain research and data to suggest that the only thing in the way when moving from amateur to expert in anything is dedication. As books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and others, and a host of scientific info suggest, raw talent may be a tad overrated.

The emergent field of neurogenesis suggests that the brain is a lot more pliable than thought, even at advanced ages. Acquiring new skills and, better, reaching a high level of competency is really a matter of personal desire, passion, and dedication—all of which form new connections and greater mass in the brain.

The graph above comes from Kathy Sierra at her Creating Passionate Users weblog. Her post “How to be an Expert” can be read in the context of adult bagpipers and drummers in nearly every respect.

“But the most troubling—and where we have the most leverage—is with the amateur who is satisfied with where they are. These are the folks who you overhear saying, “Yes, I know there’s a better way to do this thing, but I already know how to do it this [less efficient, less powerful] way and it’s easy for me to just keep doing it like that.” In other words, they made it past the suck threshold, but now they don’t want to push for new skills and capabilities. They don’t want to suck again. But that means they’ll never get past the kick-ass threshold where there’s a much greater chance they’ll become passionate about it.”

Here in the USA, the east particularly, adult pipers and drummers at the earliest levels of learning outnumber the kids—and there are a lot of kids learning bagpipes these days. Too many of them consider it a “lost cause” to become as good as some of the major soloists because we are “not born in Scotland,” did not start “young enough,” or some variation of the two. This perception runs deep, and conditions many to “give in” and accept whatever level at which they feel comfortable. Hogwash. Current brain research is telling us we can create our own high level of “good” based on our dedication and our desire for self-improvement. Our brains literally grow to meet the challenge of pushing our artistic boundaries—and at any age! You’re always young enough for bagpiping.

Is our passion and desire, or our level of artistry on the bagpipe or drum only measured by the number of Clasps or World Championships we manage to, or not manage to accrue? Comparisons will get you nowhere. The world of piping and drumming is big enough to contain many experts. It is really up to the individual.

No piper is required to win major solo piping or pipe band prizes of any stature or regard to build the experience, expertise, passion, and artistry that can dazzle listeners, impress peers, and generally make pipe music exciting and fun for everyone. It’s never too late, and you’re never too old to work toward your own musical artistry and become the expert you were meant to be.

  • Don Rigg

    Thank you for this article. I am in my 70s and have just started learning the bagpipes. What a marvelous and complex instrument. Sometimes the fingers don’t move like I want them to and various other things, but I am going to learn to play for my own enjoyment and amazement!!!! Thank you for the encouraging article.

  • pipervin

    Good for you Don! The research I’ve mentioned indicates that the older we get the greater benefits we get when we challenge ourselves. Have at it!

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