7 Ways to Hack Your Brain for Better Bagpiping

Bagpiping can seem like a moving target with the amount of information we need to take in as we learn. Never mind the getting the fingers to do what you want, it is making the brain do what you want that is the biggest challenge. Blowing, squeezing, clear embellishments, phrase properly, play on the beat, here comes that tricky bit in the third part…good piping is as much about training your brain as it is anything else. But our brains can only hold so much and it can sometimes difficult to stay creative as we grow as bagpipers.

In addition to generating, and sticking to, any goals or long-term plans you might have for your piping, you will also need to pay attention to how you learn or, literally how you think. Here are some helpful learning tips that will help you creatively distill the immense and sometimes complicated field of bagpiping and musical information you will encounter.

Take in new ideas—all the time. Never read, view, or listen to anything passively. Annotate, visualize, think, and synthesize while you read, watch, or listen—even when you’re encountering what appears to be basic stuff. The idea is to understand things completely and deep enough so that you can use them.

Learn how you learn. Understand the process you experience when you take in new information. Put new ideas and/or newly learnt things into immediate action. The good stuff will stick and the hard stuff won’t seem so hard. Know how your brain works and what you need to do to absorb information successfully.

Map your plan. What is this? It is drawing all the things you need to accomplish on a piece of paper and finding out which things depend on other things. Find the things that are not dependent on anything else but have the most dependents, and finish them first.

Collaborate. Working with a group can help crystallize your goals and clear away the stuff that gets in the way. Aside from the pipe band, working with others to develop musical projects can be one of the more rewarding things you can do.

Make mistakes quickly. You may mess things up as you learn new things, but do it fast, and then move on. Document it, learn from it, and then move beyond it. In basic piping terms, this means getting past the errors that are bound to come up as you work. Shakespeare put it best in Measure for Measure: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

Document everything. Much of creativity is learning how to see things properly. Musical improvement is gradual, but noticeable change as you grow will happen suddenly, almost by surprise. Document the things that work best for you. Document the things that work worst. Keep a written log or diary. If you don’t document and digest every observation as you move along, and learn to trust your own eyes and ears, then you will not recognize the surprise when it comes.

Keep it simple. Laying out all you wish to accomplish with your bagpiping may seem daunting, and it probably is if taken in all at once. You can spend days fretting over the sheer size and volume of the tasks you’ve set up for yourself, or you can spend that time thinking about what it will take to get them done. No matter how long it takes, the time is well spent if your actions are meaningful.

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