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Old 01-10-2019, 11:33 AM   #1
piper Q
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Default Overthinking the movements

After a group practice session the other day, I sat with an older student who seems to try to over analyze what he is doing. He knows the basic notes for a few tunes, yet struggles to be fluid in playing them on the practice chanter.

I sat with him for a time, going over each portion he struggle on, I went through the tune for several repetitions until his D throws and grace notes started to come more easily.

He seems to learn more by visual and repetition of motion, and we consider muscle memory to be part of how we learn. What methods might you suggest to help him move on to smoother play of the basic tunes? I'll add that he seems to second guess himself and becomes frustrated when he makes simple mistakes as well.

Aside from patience, reinforcement of proper techniques and good practice behaviors. what might some of you suggest to help move him along.
Breaching the peace? What bagpipes officer?
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Old 01-10-2019, 11:55 AM   #2
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Default Re: Over thinking the movements

The only thing I can think of to suggest is having him repeatedly listen to a recording of the tune, slowed down enough to hear the embellishments but not so much that the melody and rhythm are hard to hear.

I hope this helps,
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Old 01-11-2019, 04:54 AM   #3
Ian Turnbull
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Default Re: Over thinking the movements

Try with a metronome at a very slow bpm. It will force him to play on the beat and perhaps smoother. small increments. I like to teach a bar and a note at a time with the metronome then add 2 bars together as they become more fluent and then a line etc.
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Old 01-11-2019, 07:20 AM   #4
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Default Re: Over thinking the movements

Originally Posted by piper Q View Post
He seems to learn more by visual and repetition of motion

It's important to note that the concept of "learning styles" is neurologically bunkum; it's been widely taught but there's no actual evidence that it is true, or that if it is true that it makes a difference. People subscribe to it because they've latched onto something they can do and it lets them avoid learning other tools.

One theory that *is* scientific and worth knowing about is called Cognitive Load Theory. There is a lot of background to it, but the gist of it is this: you can only hold 3-4 items in working memory, and if you try and execute a task that requires more information to be held in working memory, you will fail.

This is something we intuitively know: practice in small chunks, learn the techniques before the tunes, etc. But when you're faced with a student struggling, try itemising what the student has to hold in working memory here. All too often there's a combination of rhythm, technique, notes and style that massively exceeds the capacity of our short-term memory.

The other thing that people often do is they do things that are not assisting the movement. Look for the flappy elbow when playing a throw on D, or the pulse of breath when executing a tricky note change. I explain this to students as "energy", and then ask them to minimise the "energy" that comes through a particular movement. The difference in sound can be remarkable.

As for rhythm; it isn't a separate subject, and should be part of the tune right from the start. The problem is usually that the student has no model for rhythm as they have no history of listening to Scottish or bagpipe music. A syllabus of listening material that should be seen as part of their daily practice is a very worthwhile idea.
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Old 01-11-2019, 08:21 AM   #5
3D Piper
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Default Re: Over thinking the movements

In my limited experience, 'visual' learners (ie watching others) are usually not strong in reading music.

Get back to these building-blocks-basics:

- are they relaxed when playing?

Don't tense up! no 'creeper' hands! don't watch your fingers!

- can they correctly recognize the 9 melody notes?

This seems so simple, but make sure they can quickly and correctly identify each melody note. Look for pausing while trying to think of what note it is on the page and how to finger it. Try some flash cards, or I have a whole page of random notes and I see how many they can correctly identify in 1 minute. If you can't correctly recognize the note on the page, you certainly won't play the right note either melody or embellishment.

- can they correctly identify and play a single gracenote?

Again, this seems so simple, but make sure they can correctly identify the three single gracenotes (G, D, E) and play them correctly. Most of our other embellishments are based on properly knowing how to play these core single gracenotes.

etc.. When I run into a problem with a student, I always start going backwards until I find where the solution is and then work forward from there. Building-blocks are based on making sure you can properly perform the task before moving on. I know other instructors do not do that, but it has worked well for me. If the player is older, there may be years (decades?) of improper playing you may have to treat.

Good luck!

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