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Old 06-27-2019, 08:25 PM   #1
Joseph Diodato
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Join Date: Feb 2019
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 130
Default "Aha" moments that propelled your playing forward

Fellow beginners (or folks of all playing abilities who care to share!):

At some point or another I think we've all had that wonderfully frustrating feeling of working at something over multiple days and weeks (dare I say months? ) only for it to finally click in your mind or fingers while reading a forum reply or reviewing a tutor book.

For me, it was the epihany that the melody note in a doubling is ever so slightly accentuated from the G and D grace notes surrounding it. For the last several months I had been playing doublings as three perfectly spaced grace notes (as the notation would suggest), resulting in well-articulated but rather crushed embellishments.

I've gone back to the proverbial drawing board, slowing things down quite a bit to really dissect my doublings (under the ever vigilent eye of my tutor and Jim McGillivray's Rhythmic Fingerwork). It's a subtle adjustment but has made all of the difference in my note quality.

What was your "aha" moment that propelled your piping forward? Many would agree that we are all life-long students of the "Scottish Octopus", so perhaps there are a variety of aha! moments to be had.
Practice is the best of all instructors. - Publilius Syrus

My Piping Blog- A student's musings on learning the Great Highland Bagpipe.
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Old 07-03-2019, 09:24 AM   #2
Holy smoking keyboard!
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: North America
Posts: 3,701
Default Re: "Aha" moments that propelled your playing forward

Greetings, Joseph, and to All,

It has been both my personal experience... as
well as my observations of those around me...
that the more we just "keep after it"... and stay
after it... the more... "Aha" moments... shall
both descend upon us... as well as... well up...
from within... :)

And I find this also true... of "bad habits"... in
which many of us... (if not most :)... have
found ourselves... time to time... being the
poor... Mortal Sods... that we all are... :)

To re-quote... from an earlier Post...

"to err, and err, and err again,
but less, and less, and less."

Hoping to aim for ever improving... and ever

Regards to All,


My friends all know,
With what a brave carouse...

Last edited by Pip01; 07-03-2019 at 09:26 AM.
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Old 07-07-2019, 03:27 PM   #3
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Default Re: "Aha" moments that propelled your playing forward

Two epiphanies readily spring to mind.

1.) I had been playing for about four or five years. I was an able player (Grade 3 at the time) but not a great one by any stretch. I was spending 6 months living and studying in Scotland with the intent of piping and studying piping as much as possible. Early on, while spending a few weeks in the remote village of Glenelg in the West Highlands, I was lucky enough to have a lesson with Iain MacFadyen, who was still teaching at local schools at the time.

Iain listened to me play, damned me with faint praise, gave me typically vague feedback (variations on the theme "play the long notes long and the short notes short and you'll be alright"), and then at the last minute, he asked if he could try my pipes. He couldn't keep them going at all.

"Do you play in a band, son?"
"No, not right now. I think I want to focus more on solo playing."
"Well, if it's solo competitions you're after, there's absolutely no reason to play a reed this hard."

Up until then, I had always played whatever reed my pipe major/teacher back home had given me. I'd never really thought it might be too hard or that it might need modification; I just assumed this was the way it was supposed to be and my perpetually sore core muscles, raw lips, and frequent dizzyness were just part of the normal process of "breaking a reed in" (even though it rarely seemed to get all that much broken in...)

Some years later, I found a few of these old reeds and they all registered at 35" or above on a pressure gauge. (And that was after a bit of a squeeze and some moisture.) I wouldn't play a reed over 30" today, and I'm happiest when my chanter reed is at about 27-28". I only wish I could handle a reed that was a bit easier!

2.) I was taught the "tap-curl" birl, and for a long time, I didn't know there was any other way of doing it. I could usually manage them OK, but they were never as clean, consistent, or fast as I'd like. This was especially frustrating because my friends David Brewer and George Grasso both had incredibly good birls. (A pity George doesn't play Scottish pipes anymore--he had a birl that could shake the floor; one of the best I've ever heard to this day.) No matter how many thousands I rattled off, they were never consistent enough. Tunes with birls from C or low G filled me with dread. Every time I competed or performed, I was in constant fear of missing the next birl.

When I was living in Glasgow, I was very lucky to get some lessons off of Allan MacDonald when he'd be over teaching at the RSAMD. For a while I tried to play birls like him. From head-on, they look sort of like a lightning-fast double tap, but viewed from profile, they were a bit more complex. Kinda hard to describe. I wasn't great at those either. I soon resigned myself to thinking my piping would always be held back by my crummy birl playing...

Fast forward a few years later to the dawn of Youtube. I found a video of a Canadian piper demonstrating a "seven"-style birl. I picked up my chanter and tried it. Easy! I worked my way up the scale birling from each note. Worked every time! Amazing! Why hadn't I figured this out before?

That one tiny change was like lifting a raincloud from over my head. It filled me with a confidence when playing that I'd never had before.

To sum up:
-Never play a reed that's any harder than it needs to be
-If you hit a roadblock with a particular bit of technique, try to learn it from several different people. Get a second, third, or even fourth opinion. Don't just suffer in silence. You never know who will have the explanation or example that will cause your brain and your fingers to suddenly click.

Happy piping!

Last edited by Graineag; 07-07-2019 at 03:32 PM.
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Old 07-08-2019, 08:11 PM   #4
Chris C.
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Posts: 393
Default Re: "Aha" moments that propelled your playing forward

The main "aha" moment for me probably was when I started playing again, after a 15 or so year break.

I began to hear the music differently, especially the dynamics of playing a tune and 'making it sing' (as my PM used to tell us all the time).

When I was playing in a band it was all about getting the tunes down, following the PM, trying to compete and win individually... After the break, I began to hear the phrasing and musicality of the tunes. Maybe it's because the pressure was off; maybe it was just growing older and hearing it differently.
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