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Getting past a plateau

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  • Getting past a plateau

    So I've improved quite a bit under my current instructor, who calls me an intermediate student. I'm able to keep pretty steady pressure in the bag, my crossing noises are much diminished (though still there at high tempos), none of the embellishments really give me consistent trouble (except the birl, which my pinky is gradually warming up to), and I have a number of difficult tunes I can play pretty well at a decent tempo, even if not quite at full tempo.

    All that said, I don't seem to be continuing to improve, and am wondering what advice any of you have for getting past a plateau. Here are the main problems that continue to bedevil me:

    --The consistency of certain embellishments, notably the grip and E doubling, as my right index and left middle fingers sometimes get frozen to the chanter. Oddly, this does not occur on a tarlouath, which has never given me any problems since the day I learned it. I'm trying to use exercises to warm my fingers up before I practice, using Matt Willis' paradiddle exercise, which has helped somewhat, but I still can't seem to get past this problem.

    --Tempo. I'm able to keep a pretty steady tempo, especially if march around in circles--I was once in a marching band (trumpet/baritone), so naturally fall into time that way. But I cannot seem to get certain tunes up to the tempo they're supposed to be played at. I can play them comfortably at a tempo that sounds reasonable enough to the casual listener, but if I attempt anything faster like you might hear in a pipe band, I get crossing noises galore and start messing up embellishments. Itchy Fingers (first section only) and The Black Bear (last section only) are examples of where I have this issue.

    Anyone have any good ways of getting past these particular issues?

  • #2
    I remember a viola instructor telling me that just continuing with lessons and practicing is always improving, even I felt like I'd hit a flat spot (or, as you say, plateau). We all hit those, whether it's a feeling in general or on specific embellishments, tunes, etc. It sounds like you are doing a lot of great things...more than many students. And I congratulate you on your commitment, on your efforts, and on your achievements (i.e., don't forget to look back at where you were).

    I cannot provide much more advice, but I will comment on tempo. I am a fan of slowing way down. When I played in a competition band, tunes were handed out and we played right out the chute at expected competition tempo. For most players, I feel that's a mistake. And I see a lot of non-competition, "street" bands playing waaaayyy to quickly, losing all sense of music. I also feel the pain of a student standing in the circle for the first time and feeling out of control, for the tempo is more than they played at home. For most of us mortals, we're going to have our bumpy embellishments, parts, etc. Slow it way down and loop it until those fingers and mind lock it in. Then slowly increase.

    I know this is likely stuff you already know. So my final advice is to know you're really improving, even if it doesn't feel it, and to not beat yourself up. You're doing more than the average piper. So good on you!


    • #3


      My fervent Hope--and for seeming Aeons!!--was to be able--to--
      simply get to--a--any--plateau!! :-) (And--maybe still--with some. :-)

      Redemption?? Hmm...The more possibly--simply--a re--recourse...

      Practice Slow!! Practice Clean!! And Over--and Over--and Over again!!

      Remember learning how to drive?!--and then--in traffic?!--with others?!

      Same deal--just different cards.

      You will get there!! (Promise!! :-)

      Just be--easy (enough)--with your self--as you would--in teaching someone
      else--how to drive. :-)

      Wishing you--The Best of Good Fortune With It All,


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