Learning any skill generally involves transferring knowledge and capability from someone else to you.  This can be direct as in tuition, mentoring or coaching, or it can be indirect as in reading books or articles or watching what others do.

However you learn, it is wise not just to accept what you see or hear as the correct thing to do, but to assess WHY it is the best thing to do.  In other words, whatever you learn, you should assess if it makes sense.

I have seen many examples of pipers doing something because they have seen someone else do it.  By way of example, there has been a fad of playing D while adjusting drones.  Why?  Because some competent player overseas was seen doing it.  To me, this makes no sense.  The reason I recommend playing high A while adjusting drones is to provide the least distracting note to be able to ignore its sound.  I can see my approach makes sense, but I can’t see how playing a D does. 

I have seen unusual methods and logistics in tuning drones and in tuning bands.  I have seen unusual ways of playing embellishments, as well as unusual methods of practising exercises.  The question I always ask is “How does that make sense?”  Sometimes they do and I take away some new learning, but I invariably ask myself that question.

Many great players achieve good results not because of how they do things, but in spite of them.

So, as one who is trying to learn new things, it’s good to understand not only WHAT to do, but WHY to do it that way.  When you know WHY you do them like that, you are understanding principles behind things and can then apply those same principles to lots of other situations.

We all need to learn from more experienced players, but always keep in mind that even the most knowledgeable or accomplished players don’t know everything and occasionally do things that actually don’t make sense.  I have seen a world famous soloist tuning his drones by what I call the “initial two drone” method (I have written this up elsewhere).  While in this case it makes sense, I don’t know whether he does it this way normally, or because he has a sore shoulder and can’t reach up to stop his bass drone. We shouldn’t assume the way others do things is necessarily valid; we should certainly test why they make sense. Many great players achieve good results not because of how they do things, but in spite of them.

The point of all this is to encourage you to increase your learning by making sure that what you learn makes sense as you go.

I very much take this approach in my music teaching, whether in person or in online self-paced training via The Bagpipe Academy – Courses site; I teach the principles, not just the required actions.  This enables students to apply their learning to many situations without needing my input.


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