It could be said that Jack Lee plays with incredible “finesse,” and that Stuart Liddell plays with incredible “natural instinct for music,” and such subjective things could be said about many legendary pipers. (PS - don’t know who these pipers are? See Immersion - Commandment #1!)
But, don’t let any of this fool you. The foundation of these subjective interpretations of these player’s genius is based on a solid, rock-hard, objective foundation.
At the end of the day, expression on the bagpipe relies on certain cut-and-dry, black-and-white fundamentals that must be mastered. In my estimation there are 10 such objective skills:
1 - Rhythmic Control - Is the piper truly in control of the timing of musical events?
2 - “Scale Navigation” - Is the piper truly in control of the transitions from melody-note to melody-note?
3 - Gracenote Quality - Is the piper truly in control of each and every gracenote?
4 - Physical blowing mechanics - Is the piper truly in control of the basic “blowing cycle” required to produce a good tone on the bagpipes?
5 - Tuning of drones together - Did the piper tune all of their drones together to produce a unified sound/pitch?
6 - Chanter Reed Tonal Quality - is the piper able to produce the best possible tonal quality out of the chanter reed?
7 - Tuning of Chanter relative to Drones - is the piper able to tune all of the chanter intervals relative to the drones?
8 - “Mental Blowing Anomalies” - does the player remain in control of the instrument regardless of what is required of the fingerwork?
9 - Embellishment Mechanics - is the player in control of the embellishments that they play?
10 - Elementary Expression - is the player in control of the common ways pipers change the basic rhythm of tunes for expression gain?
Notice one important thing about all ten: They are “pass/fail.” The answer to each is either a yes, or a no.
While it can be tempting to focus your time on subjective concepts like “feeling”, “flow”, “balance”, etc in your practice, what will actually make you better will be a commitment to further and further mastery of the objective elements that forge an excellent piper.