Freedom Phase Process: Best Practices, Suggestions and Guidance

1: This is a tool, not a competition.

The first thing to understand about the Freedom Phase process here at Dojo U is that it has been designed for, and specially exists as, a tool for your improvement. 

The Freedom Phase criteria are just milestones for you to measure your current capabilities against.

That’s it! 

The Freedom Phases simply put unfamiliar material to the test each week. In so many beautiful ways, they guide our practice strategies and help us gauge our progress (and sometimes our “backslides.”) 

Although the phase you’re in (especially after you’ve hit the inevitable “plateau”) is a fantastic representation of how your skills compare to the skills of others, that is the furthest thing from what this process is supposed to be about. 

Comparison is the thief of joy. And this process is not supposed to be designed as a tool to compare yourself to others, or despair at how much faster others seem to be improving. The only competition you're in with these is yourself – and trying to beat your previous "personal best" record.

2: There are very few rules to this. 

The only rules of our Freedom Phase Process are:

1. You’ve gotta meet the criteria of a phase in order to pass, and...

....actually, I think that may be the only rule. 

Every single solitary other aspect of this process can and should be molded and tweaked by you in order for you to get the best results out of the process. 

  • Didn’t have time to practice the whole tune this week? Cool! Just submit one part. (You won’t pass, but you’ll get valuable feedback on the part you submitted!)
  • Embellishments getting you down this week, despite the fact you’re in Phase 5? No problem! Submit the simplified version this week. I bet the feedback you get will be really valuable, despite not passing this week.
  • On the road this week? Who cares! As an exception (definitely not the rule), just send in a quick practice chanter rendition of the tune of the week this week. 
  • Get feedback last week that your rhythm is bad? Here’s an idea – what if you just submitted some clapping this week?
  • Are you a beginner? Brand new to rhythm, or to the scale? What if you just submitted two bars of the Tune of the Week this week? Call me crazy, but I think that’d be fantastic for a new piper! 

3A: Only attempt what you can do at the correct intensity

Seeing as there are no real rules here, I’d like to offer a strong suggestion: Only attempt/submit what you can do at the correct intensity. 

You may recall that the correct intensity when attempting to master any skill, small or large, is “the maximum intensity without sacrificing form.” 

Well, hold this process to that same principle. Examples:

  • Challenge: I had a busy weekend so I've had limited time to work on my tune of the week this week.
  • Solution: Submit what you were able to practice; perhaps just the first part (instead of both parts).
  • Challenge: I just can't play all of the embellishments in this tune-of-the-week correctly on the full pipes just yet.
  • Solution: This week, I'll just play the simplified version.
  • Challenge: I’m struggling to deal with a ton of crossing noises in this week’s tune-of-the-week.
  • Solution: Submit just a few bars of the tune, where you’ve worked to eliminate the crossing noises to the best of your ability. The feedback you get from this will help you tell if you’re on the right track!

Maximizing intensity (as long as your “form” remains solid) is the key to positive adaptions with your bagpiping. It is impossible to build good technique without pushing yourself hard. 

Push yourself too hard, and you’ll engrain bad habits (the piper’s version of injury).

Neglect to push yourself hard enough (or to do the challenge at all) and, needless to say, you’ll never get results.

Thus, here are a two opposite but just as damaging things that will not work:

  1. Skipping your submission this week because “you know you’re not going to pass.” Ignoring the fact that this isn’t in the spirit of the phases, you’re also never going to improve unless you push yourself. 
  2. Insisting on submitting all of the material even though you haven’t put in the work. This just isn’t going to work to get you any positive result, because you can't fake progress. You may even engrain bad habits if you do this all the time. 

It seems like you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, right?

That's not true. There is a happy middle ground that we must all find: Identify the right quantity/scaling of the material for your own personal level of ability, taking into consideration all of the variables that make your life unique, and choosing the level that allows you maximum intensity without sacrificing form. 

3B: If you’re too proud to scale things to your current capabilities, that is the true weakness we should prioritize.

We’ve discussed the value of modifying and scaling the prescriptions for each weekly submission. We want to push ourselves to improve, but not too hard! You can and should only push as hard as you can without compromising your form. 

The two risks of not heeding this advice:

  1. Injury (remember, a bagpiper’s version of injury is to engrain bad habits)
  2. Burnout.

4: Being able to handle feedback is as important as any element of bagpiping technique. 

Working hard and receiving a non-“passing” critique is very hard. By default, it triggers our instinctual “fight or flight” response. Learning to accept positive AND negative feedback as yet another tool to further your goals takes practice.

If you play on a hard-working basketball team, yet you lose a game anyway, what will your response be? At first, it’s hard not to blame the refs. But, sooner or later, you have to see the loss for what it is – feedback that you can learn from to make yourself better for next time. 

Let this freedom process be the same way. Use the feedback you get as fuel for your developmental process. If you can avoid “blaming the refs” and just put your head down and implement the feedback, it won’t be long before you’ve made great improvement (in the mental and physical realms).

Side note: your “graders” have endured decades of this very sort of criticism for decades in order to be in the position to offer you the feedback you’re receiving today!

It’s a necessary part of the learning process.

Embrace it.

Conclusion: You don’t have to do this. 

To conclude, if you find that the Bagpipe Freedom Phase submission process is really stressing you out or making you feel negative, it’s because some aspect of how you’re approaching the process is misaligned. Maybe you need to adjust your attitude and think of things a different way. Maybe you need to spend more time looking at “basic fundamentals” instead of pushing too hard at your more advanced freedom-phase prescription. Maybe you haven’t actually been practicing well despite the “feeling” that you’ve been working really hard. 

All of this is adjustable, and you should work to make those adjustments, because, upon doing so, success and feeling great is closer than you realize! 

However, please remember, the Freedom Phase process is totally optional!

Participating in the process is not a requirement to be a student at Dojo U, and if the phases are becoming too stressful, you always have the option to take a break for a week or two (or longer, if that suits you) to give yourself some time to regroup so you're ready to take on the challenge again.

It’s possible to learn a lot about piping and have a great time by taking a break or just not participating in the Freedom Phase process:

  • You can still work through the tune of the week casually to embrace the commandment of constant variance, and you can still record your progress and post it for feedback in the Discord channel for recordings.
  • You can build up your knowledge of bagpipe fundamentals or other interest areas by taking some of the many courses and success plans in the Library, most of which have options to submit recordings for feedback as well (usually tied to specific skills or tunes within the context of the course itself).
  • You can attend live classes and work on the material presented, volunteering to play and receive feedback when the opportunity arises.

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  1. I am unable to attend the morning classes. I know they are recorded and I'm wondering where I can access the recordings. It's been a while since I've submitted anything and I've forgotten where to do that as well. Need to find my mic attachment for my phone, but looking forward to getting back into this full swing. Thanks