James Struthers: Consistency is Key
I got started in piping in about 2005 when I finally decided to learn. Fortunately, I found a nearby instructor, Colin Gemmel, from whom I learned a lot and got my first exposure to piobaireachd. Unfortunately, personal circumstances (mostly work) got in the way of things and I stopped playing for a long time.
My original goals as a piper were mostly to play for my own enjoyment. I never really had a desire to play in a pipe band or compete. My inspiration to want to play was just the beauty of the music and how cool the bagpipes sound. I grew up listening to a lot of Celtic music and that bagpipes were my favorite part of that.
Piobaireachd was hugely interesting to me and I really wanted to pursue that more when I took a break.
Some of my key struggles in learning to play were frustration in being able to read music cold and understand how a tune was supposed to sound. Consistency has also been a big problem. It seems like I would make progress and then lose it due to not continuing to play or practice.
My problems in consistency had more to do with believing that the pressures and time constraints in my life were so severe that I didn't have time and energy to keep working on piping. Basically, I never established a basic daily practice and stuck with it.
As far as limiting beliefs, I think that I have, in the past, not had faith in my ability to learn the fundamentals well enough to achieve my goals of simply playing solid music and being able to express myself.
I found Dojo a long time ago, probably soon after it started, and thought it would be a good way to supplement what I was doing with my instructor. Until recently, I did not really take advantage of what the Dojo can offer. The amount of resources is really solid and it is pretty obvious there is a lot to learn from the Dojo courses.
I don't do a lot with the Dojo community, but I think that it is due to a combination of being somewhat of a hermit and having a hard time making the live classes. The new Discord setup has helped me get more involved, which is great.
After so long off, I basically am starting from basics. Dojo is great for this in a couple of ways. The tutorial is very good, and helping me get a solid set of basics under my belt, which I don't think I had before.
More importantly, the emphasis on learning rhythm has dramatically improved my ability to look at music and finally understand how it is supposed to sound. This is really exciting.
I am still working almost exclusively on the chanter, but compared to where I was before, I seem to be much more relaxed in playing and it feels like much less of a struggle. Playing seems to flow better and understanding where to put the notes in time is starting to make sense.
I think that it will be easier to tune in the future. I have not, in the past had trouble tuning my drones, but did not understand how to get the chanter worked into that whole scene. Also, I was never exposed to the concept of reed calibration so my pipes seemed harder to play that I think was needed. Having a more detailed understanding of these subjects is probably going to make the process of tuning a lot more systematic and sensible.
I am still early in the process of learning, but one thing that I have noticed, is that the constant exposure to new materials is seeming to help me understand music and how to learn it much easier. I have not gone through the tune-building process, but was exposed to it before a some workshops that I took in the past; it makes sense and works.
Once again, still early in the process, but I am spending a lot of time going back through fingerwork basics and making sure that I have the thing I am working on (clean notes, killing off crossing noises, etc.) more dialed in before moving forward. Although this seems slow right now, I think it will pay off in the long run.
Having worked through the Dojo process and courses for some time now, I feel a lot more confident in being able to understand how the music is structured and how it should sound, particularly with respect to timing of the notes. This is a huge improvement that it like a weight has been removed from the learning process.
Also, the 11 Commandments of Mastery challenges have helped me understand what a minimal daily practice actually looks like; I don't think that I got that before. I am a lot more hopeful and optimistic about being able to get to a level of play that I will personally be satisfied with, even though this will take some time. I am a lot more conscious of enjoying the learning process, which is great.
James Struthers, Washington, United States