John Ballard: Why Don't More People Get This?

I started in my 40s when sports injuries made me realize I should have kept up with music related activities, which you can do all your life. Since I'm in a Scottish motorcycle group, it was "obvious" I needed to learn the bagpipes.

I didn't have any goals when I started...just wanted to learn. Luckily, I found a band that got me started down the correct path. After I couple years, I was forced to move (by the Army) and switch to another band that had a more advanced tune book, and pro instructors. Before long, they talked me into starting to compete. About that time, I was invited to go to Scotland with Catamount Pipe Band, and after that, I came up with more aggressive goals and that was when I learned about Dojo U (accidentally)!

Bagpipe music resonated with me. My friend was killed in Iraq and I remember his memorial service and thought, "We should have hired a piper for this". That was when I said out loud, "Someone should learn the pipes for our group!" and I knew instantly no one was going to do that, so I googled "learn to play bagpipes" and the rest is history.

I had the typical struggles. Pipes were taking too much air. My embellishments were slow and not on the beat, and my rhythm mediocre at best. I struggle with B finger and E fingers, and typical problems closing down the chanter for low G centric embellishments. My ear was not trained yet, either!

During COVID I accidentally took 6 months off, which set me back. Currently I'm getting back into the Dojo U mentality (do more with less time) to combat the burnout and pressure I was feeling (whole new band tune book, more solo tunes due to an upgrade, and "stress" of virtual contests).

The Dojo's approach saves time and offers a good community for pipers to commiserate together!

Dojo U taught me that the "old school approach" doesn't really work as well (for everyone). More focused practice, and more simple approach helped me get promoted from Grade 3 to Grade 2.

Use of manometer to get the pipes set up at the right pressure and 100% efficient made playing less fiddly and more fun. It's easier to play (pressure wise) now, which means I am blowing steadier, which makes tuning easier. I still struggle with trying to learn too many tunes at once, but when I stick to the Dojo method I learn faster.

Dojo methods helped my ear get better and now I notice bad technique so I can eliminate it (or try to at least!). Dojo U is great for a piper's morale, but the best part is just learning to maximize your practice time.

I love to subject my band mates to "Manometer Torture". While most people don't get it, at least 25% have a "light bulb" moment and all of a sudden say "holy crap, my pipes are so easy and they sound so good!". Yeah, no kidding! Why don't more people get this?

John Ballard, Maryland, USA

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