It's the new year! First things first – have you picked out some new tunes to learn yet?
And I don't mean breaking out some new band sets you got handed last year, although that's a good place to start.
I mean tracking down and setting yourself up to work through new tunes, new combinations of notes and grace notes and embellishments, new melodies and musical ideas – every week, for the next 12 months.
I often come across pipers who have gone months or even years without changing it up. Some have even had the same set of band tunes for decades.
A word springs to mind here: stagnating.
Does this apply to you? If so, it's possible you think of learning new tunes as ‘wasting time’.
I know where this feeling may come from – we all have limited free time, and piping is just a hobby, right? You need to use your precious 'free time' for piping to focus on learning the tunes you need to so you can play at band gigs and parades and competitions. You just don't have time learn new tunes all the time, especially because you'll probably never perform any of them for anyone else. What's the point?
The point, my dear reader, is that shaking off this mindset is the best first step you can take if you want to actually improve as a player – learn tunes faster, play them better, feel more comfortable with your instrument, and feel more confident as a piper in general.
Constantly varying your repertoire is an essential part of becoming better at the bagpipes.
Imagine being able to fluently sight-read; adapt to changes in your environment or to other players’ quirks, styles (and even errors!) on the fly; and perform music with your own unique style – in other words, to be a good musician.
Does that feel like it's completely unattainable?
I can assure you that this won't be a pipe dream (pun entirely intended) if you can proactively and enthusiastically consume as much different, varied material as possible.
Think about it – could you have learned to read if all you had access to was a couple of books, and they were all you ever read, over and over again? Of course not! You'd only know the few hundred words on those pages, in those exact sentences and phrases, and you'd have probably memorized them in the exact context of those stories, rather than be able to use them, or any of the other hundreds of thousands of words in the English language, in stories of your own.
Just like reading isn’t memorizing words to be regurgitated, musicianship is not carbon-copying material over and over again, playing to the same (often sub-par) standard at parade after parade, pub after pub, and competition after competition.
Don't be a piper that works on 2 sets for an entire year. We need constant exposure to a wide variety of tunes, recordings, and points of view in order to grow, recognize new patterns of thinking and playing, and improve them over time.
Musicianship is a continuous learning process, whose end goal should be infinite possibility.
If you were looking for a mantra to lead you into 2022, that's an excellent place to start.
If you're a Dojo student, make sure you've worked your way through our 11 Commandments of Mastery course, and then start looking at our Tune of the Week each week as part of the Bagpipe Freedom program.
If you're not yet a Dojo Student, we'd love to welcome you! You can take the 11 Commandments course, which covers constant variance and 10 other essential mindset shifts to prepare yourself for mastery, or explore our monthly membership options and join us as a student, where you can vary your repertoire in a guided way with hundreds of other pipers around the world cheering you on!