“Daily Bagpipe Advice: Big, Slow & Open is a method of practicing the Great Highland Bagpipe, not a porn film!”
Because playing the Great Highland Bagpipe is about precision, learning how to practice this instrument effectively is key to becoming a successful player. When you hear a top-notch bagpipe band, you hear 12 pipers playing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time with all of the ornamentation. So, how did they prepare the music to make it so precise?
As I’ve said in previous posts, there is a 3-step process to building tunes. Personally, I think that the rhythm issues should be solved first. I instruct my students to define the rhythm and practice saying the syllables to a beat before they pick up their chanter.
“Big, Slow & Open” is employed in the fingering phase of tune development. This process is like building a house. You need to build the foundation first, do the framing, and close in the structure before you invite the plumbers and the electricians to the site. The problem with many bagpipers – especially those who are fairly new – is that they bring the proverbial moving van to the curb before there is nothing more than a hole in the ground. In other words, they are trying to play it to tempo immediately and, therefore, making a bunch of mistakes. Conversely, Big, Slow & Open happens when you move methodically from one melody note to the next, through the grace notes and the doublings, allowing you to more closely dissect the tune.
The first play through is a survey. When you hit a bump, you circle it and move on to the next bump. When you have finished your survey, you will look back and see the circled items. (In previous posts, we’ve talked about how to break down the problems. We’ll talk more about that later.) The circled items are your preparation drills. Every time you sit down to practice, you should review those items first. Then, when you start to play through the tune, you won’t have any problems.
The goal is to memorize these tunes since bagpipers don’t play with a lyre (music holder) on their bagpipe. If you play these tunes enough times accurately, you will be on your way to memorizing them. If you did you homework on the rhythm phase, you should be close to being able to sing this tune. That will also help you memorize it.