October 25, 2018

Editorial: Piping and drumming: perfect for short attention spans

We can thank technology for the speed of life and ever-decreasing attention spans. No sooner than we start something that we’re interrupted by some alert or bleep or other gizmo distracting us from the task at hand.

Regardless of its magnetically enthralling language, while reading this you will probably be distracted by at least a few things lobbying your brain for attention. A recent feature on the state of drumming was met with a few readers wishing that it were presented in parts, because reading a 2,500-word article in one go was just too taxing.

Attention spans are challenged. New studies appear regularly, indicating that today’s youth, especially, are having ever-increasing problems concentrating on one thing for more than a few minutes. The popups and buzzers and bleeps are averting their eyes with brand new stimuli.

It’s a sad state of affairs . . . or is it?

Bagpipe music is tailor-made for short attention spans. Our tunes last a few minutes – pretty much spot on with the length of time that we can concentrate on things without moving to something else.

If you think about it, pipe band medleys jump from this tune to that tune, idiom-to-idiom, ever-changing tempos and time signatures. A pipe band medley is, for the attention challenged, ideal for today.

And getting idealer. (Either you won’t be bothered to look up “idealer,” or you will have clicked that link and then been distracted by all manner of words you never knew, and then on to an ad for those shoes you were browsing for, and then, hey, what’s this about Kanye and Kimmy? . . .)

So, by rights, kids today should be even more attracted to learning piping and drumming. It’s an art form full of constant stimuli, an unending roller-coaster of tune types, paradoxically keeping the attention deficient engaged by the very fact that it keeps changing.

But, then, of course, there’s piobaireachd. Poor piobaireachd is the outlier once again. Depending on your teacher, you’re not even “permitted” to tap your toe to it, because there’s no beat, only a “pulse” or “scansion.” There are, however, a bunch of variations, but each takes an eternity to get to, and the changes are so subtle and esoteric that our young learner-piper is sure to be daydreaming about Kanye and Kimmy by the dithis doubling.

The music and its exclusive club will continue to be for the exceptionally gifted or exceptionally nerdy or the just plain exceptional.

Nevertheless, here’s the pitch to kids who might want to learn piping or drumming: when it comes to exciting, ever-changing distractions, the art is better than video games. Get set for a rollicking future of jumping from tune to tune in two-minute intervals.

And the pitch to parents: kids might think they’re in for a quick-hit musical roller-coaster, but, in reality, they’re going to have to concentrate to get to that point. Diligent practice. Routines of scales and exercises. Patience and persistence. All antidotes to attention-deficiency. It’s the perfect bait-and-switch to get kids to focus on what’s important.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You’re a prime candidate for piobaireachd.





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