Besides gracenotes, the bagpipes have no way to separate notes. Unlike other woodwind instruments or string instruments, we can’t tongue or bow our notes to produce articulation and expression. On top of that, we have no dynamic range, meaning we can only play one volume (loud!). For these reasons, one might be tempted say that the bagpipe is a restrictive instrument.
However, our restrictions force us to be truly creative with the tools we have, and one of the aspects of piping that is most creative is the system of embellishments that we utilize in our music.
Embellishments are common groups of gracenotes that we use to produce effects in our playing. They produce complex, unique rhythms, and rich textures in our music. When properly used, embellishments can give us far more interesting articulations than other well known instruments.
Before we get into specific kinds of doublings and how to play them, here are a few basics.
Think About and Play Each Embellishment in Steps.
Each embellishment has a set list of steps (usually two or three) that, when executed properly, produce the desired sound and effect.
Always Obey the Two Cardinal Rules of All Embellishments:
- Each step must be played accurately.
- Each step must be played the same length (with exception of the final step, which could be any length).
- Build speed gradually.
- Never sacrifice the cardinal rules for speed.
Now, let’s dive in.