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More on the Great Gracenote Debate
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More on the Great Gracenote Debate

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We argued amongst ourselves vociferously. The debate was polite but each side held his or her position. Ultimately, despite our staunch yet diplomatically expressed beliefs, none of use really knew. Did the G gracenote occur on the beat or before the beat?

Andrew settled that debate in several recent posts regarding gracenote quality.

Our debate occurred more than thirty years ago. We were a group of young pipers who had banded together to form a quartet. We were all self-taught. We had notions as to where the G gracenote should occur, but we just had no idea. We finally had an instructor come and work with the quartet; he settled the debate for us. The G gracenote falls on the beat.

The fact that this question still comes up reinforces the importance of the concept.

For example, when we play a G gracenote on a low A, the G gracenote is played on the beat. Andrew brought this point home in a recent DojoTV episode.

But, as with my debate thirty years ago, this is not a new concept. In previous lessons, Andrew noted that gracenotes should have no time value. The listener should hear the rhythm. The listener should not hear the gracenote. In that sense, gracenotes have a percussive quality. A gracenote’s quality can be measured by the degree to which a listener is convinced that the gracenote has no value.

To that end, gracenotes should be crisp. If you listen to a quality gracenote, you may hear a blip, but you have to listen closely.

In contrast, Andrew adds that as gracenotes become longer, the quality decreases. When a gracenote takes on the quality of a melody note, gracenote quality is no longer part of the equation.

As pipers, we have a constant stream of air powering our reeds. A flutist, on the other hand, can start or stop the flow of air to the instrument at will. A flutist can use gracenotes as articulations; indeed, in Irish flute music, gracenotes are often used as articulations in a manner similar to gracenotes on the bagpipe. The flutist though, no matter which tradition he or she practices, can, and for the most part do, articulate notes with the tongue.

As we are saddled with that constant stream of air, we need to break the stream down into a melody (I should say that we have the advantage of a constant stream of air; pipers for the win!). Gracenotes, on the bagpipes, are, a point that Andrew hammered home, articulations. When we play quality gracenotes on the beat, we are breaking that constant wall of sound down into a rhythm and melody.

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Gracenotes, Gracenote Quality, and Gracenote Synchronization

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Mark Olson Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.

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