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Visualizing ALAP/ASAP—Part 3
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Visualizing ALAP/ASAP—Part 3

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On the bagpipe, we cannot play a note with more volume in order to add expression to a phrase. Indeed, our goal is to play at a steady pressure so that the pitch of the chanter and the drones remains constant. Nor do we have techniques such as staccato or legato available to us on the Highland bagpipe. On the Highland bagpipe, we express our music by holding notes longer than we would normally hold them, playing them As Long As [Musically] Possible (ALAP) and playing contrasting notes As Short As [Musically] Possible (ASAP).

In Part 1, we discussed the classical methods for counting music, specifically “dot-cuts,” and addressed the shortcomings associated with applying classical counting techniques to bagpipe music. In Part 2, we discussed using metronome magnification as a tool to learn ALAP/ASAP. In this post, we provide, what we believe to be, a compelling reason for playing D throws on the beat.

The following dot-cut from "Highland Harry" illustrates how the D throw is written:

The following steps are used to play a D throw (light throw):

Start on (come from) any note.

  1. Play Low G
  2. Play D gracenote to C
  3. Play D

There is also a heavy throw on D; the following steps are used to execute it:

Start on (come from) any note.

  1. Play Low G
  2. Play D grace note to Low G
  3. Play C
  4. Play D

You will, occasionally, see the heavy throw written out, as in the following example:

The style of throw that you play is a matter of preference not only for you as a soloist but also for the ensemble or band in which you play. Within these two styles of throws, there are two methods that we can use to place the embellishment into the music. The light D throw can be place so that the low G (step 1) is on the beat. It can also be played so that the D grace note (step 2) is on the beat. A heavy throw is played in a similar manner, the low G (step 1) can be played on the beat; step 2, the D grace note can be played on the beat.

Which is correct: Playing step 1 on the beat and playing step 2 on the beat are accepted methods for beat placement when playing a D throw. However, consider an important point. All gracenotes and embellishments require time to execute. A G gracenote requires time; it is so short, though, that we speak of it eclipsing the beat. It is, literally, played on the beat. A G gracenote will be audible but it will take up, virtually, no time. A D throw will also require time but, in contrast, it will take more time than a G grace note. If we were to graph this, so that step 2, the D grace note to C falls on the beat, it would appear as follows:

In this graph, we are assuming that we can execute the D throw in 1/8 of the total time for the beat. If we execute step 2 on the beat, we need to play step 1, play low G, before the beat. This pushes the ASAP back 1/16th of the beat. The ALAP, by deduction, is reduced by 1/16th. The ALAP becomes shorter.

If you are at the beginning or intermediate level, it may take you 1/4 of the beat to properly execute a D throw. If that is the case, the ASAP is pushed back yet another 1/16 and the ALAP becomes commensurately shorter. This puts us close to the territory of playing the ASAP on the last quarter of the beat, more in line with classical counting for music. If you tend to rush, as we all do, you may end up, indeed, playing the ASAP on the last quarter of the beat, if not before. Thus, we are back to the original problem that we discussed in Part 1, the dot-cut is too round and the music does not sound like bagpipe music.

In contrast, if we play step 1 of the D throw on the beat, the ASAP still occupies 1/16th of the beat and the ALAP is not shortened by 1/16th (or more).

Even if our throws occupy 1/4 of the beat, if we start with step 1 on the beat, our ASAP from the previous bar is still short, occupying 1/16th of the beat, and the ALAP is nice and long, occupying almost the entire beat.

The beat provides a good reference for the ASAP, it provides an aural cue as to when to play the ASAP. We want to play it is short as is audibly possible before the following beat. By playing a D throw on the beat, we can successfully execute dot-cuts using ALAP/ASAP. Our tunes will sound more like bagpipe music as a result.

Take Action

ALAP/ASAP Discussion (with Andrew Douglas)
ALAP/ASAP "Deduction" Principle - Good Demonstration of Graphing Tunes
Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band - Parts 1 and 2 - ALAP/ASAP Review [Vintage]

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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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