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"What Is a Gracenote?"

"What Is a Gracenote?"


A gracenote is the most basic type of embellishment used in bagpipe music. They are single-note ornamentations, or flourishes, that accompany a melody note to enhance rhythm and dynamics.

They create a short percussive sound at the beginning of a melody note. A gracenote appears only at the start of a melody note, having no musical time of its own.

In a written bagpipe score, a gracenote is shown as smaller than a melody note, and its stem points up while the melody note stem points down. It is written as a 32nd note for convenience, not as a literal interpretation of its timing.

A gracenote does not utilize the same fingering as its melody note counterpart. Rather, a grace note is created by lifting one finger only, as indicated by its place on the staff, and dropping it back down onto the chanter. There are eight possible gracenotes on the Highland bagpipe, each one named for the note sounded. The G gracenote is by far the most common and done by lifting and dropping the G finger to sound a quick G note. The High A gracenote will sometimes be used when a G gracenote cannot be fingered. The F, C and B gracenotes are used less often, and only in special instances. The Low A gracenote, while theoretically possible, is never used. Since gracenotes are played by opening a hole, a gracenote ornament will be higher pitched than the melody note it embellishes AND the melody note that precedes it. Any note above the melody note can be used as a gracenote, although there are standards and common practices that dictate which gracenote should be used in a given melodic phrase.

Gracenote size and placement issues in the context of musical phrases are the source of a significant portion of playing problems. Sharp, quick, and clearly sounded gracenotes are the basic building blocks needed to build other embellishments.

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Piping 101 - Grace Note Hierarchy
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Tom Crawford Tom Crawford is Pipe Major for North Atlanta Pipes & Drums and a piping instructor in Marietta GA. He’s been piping since 2000, when he began his studies with Winter Taylor. Tom has played rock, blues, country and Celtic music for nearly 50 years. He’s been a member of Keltic Kudzu since 2006, where he plays mandolin, bouzouki, whistle, and of course pipes. Tom has played and competed up and down the Atlantic coast, as well as in Canada and Ireland.