ALAP/ASAP is a method for learning and teaching “dot-cut” rhythms, dotted eighth notes followed by a sixteenth note, on the Highland Bagpipe.
On the bagpipe, we cannot play a note with more volume in order to add expression to a phrase nor can we employ techniques such as staccato or legato. We have a steady stream of air that is creating a steady sound on our chanter and drone reeds. We carve this steady sound into music by using grace notes and embellishments. We express our music by holding notes As Long As [Musically] Possible (ALAP) and playing contrasting notes As Short As [Musically] Possible (ASAP).
In a dot-cut rhythm, the dotted eighth note is the "dot," the sixteenth note is the "cut."
In standard music theory, a sixteenth note occupies one-sixteenth of the beat; a dotted eighth note occupies three-sixteenths of the beat. The following graph demonstrates how the notes would be subdivided in the beat:
The graph represents one beat and is divided the graph into sixteen equal squares. The dotted eighth notes occupy the first fourteen squares, three-quarters of the beat. The sixteenth note occupies the remaining four squares of the graph, one-quarter of the beat. If we were to count this out using classic counting methods, we would count with the syllables "one ee and uh." The dotted eighth note would be represented by the syllables "one ee and," the sixteenth note by the syllable "uh."
In a "dot-cut," we want to play the dotted eighth notes as long as musically possible and the sixteenth not as short as musically possible. The dotted eighth note is referred to as the ALAP, the sixteenth note as the ASAP. By using ALAP/ASAP, we generate dynamics in our music.
In ALAP/ASAP, we consider the length of the ASAP first. We want to make this note ASAP; we also want the note to be audible. Once we've arrived at the length of the ASAP, we work backward and "deduce" the length of the ALAP. This can be illustrated using a graph:
In this graph, the beat is represented by sixteen squares. We want the ASAP, the sixteenth note, to be as short as musically possible. We also want it to be audible. So we assign it a value of 1/16 of the beat. We then deduce the length of the ALAP, it will take 15/16ths of the beat.
We can think of ALAP/ASAP by using the following equation:
In practice, one can grasp the concept of ALAP/ASAP by using metronome magnification. If we magnify the metronome by using four clicks per beat, the ASAP would be played after the fourth click but before the next beat (click 2.1, if you will). Since the ASAP is played after the fourth click, the ALAP will occupy clicks one, two, three, and part of four. The following graphic shows how this would be mapped, visually, on a metronome.
When playing ALAP/ASAPs, there are several rules that are important:
- The ALAP can only be stretched as long as the beat will allow, this will be determined by the tempo of the tune.
- The ASAP shouldn't be too short. If it is, it will sound crushed and affect dynamics. The ASAP must be audible.