Basic Rhythm

Basic Rhythm


In order for the notes of the bagpipe to have any musical rhyme or reason, we need rhythm to sequence these notes over time in a musical way. Basic Rhythm, at the Dojo, means establishing a steady beat with your foot, and playing to the foot as different rhythmic (and melodic, of course) combinations arise.

Learn to play all of your notes and other technique "to the foot."

The Basics of Rhythm for Pipers

The basics of rhythm for pipers is taught in Chapter 1 of our Tutor Series. From the very first scale exercise, we focus not only on the fingerings of the notes, but also on the integration of those notes to a beat. A beat is a regularly recurring pulse in music, and it's important as musicians that we sync with that pulse at all times.

Of course, not all notes get exactly one beat (most of them don't, actually), so you'll need to learn and be able to sight-read note durations. Most commonly, pipers use a combination of Quarter Notes, Eighth Notes, and 16th Notes, which indicate different note-durations. These note durations fit into and around beats in specific ways that we'll teach you in the tutor. Ready to dive in?

Click here to go to Chapter 1 of the Tutor, where you'll learn the basics of Rhythm.

The Big Secret? Play Everything "To the Foot."

Our bagpipe fingerwork requires a lot of things to all happen all at once, and they all need to be perfectly synchronized. For example, note-changes, rhythms, gracenotes, embellishments and expressive ideas all need to be organized around the beat - how do you keep them all organized?

If you watch any great piper closely, the answer becomes clear: they use their foot to synchronize all of the different things. It's important that, from day one, we learn to do the same. Each and every fingering that we attempt should be oriented to the beat. Ultimately, this will "automate" our finger processes, so that our brains can focus on musical expression instead of trying to get our technique to sound good.

As you can tell, this is a really hard thing to explain in words. Ultimately, it's going to be something that you have to feel. Meanwhile, you should check out this class about playing to the foot:

Click here to go to the "Playing to the Foot" class.

Further Investigation

We are continuously hosting classes that, in various ways, feature Basic Rhythm topics. To further develop your knowledge and skill in this area, you should check out the following:

Click here to browse all of the classes we've ever done about Playing to the Foot.

Click here to browse all of the classes we've ever done about Time Signatures.

Click here to browse all of the classes we've ever done in regards to Tempo.

These topics, and many, many more can also be found by visiting the "Search the Archives" page, which is located under the "Archive" tab above.


Andrew Douglas Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, having been active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He's also the founder and creator of Dojo U and of