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Don't Watch This. Bagpipe Math

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Do you struggle with dot and cut notes?  Did you play another instrument and think you understood how to play dotted rhythms until you played bagpipes?  What is ALAP/ASAP anyway?

Andrew decodes dotted rhythms using the ALAP/ASAP terminology and makes sense of bagpipe math.

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Video Transcription:

Let's talk a little bit about ALAP/ASAP. As I'm drawing my ALAP/ASAP, somebody type in to me what ALAP/ASAP means. Simulated dynamics, don't mind that. That's pretty good, right? It's maximizing the contrast. Right? Instead of obeying the standard rules of a dot and a cut. Instead, we maximize the contrast between the two. And, it's a way to simulate dynamics, right? It's a way to make the long note seem even more important than it already seems. Piper's solution to the inability to play dynamics. It's one of the solutions. Yes. Or, it's one of the workarounds.

That's right. So, we're maximizing the contrast. Okay. And, you could think about that. We do that in other types of art as well. In order to make a red stand out more, presumably, you would take the complimentary color and subdue that a little bit. Right? So, you would crank up the value of the red and shut down the value of the green to make red stand out a lot more. If you're a visual artist. And, obviously, whenever we do any sort of visual photo editing, contrast is always a big option for us. So, you can take the actual image that was captured. And, then, you can change it to achieve a certain effect. And, we're doing the same thing here.

Here's what this would typically mean. In standard western music, what does a dot do to a note? It increases the note that it dots by half of its original value. So, the original value of this note was what? It was one half of a beat. Because, it's, in this case, it's an eighth note. And, so, by adding a dot, we add half the value to the note. Therefore, this note's now three quarters.

And, then, this note also used to be an eighth note. But, then, we added this little flag to it.  And, what does adding a flag do to a note? Yeah, you cut the value in half.

Just over here, right to the right. We could take our standard quarter note. If we want to split the value of that in half. We just add a flag. And, now, if we want it to be even shorter, split it again in half, we can just do this, right? Dots do the same thing. We want to add half the value. We can do that. If we want to add half of it again, you're going to add another dot. You want to add another dot, you can. How long is this note right now? Now that I added three dots?

Yes. It's one and 15/16. It's a little bit tricky. But, one and a half beats. And, then, we add half again to the value of what was added to the note. You can see why it's pretty rare to do the triple dots, but, you could. And, I think, if we were to do it, we could see it over here. This would be 63/64, Bert, I believe. But, I was a triple dotting a quarter note. And, that, for me, that gets weird. I don't know. I have to think about it.

There is a contingent of people, when I talk about ALAP/ASAP, who are like, "Oh, so, you just mean we should double dot the note, right?" There are people that talk about that. I'm getting sidetracked. But, if I double dot the note and do this, it definitely might sound a lot like ALAP/ASAP if I were to double dot a note. But, what's the problem with this still, right? If I double dot the note, we have 7/8 of a beat over here. We have 1/8 of a beat over here.

What's the problem with dotting and beaming in general, though? Not that it doesn't account for fusion. It's that it remains proportional. Okay, so, it's not transferable to different tempos.

Okay. It might be a ASAP, right? So, we could talk about that, briefly, if you want. So, let's say the shortest note we could possibly play equals, for ease of the math, let's say it's 10 milliseconds. That's the shortest note we could possibly play. So, if our beat is equal to 80 milliseconds, then our 32nd note equals how many milliseconds? If we have a beat that's 80 milliseconds long, how long is a 32nd note? This is not realistic, obviously, it would be pretty weird to have a beat that was only 80 milliseconds long. But, what would it be? It would be 10 milliseconds, right? My point would be, there is a tempo at which the shortest note we could possibly play would be the same as one eighth note. Okay.

Now, but, however, if we change the tempo, now, if we moved the beat to, let's say 84 milliseconds, now a 32nd note equals what? Sorry, let's change it to 88 milliseconds. 11 milliseconds. Very good. And, then, can you see how we're no longer... if we just play the fraction, we're no longer actually reaching as short as musically possible. Everybody see that? How proportions don't work.

Good.  ASAP duration does not change as tempo changes. And, that's why when people say, "Oh, so, what you basically mean is just double dotting." That's why that's not it at all, right? The important thing to understand is that we're doing an entirely different transformation to this musical group when we see it. And, that is to play the dotted note as long as musically possible. As long as musically possible, sometimes known as ALAP. And, then, this one over here is as short as musically possible.

Okay? All right. Now, here's the thing that we're hearing a lot of that people need to start to understand. All right. So, what we're hearing a lot of that people need to understand is the short changing of the ALAP, okay? If you short change ALAP, if you don't actually get the right value of this note and you play it too short in duration, there are two things that could possibly happen, or both. What are the two things, the two really negative consequences that could happen if we short change this note?

Speaker 1:
Well, we will definitely be early to the cut note. All right. So, we've shortchanged this note. We are either going to come in ahead of the next beat or we are going to, there's only two options, or, we are going to lengthen the cut note. Now, those are the only two options. So, when people just take a wild guess about how long the dotted note should be, the result is almost always short changing it. Which, always results in either rushing or rounding. And, then, a lot of times both.

So, one of the things that happens when we play dot cut tunes is that a lot of people are getting feedback that they're rushing the beat all the time. Now, you could focus on trying not to rush the beat. But, a lot of times the source of that rushing is playing ALAP/ASAP incorrectly. What people are still doing is they're still trying to play ALAP/ASAP.

ALAP/ASAP should not require any effort. It's just a calculation, a musical calculation that we do every time we see it. That's the point. The point is we don't have to hold our cut notes. We just have to do a simple calculation each time we play. And, don't think of calculation in the nerdy way. A great way of describing ALAP/ASAP is play dotted note until a tiniest fraction of time before foot hits ground for next beat. That's a good way of describing the calculation. That's what I would do.

So, I'm not going to try to hold the note. I'm not going to take a wild guess. What I'm going to do is, here's the floor, here's my foot. The dotted note lasts the entire time until there's the tiniest fraction of space between my foot and the floor. And, that's when I sneak the next beat in. That helps me not rush. It helps me know what the actual maximum length of time is for that note. We can't just take a wild guess and we can't just practice the correct length of the note because tempo is variable. It changes all the time.

And, George Allen is a great playground to start to think about that. so, all I'm doing there, I'm not holding any notes. It sure sounds like I am, right? It sure sounds like what my teacher wants when they tell me to hold. But, what I'm doing there is a simple, repeatable, fundamental thing that never changes. Which is, I'm playing the dotted note until my foot is, basically, on the ground for the next beat. And, that is when I sneak in my ASAP note.

And, we can be nerds about it, too. ALAP = the beat - ASAP. But, if we were to sub some actual realistic numbers into there, what you would find is, what's the standard if the beat is 60 beats per minute, how long is the beat? One second. Right? Or, in this case, let's call it 1000 milliseconds. And, then, minus the shortest note we could possibly play. It's probably, realistically, more like 30 milliseconds.

Why don't we round up? Why don't we call it 50 milliseconds? How long is ALAP? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Look how long that is. Now, if the tempo changes to 120 beats per minute, how long is our beat now? The ALAP would be 450 milliseconds. Because, we can't play a short as musically possible any shorter.

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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 PipersDojo.com

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