Home Media News & Blog Dot-Cut Rhythms: From Muddled to Music

Dot-Cut Rhythms: From Muddled to Music


Ever been told you are playing too round? Do your doublings turn to mush when after cut notes? Does your grip fall apart when it comes from a sixteenth note? Why do two sequential cut notes cause pipers so many issues?

Using The High Level hornpipe, Andrew breaks down this common issue into two fundamentals that we can easily see. He explains why it is so difficult, and what you can do to stop playing mush and start playing music.

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Video Transcription:

One of the things we're talking a lot about in The High Level hornpipe is, or one of the things that we're having trouble with, is what we call short note fusion. Short note fusion is a fake fundamental. It's not a real thing. It's a nickname that we give to a common problem that we have when we play. All right. What is the common problem that the fake fundamental short note fusion is designed to address? Who can give it to me in the chat? What's the problem that we have? All right, so the problem that we have is two fundamentals, two different fundamentals, really close to each other. And so the problem that we have is one fundamental as being sacrificed to benefit the other. Okay. Lou, that's right. So a short note into an embellishment is what we're talking about generally speaking. So here we have is a dot and a cut, right?

Yay. Here we have a dot and a cut, and then we have something along the lines of a doubling. So what's happening is we have two fundamentals here, right? Two important fundamentals that we know are important. The first one is the dot and the cut here, the dot and the cut is an important bagpipe fundamental. But then we also have a doubling here. Doublings or embellishments are important bagpipe fundamentals. Now, the problem that we have when we play is to do one right next to the other is very challenging, especially because what's at the end of a dot cut? A cut note, and the cut note is very short, very short period of time. And then we have to play an embellishment. The components of an embellishment are also very short, and they happen in a very short period of time. So the problem that short note fusion is designed to address is, so we have two quick fundamentals next to each other, and one of them gets sacrificed.

There we go. Trying to figure out how to explain it. This might be the best way, right? There's two rapid fundamentals next to each other and one of them gets sacrificed. So, can we use our imagination and see that this little I drew represents this. Right. But you see how that could kind of make sense? Now we have the short note leading into the embellishment here, and what is all too common? What do most of us do? Most of us, in order to make the E doubling easier, do what? That says we shorten the dotted note. Yep, that's partially true, but more important to this and what short enough fusion is all about, most of us, elongate the short note, sometimes known as rounding things out. That's what have elongation of the short note means.

So instead of playing, we play this. In the context of a lot of tunes like marches and stress bays, if we do this, the resulting effect is what? It's roundness, right? Okay? Can everybody hear how the treatment of the short note before the embellishment in what I just played is a little bit too long? I'm hedging on that note, so my doublings can be perfect. Now my doublings were really good in that case. But now listen to the difference of properly fused short notes on the effect of that strathspey. I didn't actually change how I played any of the embellishments, at least not purposely, but the way that I attach the short note to the upcoming embellishment and fuse the two things together properly greatly benefits the quote-unquote expression of the tune. It changes the tune from being incorrect to being correct and we can really hear the difference.

Can everybody sort of hear the difference there? In a dot and a cut, what is the length of the cut note in a properly executed dot cut in the bagpipes? It is as short as possible. Sure. And we know technically that means as short as musically possible. Yep. Okay. ASAP. Everybody happy? Now we have an embellishment over here. Let's just take a different one. Let's take a grip just to mix things up and also a grip is a three-step movement. A grip has three steps in it. What are the three steps? The three steps are play low G, D grace note on low G, and then, in this case, let's pretend we're just going to C. All right? Now a grip, how long should each step of a grip be? And okay, the answer is going to be as short as musically possible, but let's just back up a step.

How are we taught to play grips in the normal world outside of the comforting blanket of the dojo? We're told to play embellishments crisp, concise, sharp. What are some other words that we use to describe how a doubling should sound? Bubbling? Forceful? Poignant? What else? Chip-chip, apparently. Not crushed, I like that, taking a different angle. What's really the message going on here, right? The message and how people will normally describe an embellishment is the embellishment needs to be played as quickly as possible, as concisely, as crisp as possible. But obviously as John McCain said, "There's a limit to just how small we can make it before the movement becomes crushed." So what is the actual translation of this? What do people actually want when they use subjective terms like chip-chip? Crispy?

That was the big thing when my dad taught me, that the grip has to be more crisp. No. Guys, no. The real translation is, each step of the embellishment should be played accurately and as short as musically possible. That's the translation. So each step of the movement has to be played as short as we possibly can while still being able to hear it, because if you can't hear it, there's no point of playing an embellishment whatsoever. Let's explore this with the grip. So obviously, right? Now in the perfect world, for a beginner, that's a perfectly good grip. I'm not going to tell a beginner to change that grip. But at the end of the day, that grip is well played except for one thing, it's not crisp enough. It's not small enough. It's not rapid enough. So let's go more rapid. Here's some more grips. Ready? Now I'm going to go rapid with my grip.

I went rapid with my grip. Does anybody see a problem with that? What was the problem with my rapid grips? You hardly heard it. Did it sound more like a grip to you or just a random sound that doesn't make a whole lot of musical sense? Yeah, it's a random sound. So the first grip was too open. Second grip was far too rapid. What is the actual correct way to play the grip? The correct way to play the grip is each step as quickly as I possibly can while still being able to hear the steps. Something perhaps like this. All of those embellishments that I played were nice and crisp sounding. They're the way an embellishment should sound. The steps I played as rapidly as I could, but made sure that I could hear each step clearly. Now they are happening very fast. Great, but I can hear the steps clearly. That's what makes an embellishment good.

When I go play a solo competition or I go play in the band, the starting point for all embellishments is going to be exactly that method, each step of the movement played as short as musically possible. Does that make sense to everybody, what I just went through? It's really important that it makes sense because this is the name of the game. We have our steps of the movement and all of our steps should be played ASAP. Do you notice a similarity in concepts here? We have ASAP over here by the dot cut, yay, a lap ASAP, and then we also have ASAPs being the length of the steps of the embellishment. Does anybody see, are these two things similar? I would say no, they're not similar. They are exactly the same concept, concept, concept. They are exactly the same concept.

It's beautiful actually. It's amazing. We can see there's more to this than just throwing subjectivities at the wall. There's something really interesting going on here. On an instrument with a continuous air flow with no control over dynamic range, this concept of as short as musically possible becomes a core fundamental of what we're doing to create really good music on this instrument. There's more to this than meets the eye, and it's really, really interesting. And it also gives us a great opportunity to generate really consistent, excellent playing. I'm going to attempt to draw a staff. Let's do the opening three notes of Green Hills of Tyrol. What are the opening three notes of Green Hills of Tyrol? I know my staff's not perfect, by the way, but if anyone mentions it, I'm going to kick them out of the room. Opening three notes, A, B, C, we got a G grace note up here. A, just for good measure and then we have our grip.

Is this a fusion moment? Where does the fusion happen? Fusion happens going from B into the grip. The B must be fused to the grip. Why? Why should it, why must it be quote-unquote fused? Because the B is the exact same type of rhythm or type of note or length as the steps of the grip. Good. Let's write out now all of the notes we're going to play. I'm writing out the same thing again in a slightly different way. Figure one and figure two are written quite differently, but they sort of represent the exact same thing. All right, let's play the pink one together. Don't worry about what time signature or any of that crap here. This is just an illustration. The quarter notes are long, and the ones in the middle are as short as, these are all of our ASAPS here, these are all ASAPS. Now, we're not going to play them as short as musically possible quite yet. Let's just practice playing this figure though. It's going to go like this.

Okay. Everybody understand that? Can everybody play that? Now what we're going to do is we're going to start to speed up that middle group of three. We're going to start to speed up the middle group of three, but remember, all three have to be exactly the same length. And then see how, by the time we're done speeding it up, it becomes this. Anybody having like aha moments or, "Oh, that makes so much more sense"? Exactly. We now have the first three notes of 90% of the three-fours in the bag. The problem is, this is a fun diagram to draw out, but the problem is we have this hundreds of times throughout many of our two-fours, stress bays, dot cut hornpipes and dot cut reels. So you're not going to be able to draw out this diagram every time. You have to understand the concept and be able to do it in the situation.

All right, let's look at The High Level. In the third part, we have this. Now look, just because there's not an embellishment, doesn't mean there's not a group of ASAPs. All right, so here we go. Now, is this a fusion? And the answer is yes. Now, there's not an embellishment after the ASAP note, but there is a cut followed by a dot. Just like a standard doubling ,would be. So if we were to draw this out kind of like we did the last example, let's just attach these three guys, and we'll give this guy a hat. That needs to be on the beat, by the way, also. Jen says, "Yes, from E to C or C to low A?" I'm confused. Right. The fusion is from the E to the C, that's right, yes. It's all together, but really you don't want to think about fusion being between two notes. It's from the ASAP of a dot cut into all of the steps of the upcoming, usually, embellishment, but it could be an upcoming sequence of short notes. For example, in the stress bay we might have.

Or the high A is fused into one of those triplet runs that you see in a strathspey. That is also a fusion because it's a short note fused into a series of short notes. Got me? Let's try this one together. So let's not go ASAP quite yet. We'll just do this. See how all three of those notes are even together? Okay. Now let's speed it up a little bit. Okay? See how that kind of translates to The High Level?

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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