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Finding Fundamentals in the Fluff


Have you struggled to understand comments from judges?  Does improvement seem overwhelming when described in subjective terms?  What does the judge really mean?

Andrew demonstrates how most judges’ comments can be translated into objective fundamentals you can practice and improve.  Stop being confused by the fluff and start targeting the fundamentals that can make a difference in your piping.

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Video Transcription:

So, somebody got a comment on a score sheet that says you should "cut C doublings harder." What do we think that means? Can we translate that into Dojo terminology? An embellishment has three cardinal rules, right? Cardinal rule number one is to play all the steps accurately. Step, or rule number two is to play everything evenly. And, step number three is to play everything as short as musically possible. So, on the assumption that whoever gave you this feedback actually understands what a good embellishment should sound like - I'm not convinced everybody actually does - but, which of the three cardinal rules is this most likely to pertain to? Good. The third one it's most likely to pertain to. So, the steps of our embellishments should be played ASAP.

So...I don't know. What's a good tune with some doublings in it?

Right? So, there's C doublings. And, all of those C doublings are being played accurately and evenly really well. But, you could say, I need to... you could, I wouldn't but, you could say, I need to cut those C doublings harder. Meaning the steps of the movement need to be shorter. Closer to as short as musically possible.

Right? So, all I did there was compress the steps shorter. Cool. That's what it's most likely to pertain to. Now, if your gracenote size is too big, cutting the C doubling harder, or making the steps of the embellishment shorter, is going to ruin the embellishment.

See what I mean? So, it could also have to do with the gracenote size needing to be a little bit smaller so that you can play the steps shorter. Okay? That is what cutting your C doublings harder means. At the Dojo, what we try to...one of the foundational teaching rules that we try to abide by- Some of our teachers more than others - is, we want to kind of get away from subjective terms like this. I'm sure, if somebody like Jack Lee gives you that feedback, I'm sure that he's correct. But, what we're going to try to do is we need to get rid of that subjective stuff and get down to objective brass tacks, here.

And, what this actually means, is probably just that the steps of the movement ultimately need to be smaller. The steps of the embellishment ultimately need to be smaller. Shorter in duration. All right. Now, if in doing so we have accuracy problems, then, we would fix that. But, notice that it's all going back to our objective, fundamental skill set.

John says, "Thanks, I truly didn't know what that meant." Yep. And, that's a great thing. You know, it's a great example of why is important to have a fundamental language to speak. Because, a lot of times you get subjective terms and you really, honestly, don't quite know what they mean.

Is there a value to subjective terminology? There's definitely a value. It's certainly how I learned how to play. You know, a lot of words like flow and phrasing and light and shade and holding and crispness. And, over time, the more you immerse yourself in it, the more you kind of learn what that means. Okay? So, it can work. But, I think, what using subjective terms kind of disguises is that what we're doing here is really not that complicated. And, there really is... there really are only a set of, I don't know... what... we've done it in the past, right?

So, under the crossing noise banner we have lift drop, rolling, and phantom. Right?  And, then, I suppose you could get into hole coverage and finger posture. But, then, I suppose you could get into hole coverage. Maybe we're not covering the holes correctly. Right? I guess. I suppose. And, then, maybe we could get into false notes. But, that's it, right? As far as the scale navigation is concerned, right? This is just a very quick review. As far as scale nav is concerned, there's really only those things. And, then, we have rhythm. Okay? And, then, we have accuracy to the click.

Right? And, then, we have tempo, right? Whether or not we're able to maintain a steady tempo. And, that's really it. And, then, we have gracenotes. Which, need to be small in size. And, they need to be synced to the note change, right? Then, we have embellishments. Which, need to be, we know this one, which need to be what? Accurate steps, even, ASAP. And, then, we have ALAP/ASAP. Which, is obviously... I'm running out of room. Which, is, obviously, max contrast between dotted and short notes, right?

Then, we have short note fusion. But, short note fusion is not really a thing. It's just, sort of, an element of ALAP/ASAP that becomes tricky, right? And, then, maybe we have pulsing. But, pulsing is not obligatory. Pulsing is what we do at the end of the day. Right? So anyway, maybe I've missed one or two, potentially. But, we have 13.

So, basically, anything that could go wrong in your playing comes down to 13 fundamental things that we have to think about. Now, 13 is not a small number. But, it is a manageable number. And, everything fits into one. Every piece of feedback that you get fits into one of these things.

Just let that process for a second.

Can anybody think of feedback that they've gotten on their fingerwork that does not fall into one of these 13 categories? Right? I can't really think of any feedback you could get on your fingerwork that would not fit into 13 things. With the exception of  "I want to hear had a heavier first pulse of your 4- beat phrase in the 2/4 march." Once we get into advanced stuff, like phrasing, then, we get into pulsing. And, then, it's a lot more subjective. But, most of the things that really knock us down, 95% of the time, can be somewhere in these 13 things.

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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