Home Media News & Blog Fingerwork - Three Essentials and Three Ornamentals
Fingerwork - Three Essentials and Three Ornamentals

Fingerwork - Three Essentials and Three Ornamentals


Fingerwork FundamentalsAt the Dojo, we break down bagpipe fingerwork fundamentals into the following sequential elements:

  1. Melody (Scale Navigation)
  2. Basic Rhythm (You know, quarter notes and eighth notes and stuff.)
  3. Articulation (Single Gracenoting)
  4. Embellishments (Rapid-fire combos of Melody Notes and Gracenotes)
  5. Small-scale Dynamics (Dot-cuts)
  6. Large-scale Dynamics (Phrasing)

If this seems interesting to you but you don't even know where to begin - check out a Dojo Membership or the purchasing of one of our courses!

Meanwhile, the point of this particular blog entry is this question: Are all of these fundamentals elements essential to making bagpipe music? Think about this before reading on.

My answer to this question is no. Only three of these elements are essential to producing music on the bagpipes. (The first three - melody, rhythm, and articulation). We need different pitches (melody), arranged across a period of time (rhythm). We also need a way to separate notes of the same pitch (articulation).

We don't actually need embellishments - they just ornament an existing musical skeleton. Beautiful expression of dot-cuts isn't essential either... sure, it helps A LOT because we don't have a conventional way of showing dynamics in our music, but the music would exist with or without this type of "expression." And, the same is true for larger-scale dynamic ideas like phrasing, light and shade, etc. Not necessary. Desirable? Of course.

The reign of subjectivism has made this assertion quite taboo-sounding to many, but objectively, these are facts!

When it comes to the learning process, does this train of through help us? Sure it does! It's much more useful to learn a tune's "skeleton" first, and add in embellishments later, than it would be to try to do EVERYTHING (all six intricate fundamentals) all at the same time. In our tutor, that's what Chapter 3 is all about - learning some bagpipe tunes in "prelude" form, before we tackle the full settings in Chapter 4.

Regardless - think about this a bit - are there spots in your tunes (or your students' tunes) that simply need to be pared down to the essentials for a wee while before tackling the ornamentals?


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


  1. Expression... "musicality" .... is the soul of all performance. Display of technical embellishments may add to expression, but it is, as you suggest secondary to other techniques. Rythmic variation, stress, anticipation, tempo change, in some cases vocal emulation,... that's what produces music, in contrast to "playing".
    You are on the right track, Andrew, no question. Skeleton first, then musical art.

    Bill Ferrigno