Produce percussive gracenotes to enhance and texturize your playing.
All instruments need a way to articulate the different notes that are played. Clarinetists and Flutists tongue their notes. Fiddle players bow their notes. Pipers? Well, we use gracenotes to articulate our notes. Gracenotes, in a nutshell, are a quick "flick" of a finger that produces a percussive sound. These little percussive sounds can divide notes, add texture to notes, and ultimately they help us construct the embellishments that we use to ornament tunes.
How does one execute these percussive beauties? Well, it's easier shown than explained. Since articulations are such a big part of bagpiping, we have several chapters of our Tutor devoted to the concept. G gracenotes, the piper's primary gracenote that emphasises beats, is covered in Chapter 2. Supporting gracenotes are then covered in Chapter 3.
Once you have the hang of gracenote basics, it's time to look a little bit more deeply into the concept of a gracenote, and how to make it "crisp," and "clean." In reality, a gracenote does take a very small amount of time to play. But, our job as pipers is to make this length of time seem non-existent. Gracenotes should be a percussive sound that doesn't take away from the melody notes themselves. When they become bigger-than-non-existent, they stop being percussive and start getting in the way. In addition, we also need to make sure the gracenote is "synchronized" with the melody note it is played to.
Click here to access a great class on the two gracenote "parameters;" Gracenote size (duration) and sync (location). A must-watch for all bagpipers!
Click here to access a second great class on gracenote quality and sync.
Click here to access a different overview of improving Gracenote Quality.
Embellishments are common groups of gracenotes and short melody notes that we regularly use in our bagpipe tunes. There are quite a few different types of embellishments: Doublings, Throws, Grips, Taorluaths, Peles, etc. However, they can generally be divided into two main types: G Gracenote Oriented movements (we call these "Type A" movements), and Low G Oriented movements (we call these "Type B"). Chapter 4 of our tutor goes into all the basic embellishments, and it's where you should begin learning them. While each embellishment is played differently, the approach will be the same: Play the steps of the movement accurately and evenly each and every time.
Click here to go to Chapter 4 of our Tutor, which teaches all the basics of embellishments.
For those of us who didn't learn the basics at the Dojo, or, for those who did to further develop their embellishments, you need to get serious about the process of plaing the steps of embellishments each and every time you play one. Simply relying on "muscle memory" or a pre-packaged embellishment won't give you the control you need to really make embellishments and your tunes as a whole an extension of your Self. Control over your fingers, in all aspects of your playing, is the only thing that will take you there.
Click here to access the class "Engraining the Idea of Playing the Steps of Embellishments."
Gracenotes and Embellishments are perhaps the biggest challenge out there in terms of becoming a great piper. Resultantly, we have a huuuuuge collection of classes that dissect bagpipe articulations in depth. A list of topics, with links to their respective classes, can be found in the "Articulation" section of the "Search the Archives" page. Whenever you have a question or problem with your gracenotes and/or embellishments, you should head here for inspiration.