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How Slow is Slow? Part 1

How Slow is Slow? Part 1


How slow should you practice?

One of the primary mantras of Dojo U is to practice slowly. But how do you identify the tempo at which you should practice?

The answer? You can probably answer that question already. Consider the most difficult embellishment, the movement which provides you with fits when you try to execute it. How fast, or more appropriately, how slowly can you practice that movement and execute it evenly and accurately?

Consider the 3rd and 4th bars of the “79th's Farewell to Gibraltar.”


These bars contain 26 notes. At first glance, the tune should be practiced at a tempo that allows you to play all twenty-six notes cleanly. Music, though, does not always lend itself to a quantitative analysis. There are strong qualitative factors to take into consideration.

The fourth bar starts with a C doubling on the first beat. As we know from the Dojo Tutor, the C doubling is executed as follows:

  1. Start (come) from any note. In this case we are coming from D.
  2. Play a G gracenote to C.
  3. Play a D gracenote to C.

Step 2 needs to fall on the beat. The C in between steps two and three should be as short as possible (ASAP).

We follow the C doubling with a G gracenote on B. We know that we want to produce quality gracenotes, so the G gracenote should take any time. It should be an articulation.

Then we come to one of the premiere embellishments in the bagpipe lexicon; the taorluath. In this case, the taorluath is executed as follows:

  1. Start (come) from any note. In this case we are coming from B.
  2. Play low G.
  3. Play a D gracenote on low G.
  4. Play an E gracenote to B.

Depending on the style in which you are playing the tune, either Step 2 or Step 4 will come on the beat. We finish up with a G gracenote on C and then a cut D leading into the next phrase.

We’ve only analyzed fourteen of the twenty-six total notes in the two bars of music. It is banal to just consider the number of notes that you have to play.

“How slow should I practice,” might not be the proper question. A more appropriate question might be “what is the tempo at which I can execute each of the embellishments correctly and let the melody come through?”

It would be worthwhile to consider the movement that is the most difficult for you. Assume that the taorluath is the long pole in the tent. Assume, also, that you can play exercises, such as Tutor Exercise 4.4-2 at 60 BPM, 2 clicks per beat. That would equate to 30 BPM as a good starting point. Using metronome magnification, though, would be a good idea at a tempo such as 30 BPM taking us back up to 60 BPM, two clicks per beat.

At that point, try the tune at 30 BPM, taking care to follow Andrew’s two cardinal rules:

Keep the tempo even and play the rhythms accurately. If, as you step through the tune at 30 BPM, you find that the tempo is too fast and you are not playing each step of each embellishment accurately, slow it down. And, conversely, if you can execute the “79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar” at 30 BPM with accurate and even embellishments, then you can push the tempo up. But don’t push the tempo at the expense of accuracy and evenness.

In summary, find the most difficult embellishment in the piece of music that you are studying, determine the tempo at which you can play that embellishment accurately and evenly, then practice it at the tempo. Even if your tempo is larghissimo (very, very slow), take heart. You are establishing the groundwork for becoming a piper.

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Dojo Tutor Version 2
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Mark Olson Mark Olson is a software engineer in Omaha, NE. Over the years, he has played numerous musical instruments including the bagpipes, guitar, piano, flute, and saxophone. As a young man, Mark competed as a solo piper. Due to the demands of raising a family, Mark had to forgo his musical pursuits. While he regrets the fact he gave up the bagpipes, he is proud of the fact that both of his sons have grown to be fine young men. With the nest now empty, he has picked up the pipes once again. If he gets his chops, and his groove, back, he plans to compete again as a solo piper.