When first looking at a new tune, how many of us get out our practice chanter, take a few deep breaths, and start plowing our way through the entire first part, or goodness knows, the entire tune? It’s a new tune, so it must be OK to sound a bit sloppy at first, right? Those embellishments will come around over time, I’m sure, after I’ve played the tune a few hundred times. And besides, I’m so good already that I don’t need to use a metronome! Unfortunately, these statements describe too many novice and intermediate level pipers. So, let’s take a look at a logical, proven, and reliable way to approach a new tune.
Trying to plow (yes, plow, not play) our way through a new tune is a setup for a bad outcome for many reasons. Bad outcomes include the following: 1) Trying to play the correct notes takes away from the more important focus on perfect rhythm, 2) embellishments are played incorrectly, 3) the cut/dot patterns fall are inaccurate, and 4) these mistakes and more are simply becoming embedded into muscle memory from the outset! Of course, trying to go through a new tune has many more pitfalls than those listed here, but there is a better way, as can be seen with the following link.
Regardless of the type of tune or its complexity, every tune can be approached in the same general way. At Dojo U, we call this the “tune building process”, in which we build up the tune from small pieces at first, and join those pieces to make bigger ones, and eventually put everything together.
An example of how one might take on a 2/4 march is shown in Figure 1, which represents only the first part of a great melodic tune, "Allan Dodd’s Farewell to Scotland".
Play only what’s enclosed in the square, from the first down beat of the first bar, to the dotted E in the second bar, all of which accounts for three full down beats. Use a metronome set to a tempo that's slow enough that all of these notes and embellishments can be played correctly and on the beat. With a 2/4 march, in particular, it may be helpful to “double time” the metronome, say at 70 bpm, which will give a single time tempo of only 35bpm, but will allow the downbeat AND offbeat to be heard. Repeat the first bar 5-6 times, always with the metronome.
After you are comfortable with the first bar, play only the second bar, shown in Figure 2. Repeat the second bar 5-6 times, focus on playing exactly on the beat, and make sure to play each step of each embellishment.
The next steps include playing bar 3 on its own, then bar 4 alone, then putting them together to make the second phrase. Lastly, put the two phrases together and now you can play the entire first line of the tune. Repeat this process for the second line of the tune, which for a march is easier because there is usually repeated material.
In summary, by building from small pieces to larger ones, the tune building process helps to assure that the tune is learned correctly from the outset, the tune is memorized correctly, and the musicality of the tune will be maximized.
The tune building process has truly revolutionized the way this writer now approaches a tune. To get started with building your own repertoire using this process, you really should check out the free PDF worksheet here:
Download our free "Tune Building" worksheet - A fill-in-the-blanks document for you to build your own tune of choice, and start learning it twice as fast twice as well! Commit to this process, and watch your progress soar!