We argued amongst ourselves vociferously. The debate was polite but each side held his or her position. Ultimately, despite our staunch yet diplomatically expressed beliefs, none of use really knew. Did the G gracenote occur on the beat or before the beat?
Our debate occurred more than thirty years ago. We were a group of young pipers who had banded together to form a quartet. We were all self-taught. We had notions as to where the G gracenote should occur, but we just had no idea. We finally had an instructor come and work with the quartet; he settled the debate for us. The G gracenote falls on the beat.
The fact that this question still comes up reinforces the importance of the concept.
But, as with my debate thirty years ago, this is not a new concept. In previous lessons, Andrew noted that gracenotes should have no time value. The listener should hear the rhythm. The listener should not hear the gracenote. In that sense, gracenotes have a percussive quality. A gracenote’s quality can be measured by the degree to which a listener is convinced that the gracenote has no value.
As pipers, we have a constant stream of air powering our reeds. A flutist, on the other hand, can start or stop the flow of air to the instrument at will. A flutist can use gracenotes as articulations; indeed, in Irish flute music, gracenotes are often used as articulations in a manner similar to gracenotes on the bagpipe. The flutist though, no matter which tradition he or she practices, can, and for the most part do, articulate notes with the tongue.
As we are saddled with that constant stream of air, we need to break the stream down into a melody (I should say that we have the advantage of a constant stream of air; pipers for the win!). Gracenotes, on the bagpipes, are, a point that Andrew hammered home, articulations. When we play quality gracenotes on the beat, we are breaking that constant wall of sound down into a rhythm and melody.