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One Simple Tweak to Learn a Tune Successfully

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Do you have issues with basic rhythm, scale navigation, or gracenote quality?  Do you play embellishments because everyone else does?  Could playing the simplified version of a tune help you get better as a piper?

Andrew explains why playing a simplified version of a tune is a very good idea.  Using the reel, Ca’ the Ewes, he demonstrates the process all pipers should use to learn and play tunes starting with a simplified version.

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Video Transcription:

How many people here have problems with scale navigation, basic rhythm or gracenote quality? Most of us have some issues, right? Until you get those issues sorted out, don't play embellishments. Look, the reason we all want to play embellishments so badly only has to do with social pressure. Think about that for a second, what I just said. The reason we want to play embellishments so badly only has to do with social pressure. It's what everybody else is doing.

Sadly, even our role models issue this pressure to us, right? Take a judge, for example. If you played this tune in solo competition with no embellishments, unfortunately the judge would say, "This tune isn't good because you're not playing any embellishments." Correct me if I'm wrong, are there any reasons people just feel like they have to play embellishments? Is there any reason for that outside of just that's what everybody else is doing?

And Barb, I'm not saying we're never going to play embellishments. But you find it a huge accomplishment for yourself and great satisfaction when you can play embellishments.  Okay. I think I would 100% agree. And I'm not saying we shouldn't play embellishments. What I am saying is until one, two and three are in excellent shape, we should not concern ourselves with embellishments, any of us.

Even if we're really good. But like let's say for example, Call to the Ewes, right? Let's say that this tune is brand new for us. We've never played it before. Unless you're a super elite player, maybe like me, who has complete comfort with all of the fundamentals, including embellishments, with no like major musical gaps anywhere. Unless you're that type of player, most of us here are not that type of player yet. Soon we will be all of us if we want to be. But maybe we're not that type of player yet, so... Barb, glad to hear it. So we're not that type of player yet. So just start with the simplified. So here we are.

And then the other thing I would recommend in a tune like this is getting the ALAP/ASAP under control and happening. You know, this line of thinking almost makes me wonder if ALAP/ASAP should be the fourth fundamental and embellishments should come after. It makes me wonder. But it's also a great opportunity to think of some of that stuff as well.

And then once we feel really good about that, then we can start to integrate embellishments. And what I want people to do when you're ready to start to integrate embellishment's is pick the low hanging fruit one at a time instead of trying to shake the whole tree and get all the apples off the tree in one swoop. Does that make sense?

So we'll put the ladder up and we'll grab the low hanging fruit. Then we'll slightly increase the height of the ladder and grab the next layer. Just as a thought experiment here, what would be the lowest hanging fruit in the first part embellishment wise? The doublings on the quarter notes?  So when we're picking the lowest hanging fruit, I'm not quite sure. Maybe someday I'll discover like the actual system here.  The doublings don't concern me. As a matter of fact, that might be the last thing I do. Because it has the least impact musically on the tune.

So maybe the lowest hanging fruit is the one thing you could do that enhances the music the most. It's not necessarily what embellishment might be the easiest. It's the one that would benefit the music the most, maybe. This thought is subject to change, but let's go with that one instead. If we wanted to pick the embellishments that impacted the music the most, what one would it be? Bert says taorluath. Any other takers? I'm going to go with the high G doublings. But look, I'm going to go the high G doublings, but if you strongly believe the taorluath is the way to go, do it. You don't have to agree with me. But I'm going to go with the high G doublings because I think it has the most impact musically. So we're back to our simplified version here. But I'm going to switch all the high G doublings in.

So lowest hanging fruit is the embellishment we could play that would have the greatest musical impact on our simplified version. I think, maybe. Okay, so now let's play the simplified version, but now that I feel confident I'm ready, I'm going to play the high G doubling, now. What are the steps of the high G doubling? G gracenote to F, play high G, right?

Okay, now listen to the musical impact. Just playing the high G doublings is going to have. (music)

Right? Like, for me, those high G doublings are an essential part of how the tune ultimately is going to need to go. Is everybody following me conceptually?

And then once I feel good about that, I think maybe I would do the taorluaths next. Because to me that's like a musical gap that can now kind of be filled because the taorluath has that nice rhythm. (singing). So now we can put that one in. Right. I liked that a lot.

And then now the final layer of fruit would be the "easy doublings," which as we know guys, they're really not that easy. Especially because all of these tend to have fusions right before them. So they're pretty hard and I can benefit from just playing them plain for a while. But now like maybe my final layer of fruit might be to add in these "easy, but actually pretty hard, doublings."

Right? Can you see the process there that I'm working through?  And you can pick whatever low hanging fruit that you want, but I think what I'm doing there is I'm picking like one doubling type at a time. I'm picking one doubling type at a time and I'm picking the one that helps me the most musically.

Like another way of thinking of it would be if you're playing in a band and the rest of the band is playing the fully embellished version, and I'm going to play the simplified version, what doublings get me the closest to producing pleasing unison? Like what gives me the most leverage?  What decreases the odds of getting cut the most? Things like that. And in which case, I could see the argument for the taorluath there, if you use that one. And that's fine.

You know, the most important thing to me is that people understand that we integrate doublings by type. We integrate the embellishments by type into the simplified version.

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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

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