The march is the most common type of bagpipe music. Bagpipe marches are designed to move armies across great distances by foot. Using this knowledge can help you conquer the rhythm patterns you come across in your marches.
A good approach to learning the rhythm of a tune is to sing it. You can focus on rhythm without spending valuable brain cells on finger position, blowing, etc.
Let’s take a quick look at the 2/4 march as an example. There are two beats in each measure. In marching terms, that’s two steps – a left and a right. If the music is written properly, all the notes contained in one beat are tied together, so you’ll have two groups, consisting of one to four notes in each measure. Call the first note in the first group "LEFT", and the first note of the second group "RIGHT". So if you have a series of quarter notes in your tune (unlikely, as that’d be pretty boring music), you can sing it as "Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right . . . etc."
If you have two notes in the beat group, you can call the first one LEFT (or RIGHT) and the second one can be called AND. So a series of two note groups would be sung as "Left and Right and Left and Right and Left and Right . . . etc." Notice that you’re not only singing the tune now, you are actually issuing commands to your feet. Tapping your feet, or marching, just got a whole lot easier.
What about dots and cuts you say? No problem! At this stage, all you are going to do is move the AND note earlier or later. So a two note beat group has 3 options: even, dot-cut, or cut-dot. Although this is tough to write, it’s easier to sing:
- Even: Left and Right and Left and Right and
- Dot-Cut: Left . . . and-Right . . . and-Left . . . and-Right
- Cut-Dot: Left-and . . . Right-and . . . Left-and . . . Right-and
Take a look at "High Road to Gairloch" and "The Brown Haired Maiden," two massed band tunes that are most likely in your repertoire. Except for that one pesky 3-note beat in Bar 3 of High Road (Right and-a), you can now sing the entire set using this method. Be sure to keep your feet going as you sing. Any time you find your right foot tapping when you’ve sung LEFT, or vice versa, you know to go back and find the section where you got off the beat.