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To Be a Better Piper, Work on the Basics

To Be a Better Piper, Work on the Basics


Listen to the Piper's Dojo Audio Experience, #206, Audio Lesson With Grade 3 Solo Competitor. You will note that, if we momentarily set aside the comments on tuning, Andrew's constructive criticisms revolve around the first five finger work fundamentals:

  1. Scale Navigation
  2. Basic Rhythm
  3. Gracenotes and Gracenote Quality
  4. Embellishments and Gracenote Quality
  5. Dot/Cuts (ALAP/ASAP)

For the audio lesson, Andrew reviews several recordings that a student had submitted and offers his critique. Let's consider the critique within the frame work of the five finger work fundamentals and consider how we might apply these to our practice and recording sessions.

Scale Navigation: Andrew states that he had advised his student that there should not be any instances of basic mistakes such as fingers slipping off chanter holes. We can relate this back to our practice and recording sessions directly. We should be able to navigate the notes in our tune cleanly. There should be no crossing noises. If we encounter crossing noises when we practice our music, we should stop and correct the problem immediately so that when we do perform or record, our scale navigation is clean.

Basic Rhythm: We need to be precise with the beat. For those of us that are still in the lower grades and have only scratched the surface on pulsing, we need to make sure that each beat note lands squarely on the beat.

Gracenotes and Gracenote Quality: Interestingly, in the critique, there are several spots where the gracenotes on high hand are affecting the basic rhythm of the tune and throwing the off the beat. Our gracenotes need to be of good quality. They must be crisp and tidy. They must be executed to reinforce the beat. A G gracenote embellishes a low A on the first beat, the G gracenote must eclipse the beat.

Embellishments and Gracenote Quality: In the strathspey, it's noted that the hachums get in the way and cause the rhythm to "go off the rails." We can sympathize. We all have an embellishment, maybe several, that we cannot execute crisply. The "papa dum" or "hire hum" is a good example of this. We want a crisp and tidy C or B doubling before we execute the E gracenote down to Low A or Low G. We want the doubling to have that pop but we want to avoid the converse, we don't want to miss the second gracenote in the doubling, the D grace note to C or the D grace note to B. We want to make sure that our embellishments are tidy. We want to make sure that they are even. If they are not, we need to work on the embellishments that are causing problems so that they will throw the beat off the rails.  If we can't execute a clean and tidy embellishment at tempo, we need to slow it down and work on it. Then, we can work our way back up the metronome ladder as we bring it up to speed. The more we work on developing neat and tidy embellishments, the better off we will be when we bring our tunes up to tempo. This also illustrates the significant relationship between the various components of the finger work fundamentals.

Dot/Cuts (ALAP/ASAP): The critique does not note any major ALAP/ASAP issues. However, when we practice, we have a good opportunity to exercise our ALAPs and ASAPs. If we consider the first bar of "Australian Ladies", we have several ALAP/ASAPs. Consider the first high A. If we make this note sing, playing it as an ALAP (as long as musically possible), and play the following F as ASAP (as short as musically possible). Then we play a crisp and tidy D throw, starting on throw on the beat, we achieve a pleasing first part of the phrase.

It is important to practice the ALAPs and ASAPs. Our tendency is to shorten the high A and rush the F in anticipation of the D throw. If we pay attention to our ALAPs and ASAPs and combine those with tidy grace notes, our tune will sound much better.

Take Action

Piper's Dojo Audio Experience #206 - Audio Lesson With Grade 3 Solo Competitor - 05.04.2017
Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band - Parts 1 and 2 - ALAP/ASAP Review [Vintage]
Andrew Douglas - Fingerwork Clarity - a Hidden Secret [Vintage]


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.