On the bagpipe, we cannot play a note with more volume in order to add expression to a phrase. Indeed, our goal is to play at a steady pressure so that the pitch of the chanter and the drones remains constant. Nor do we have techniques such as staccato or legato available to us on the Highland bagpipe. On the Highland bagpipe, we express our music by holding notes longer than we would normally hold them, playing them As Long As [Musically] Possible (ALAP) and playing contrasting notes As Short As [Musically] Possible (ASAP).
In Part 1, we discussed the classical methods for counting music, specifically “dot-cuts,” and addressed the shortcomings associated with applying classical counting techniques to bagpipe music. In this post, we discuss using metronome magnification to visualize ALAP/ASAP.
In first learning ALAP/ASAP, the question might arise, "how short is short?" We can get a feel for how short the ASAP should be by using metronome magnification. For a dot-cut, we could, for example, use four clicks per beat at 90 beats per minute.
In this case, we are playing one quarter note at four clicks per beat. We could, then, visualize the sixteenth note in a dot-cut as occurring after the fourth click.
Since the sixteenth note is an ASAP, it must be played as short as is audibly possible. Thus, it will be played after the fourth click and before the next beat. From there, we deduce that the dotted-eighth will take up all the time starting on the first click (which would be the beat) and leading up to the ASAP.
If we were, then, to revisit the second bar of Highland Harry:
If we overlaid the first beat on the metronome, it would look like this:
We play the E as an ASAP, as short as audibly possible, after the fourth click but before the following beat. We work backwards, deducing that the G must take up the time from when the beat starts. So, the beat, click one, begins with the half-doubling on G, the G is held until after the fourth click when the E is played as an ASAP before the next beat.
When you hear an accomplished piper play a dot-cut, the ASAP is incredibly short but still audible. As you learn ALAP/ASAP your ASAPs may not be as short as an accomplished player. But, by using metronome magnification, four clicks per beat, you can get a good idea of how short the ASAP should be. As you practice ALAP/ASAP, your ASAPs will become shorter but still audible.
It is not always practical to graph a tune on graph paper. However, with a metronome, coupled with metronome magnification, you can visually graph the tune, dynamically.
You can also practice ALAP/ASAP as you are walking. Again, using metronome magnification, 4 steps per beat, sing the tune as your are walking. The ASAP would come after the fourth step but before the fifth (which would be beat 2). I find that this is a good way to conceptualize different lengths of ASAPs, you can hold the ALAP and sing the ASAP just before the foot comes down for beat two: