Did you know that embellishments aren’t just a collection of grace notes mashed together?

They may look that way in sheet music, but they are actually rapid-fire combinations of melody notes and grace notes.

And to get anywhere near close to playing them well, there are three key things you’re going to want to master…

Break embellishments into their component steps

So, when we see any embellishment, we need to ask, “What melody notes and gracenotes make this up?”

Here are a few examples:

D Throw

  1. Play Low G
  2. D grace note to C
  3. Play D

E Doubling

  1. G grace note to E
  2. F grace note on E

It can be a great exercise to take embellishments that you know, or that you play in your tunes, and write them out in their steps.

How to improve your embellishments

So we know now that embellishments are pre-packaged combinations of melody notes and grace notes. But before we play the combinations fast, we need to make sure all of the component parts are in good shape.

Logically, this means that to improve your embellishments, you need to break them apart and practice each component part in their steps.

You’ll progress quickly towards great embellishments if you work on these 3 things, in order:

  1. Get your technique correct – play each component step slowly, accurately, openly, clearly and controlled
  2. Get your technique consistent – still playing slowly, make sure you can play the whole embellishment correctly not just until you can get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong
  3. Then, and only then, start to add speed to play it faster until it’s up to tempo.

You have to be willing to be patient and follow the process.

And if you’re never willing to do this… you should not have high expectations of improving your embellishments.

The Piper’s Dojo Weekly Show brings you weekly advice about how to be a better bagpiper. Tune into our weekly livestreams on our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on this topic. However, as with everything in piping, there are many schools of thought, and I’d love to hear yours! Leave a comment below to keep the discussion going…

About the Author

Andrew is a prolific practitioner of the bagpipe, active at the highest level of pipe bands, solo competition, teaching, and creative endeavors for the past 20 years. He was 2017 & 2019 World Champion with Inveraray and District Pipe Band, 2017 Winner of the USA Silver Medal for Piobaireachd, 2008–2013 Pipe Major of Grade 1 Oran Mor Pipe Band, multi-prize winner of Silver Medals at Oban and Inverness, and the 2004 B-Grade Winner Strathspey/Reel at Oban. 

Andrew published his debut and award-winning book, Finding Bagpipe Freedom, in 2021. He's also an Accredited Bagpipe Teacher and Examiner (Scottish Qualifications Authority) and holds a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts from Simon Fraser University.

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