Alternative Embellishments

Highland piping has a very well established set of embellishments with which to ornament its music. Beyond single gracenotes, mutlitple sequential gracenote patterns include doublings, leumluaths (grips), taorluaths, throws, birls, [hornpipe] shakes (pelés), darados (bubbly notes), and even other piobaireachd embellishments occasionally manifest in light music: dres (edre), dares (vedare), and crunluaths. Many of these embellishments are composed of a lower note of the scale within which and/or around single gracenotes are played in series to give a particular sequence, e.g. taorluaths are simply low G with D and E single gracenotes. They aren’t quite the same staccato effect one gets with bagpipes that have a closed ended chanter (i.e. uilleann and northumbrian pipes), but they still interrupt the melody notes. From the list above, doublings and shakes are the only non-staccato embellishments in common use, and they’re just an augmentation of the single gracenote. However, if you listen to pipe music long enough, on a rare occasion you will hear a melody embellished using non-staccato embellishments that are more elaborate than a doubling or shake. Linked below is a collection of such embellishments that I’ve gleaned or derived myself based on what I’ve heard others play. I do not claim it is exhaustive or authoritative. My aim is to encourage others to incorporate other embellishment styles like these into their toolkit. Whether this makes a tune more melodic or simply adds variety to a tune played multiple times, expanding our expression beyond staccato-ish ornamentation and doublings/shakes can only be beneficial.

Alternative Embellishments (pdf)

I would welcome any additions you might have so please contact me if you have any suggestions. Perhaps you’re aware of other embellishments found in very old music books that have been abandoned in modern times; such embellishments could be resurrected if they were collected and republished as above.

As an example, and this entire post came on a whim during a practice session where I was simply improvising, I am providing an arrangement of the tune Going Home (I have a funeral to play tomorrow) both as an mp3 and the accompanying transcription as a pdf where I incorporate some of the above embellishments. It took me about half an hour to arrange and record the tune with these embellishments during my practice session. It is by no means a finished product, but I did get a consistent recording by the end. There are some sections I would change in hindsight (i.e. the passing D gracenote from C up to E), but it is what it is. The transcription incorporates a mixture of the “written” and “played” styles seen in the above exercise sheet as I felt it more clear to indicate which notes were played as traditional gracenotes and which were “big” notes played as gracenotes with regard to their length. The pdf also includes a more standard arrangement of Going Home.

Going Home (pdf)

Going Home with alternative embellishments (Gellaitry drones, original Kinnaird tenors, regular X-TREME bass, Colin Kyo chanter, Sound Supreme straight cut reed)


Finally, here is a performance of Going Home in a more traditional arrangement, though it does not exactly correspond to the standard arrangement given in the pdf above, it just happened to be another recording of the tune I have uploaded previously to this blog.

07-going_home-sleepy_maggie_x2-dick_gossips-dancing_feet (it would seem even then I was incorporating the cascading D gracenote from E to C as found in many 3/4 retreat marches).