In my opinion, the strathspey and reel are the crown jewels of light music.

Outside of Grade 1 bands, I rarely hear strathspeys played well, by bands or soloists. Even among A grade soloists I hear in NSW, I don’t believe the correct way of playing strathspeys is widely understood.

Strathspeys require some strong finger control, which is not where so many pipers spend their time nowadays – rather being required to throw their fingers around very rounded (exquisitely evenly timed) hornpipes, jigs and reels.

But we also make it harder for ourselves to play strathspeys than it ought to be, by not fully understanding the right way to play them.

In a strathspey, long notes are VERY long and short notes are VERY short i.e. a strathspey is heavily “pointed”.

Pipers and bands usually play them too “round” or with inconsistent “pointing”, consequently not producing the strong, bouncy rhythm strathspeys demand.

One thing I have seen several times is a drum corps, particularly the snares, playing their strathspey score exactly as written. This is incorrect and will not support playing a strathspey correctly. The drum score (and pipe music, for that matter) needs to be interpreted within the scheme of this being a strathspey. The pipe music and drum scores tell you which notes are long and which are short and they will add up to correctly structured bars, but that doesn’t tell you HOW LONG or HOW SHORT the notes should be – it needs to be interpreted based on its being a strathspey.

I’ve been planning to run a seminar on strathspey playing for some time, perhaps over Skype. If you think you might gain by attending such an event, please add a comment to this blog post. (Click on the post’s title and look for where to add a comment)

3 thoughts on “Strathspeys are not so hard to play

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