Fnat key

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Fnat key

Postby Ben Power » Sat Feb 04, 2012 10:29 pm

Dear All,

Merrily working away through Peacock and on tunes of the month, and very much enjoying the Shaw G set, but starting to work on the keys as tunes (not so much in Peacock) seem to demand them. So I thought that I would write to ask a little advice on the old Fnat key. Are there any obvious tricks to playing Fnat with ease? At the moment it seems quite a way away from my right thumb's resting position (past and above the Eb key is it?), and tricky to get to, particularly in relationship to the high G, which, when moving back and forth between Fnat and the high G makes holding the chanter rather unstable for me at the moment (no thumbs in contact or very slow).

Any general advice would be most useful, but,

particular questions:

Is it simply a matter of speed and ultimate economy of motion developed by long practice and repetition (fair enough, I'm well acquainted with this sort of thing, having, at various times, learned to use my keys on the wooden flute, my main instrument), or is there some other approach that I ought to know about.

should one always have one thumb or other on the chanter when moving between Fnat and G and back (and work toward that as above) or does one try to develop a hold that works without either thumb on?

pursuant to the above question, does one play many of the lower notes without one's right thumb in contact with the chanter, ready to touch a key as needed, or does one always return one's right thumb to a constant position on the chanter and move once again to a key from there?

Cheers,

Ben
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Re: Fnat key

Postby adrian » Sun Feb 05, 2012 12:29 am

Why would you want to play top G to F natrural? (With what you posted).
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Re: Fnat key

Postby Ben Power » Sun Feb 05, 2012 5:37 am

I was thinking for tunes that have a lowered 7th. Though I'm getting the feeling I've not asked what I want to know right. Tunes written in a Scottish pipe scale would require that, no? Have I named things wrong? (or are you having me on?)
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Re: Fnat key

Postby John Gibbons » Sun Feb 05, 2012 6:45 pm

If you are playing a good staccato, then going from the high g to a key worked by the right thumb should not be much of a problem, for there is always at least one thumb stabilising the chanter. One thing you can try is to play the g a bit short, so you have time to get things done.
One more argument for playing staccato.

Adrian is right though - top g to top f nat is spectacularly rare, even in Highland music in the mixolydian mode.

John
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Re: Fnat key

Postby RobSay » Mon Feb 06, 2012 1:13 pm

Hello - F naturals are not the most favoured keys on the pipes and there are many reasons for this - A lot of them are mechanical. Each and every note should sound as pure and clean as it can, you need to have absolute confidence that every note you play is going to come out just how you want it to. Getting the F natural to sound like this is a challenge.

The key itself is very short with the pivot very close to the hole-pad (In comparison to high B or low D). This affects how the note is sounded. If the key is pressed slowly, the opening forms very slowly and with little clearance and the note does not form at all well. The aim is to get a clear clean start to the note and then to let the spring return the key on to hole. There are complications for the player to cope with here:
  • The key end requires significant travel to reach with the thumb. From a rest position the thumb comes off the chanter, across over the D# and down on to the Fnat before returning in the same way
  • Top G thumb often obscures the Fnat hole, I have found that the angle of the top thumb affects the sound of the note due to the key clearance. Large thumbed players especially struggle here
  • The D# can interfere with the F nat key travel.

Ben Power wrote:
Is it simply a matter of speed and ultimate economy of motion developed by long practice and repetition

Primarily yes it's speed and economy - but it's also a matter of adjusting the timing in the music to give you room to play the sequence without it sounding artificial.

should one always have one thumb or other on the chanter when moving between Fnat and G and back (and work toward that as above) or does one try to develop a hold that works without either thumb on?

I would not advocate a 'thumbs off' positioning of the chanter. That is not to say that when playing the sequence there may be an incredibly short period when both thumbs are in fact off. At *speed*, the friction from the fingers can be sufficient to maintain the position of the chanter for a very small period. It's not something that can be explicitly practised - by playing with thumbs on and improving the speed and economy and overall control of the chanter I have found that some top thumb, bottom thumb transitions do now have this gap. As soon as I conciously think about it, the notes go and the chanter moves.

If you want to explore 'fully thumbs off' there are two possibilities:
  • resting the chanter on the fingers
  • planting the chanter foot on your thigh
It's worth doing both simply to understand how chanter control affects the playing - but I don't advocate either as best practice. Planting the chanter has other benefits which work for other people but I don't think 'thumbs off' is the primary reason

pursuant to the above question, does one play many of the lower notes without one's right thumb in contact with the chanter, ready to touch a key as needed, or does one always return one's right thumb to a constant position on the chanter and move once again to a key from there?


I advocate a mixture of both and treat the middle thumb hold as a 'rest'' position. Fundamentally, the player should be performing a balancing act with the chanter (between the hands) rather than gripping it with either or both hands. When either thumb is removed the controlling hand has to correct the resulting moment (rotation) of the chanter. The lower the forces being exerted by both hands, the less correction is required and the less the chanter wobbles around. The less the chanter wobbles, the less mental and muscular effort is required for control and more can be devoted to music. The listener shouldn't be able to hear the mechanics of the player.

Playing a full tune with the right thumb of the chanter is an excellent exercise in that it highlights issues with bottom hand grip, top hand control and key execution. There are however tunes out there that almost require 'right thumb off' in their entirety.

Are there any obvious tricks to playing Fnat with ease?

I would remphasise the point that it is 'a matter of adjusting the timing in the music to give you room to play the sequence without it sounding artificial.'

In addition to the above: One option is to skip the F natural note itself if it is a passing note (or to skip the G). I always look at where the beat is and what the chord is when considering this. Another one is to play an F# instead if the tune is in a mode of G - there are number of tunes that do this (Suttors of Selkirk has short F# and long F nats also some versions of Holey Ha'penny switch).

Good Luck

Rob
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Re: Fnat key

Postby Ben Power » Mon Feb 06, 2012 7:10 pm

Many thanks lads, particularly Rob. That is an exceedingly clear and useful post, exactly what I needed. It is about what I'd fuzzily suspected overall, but I wanted to check on my assumptions, extrapolated from Irish flute playing as they were, and you lay it all out very clearly. I'm much obliged to you. And yes John, I am indeed playing with small gaps between the notes (staccato seems not quite the right term for what I hear of good players, but I take it that is the naming convention for the sound? and I suppose there isn't a better word). However, if I understand correctly that one wants to have the notes (generally and loosely speaking) as long as possible before the gap and then the note following, it would seem that it is still a relatively tricky manoeuvre to accomplish smoothly, and, as Rob says, to get completely clean in both attack and decay and to be able to use it readily and as one likes, and I've been very unused to doing anything at all with that thumb other than letting it lie, so the keyed version of the NSPs, which I've had for less than a month, have come as something of a shock.

I can't think now what it was I was playing that made be want to go straight from Fnat to G and back, but I suspect it was probably some Irish tune. In addition to working my way through Peacock and spending a good bit of time listening to everything I can get my hands on, I have a pretty significant repertoire of Irish tunes from twenty odd years on the flute, and in hopes of getting to know the chanter and becoming comfortable enough to just play what I want on the pipes, given their different advantages and limitations, rather than just "learning tunes" I've been looking to noodle around tunes I've already got in my head. Would I be right in saying that there have been significant players on the NSPs that have spent a good deal of their time on dance music, and pulled their repertoire from whatever they heard (on radio?) including Irish and Scottish tunes? Anyway, I tend to use tunes as etudes (on the flute at least), and when I find one that makes a demand that I've not got under my fingers, I work away at it to try and add it to my technical repertoire.

hmmm... rambling on, sorry. meant to just come on and say thanks, so thanks again
B
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Re: Fnat key

Postby Ben Power » Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:21 pm

the tune I was fighting with with the lowered 7th to the octave and back just wandered back into my head, to answer Adrian's question, and if anyone is interested. It is the air of a song: Tuirse Mo Chroi, and I suspect I have it from Barry Kerr's playing, though I'm not sure.
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Re: Fnat key

Postby Dally » Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:08 am

If you're playing Highland pipe tunes then it really depends on the tune whether you want to play it in G or A mix. A lot of Highland pipe tunes sound better on the NSP in G ("The Cameron Highlanders", NPS BK 2, p. 2), while others definitely require the flat 7th ("The Battle of the Somme", NSP BK 2, p. 40). YMMV, but I find the flattened 7th more easily dealt with that way then by playing them in G mix.
Isn't "Tuirse mo Chroi" an Irish tune, a la Altan?
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Re: Fnat key

Postby Barry Say » Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:33 pm

Dally wrote:If you're playing Highland pipe tunes then it really depends on the tune whether you want to play it in G or A mix. A lot of Highland pipe tunes sound better on the NSP in G ("The Cameron Highlanders", NPS BK 2, p. 2),


Dear John, The Cameron Highlanders was written by that well known exponent of the 4 string GHB J, Scott Skinner. Along with the Piper's Wierd it is an example of a faux tradition

while others definitely require the flat 7th ("The Battle of the Somme", NSP BK 2, p. 40). YMMV, but I find the flattened 7th more easily dealt with that way then by playing them in G mix.



I regard the Battle of the Somme as being in 'D' so all the Gs should be natural anyway.

Barry
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Re: Fnat key

Postby Dally » Thu Mar 01, 2012 2:10 am

"The Cameron Highlanders" is played on the Highland pipes with a flattened 7th at least as often as it is on the fiddle. As to your second point, exactly, so play it with two sharps in the key signature. My point is that Highland pipe tunes don't necessarily transpose onto the NSP chanter by dropping the tone a whole step.

You're exactly right about Scott Skinner. His faux tradition is alive and well. But when does a faux tradition become a vrai tradition? The word of the day is 'fetish" I think. ;)
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