PP Academy: How to Sort that Troublesome Double E from F

The source of much angst among pipers and judges alike is the inability of pipers to properly make a double E from F. Few movements cause so much difficulty for the beginner and many a piping career has foundered on an inability to play it correctly and at speed. The basic problem arises at the learning stage when the student piper attempts to form the first G gracenote of this doubling as a gracenote.

The resulting crossover between the F finger going down as the G finger rises is the cause of all the difficulty. When on F, the first gracenote of the E doubling should be played as a full G note, i.e. with the E, F and high G fingers raised. To make a proper and consistent E doubling from F the correct sequence of finger placement is, therefore, as follows:

1 Sound F
2 Sound high G dropping immediately to E
3 Sound F dropping immediately to E

Initially, all gracenotes – high G, F and the E gracenote they create -may be too long to have the required effect. With practice, however, they will soon become short enough to allow due emphasis on the theme note, the final E. Sometimes the G gracenote will sound longer than the F. The response to this problem is not to try to force the G in quicker but to lengthen the F so that both gracenotes are of equal duration. (To digress for a moment,  I am often asked where the beat fall in the doubling. It is on the static E gracenote – the short one between the high G and the F.)

Even grace-noting is the secret of all good technique in piping. Through time and practice the two active gracenotes of the doubling will become much slicker – but if one is longer than the other the movement will never sound as it should.

Another natural response to difficulty with technique is to automatically tighten up the fingers to try to force the issue. Don’t. Go the opposite way. R.elax the hands. John MacDougall Gillies told all of his pupils that they must never hold the chanter tightly. ‘Pretend it is red hot and you want to drop it,’ was the mantra. So, ease off. No white knuckles; make the gracenotes bigger (see PP Academy Learn the Bagpipe Video 6 based on the RSPBA’s Structured Learning Elementary book) and EVEN, and practice them this way until they become smoother. Slow down your tunes accordingly. Only play them at the tempo that allows you to play technique correctly.

Practice the E doubling from F thoroughly, preceding the latter with a different note each time (see exercise below). Starting with low G:

1 Play low G
2 Play F make sure you lift the three fingers of the F note together.
3 Sound high G dropping immediately to E
4 Sound F dropping immediately to E


Practice this with rhythm, substituting a different starting note at (I) each time. Beat time with your foot to the first note and make sure the tempo stays the same as you progress through the exercise. This will help build your sense of rhythm as well as make the movement easier to play by introducing an element of well-paced control. There is often a tendency to get faster as you play up the scale. Guard against this. Remember, only play movements at the speed your fingers will allow you to do so correctly. Once you start to false finger revert to the tempo you are comfortable with.

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