A short tutorial on how to make your C doublings crisp and distinct. This is by Captain John MacLellan and taken from The International Piper of October 1978.

By Captain John A. MacLellan MBE

Having listened to umpteen performances of ceòl beag during the competition season, it has become very apparent that we are in danger of losing the technique of making a doubling on C.

Whether played by young or old, learner or experienced solo or pipe band piper, by and large most attempts to play this most essential embellishment ends in an indecisive, half-hearted attempt. It is especially poorly performed when played after a note higher in pitch than C itself, particularly from E and D. Often, too, a different type of technical error creeps in when it is attempted from either low A or B.

There should be no difficulty whatever in performing this doubling which is often a feature in many Marches and Strathspeys. It may well be that our method of notating this gracenote combination is at fault, thus causing the first C that is to be sounded being not brought sufficiently to visual notice and in consequence, what is often actually played is:

when both gracenotes are operated simultaneously. All that is required to play the doubling properly is to make the sounds depicted as

It could be that we have inherited a system of writing doublings which does not immediately bring awareness of the actual fingering technique required. The present grouping of gracenotes does not depict clearly what should be played; in the case of the Doubling of C — (G gracenote on C, D gracenote on C). Indeed it must be very seldom that the C which follows the G gracenote will be of the same duration as either the G or D gracenotes. Furthermore, the sight of three gracenotes grouped together does not really convey to the brain the correct sequence of finger manipulation, but rather what is sighted is a group which means a doubling on C, conveying an indecisive message which often leads to inapt fingering.

Despite the foregoing we are not liable at present to change the method used for notating this or any other gracenote combination, so we are, so as to speak, stuck with it! Many will no doubt say, “What was good enough for the pipers of the past should be good enough for the pipers of today”, though that does not mean that Double C’s were not performed carelessly by past generations of Pipers. That aside, let us look at remedial treatment.

Doubling of C from a note above
The finger technique requires that firstly a G gracenote be played on C i.e.

and this be followed by a D gracenote also on C:

Depending on the class of music being played and the closeness of the doubling required, it should be quite easy to space out properly the gracenotes to make the required type of doubling. For instance, in many marches the doubling of C will take up half of beat one in the last bar of each part. Good march players will often perform it as:

Notice that the gracenotes are written as 64th notes (Hemi-Demi-Semi-Quavers) which in my opinion is much nearer their true notational value.

The essential finger manipulation is to ensure that the C after the G gracenote is clearly heard. This is achieved by practising after F, E and D a G gracenote accurately made on C. When this is properly accomplished, (and what could be easier!) add on the D gracenote — but, a word of warning — a conscious effort must be made when playing tunes to play the G gracenote on C in a precise manner.

The fault which often arises when a Doubling of C is attempted after B is that the following is played:

Here the G gracenote is inaccurately placed causing a very short B to sound instead of C. The answer is: Always think ‘G gracenote on C’.

Much of what has been said about Double C can be associated with the other three gracenote doublings, which also require neat gracenotes properly spaced out and the note embellished, when first sounded, being slightly longer in duration to the gracenotes operated on it.

As a parting shot this short excerpt from the third part of The Man from Glengarry is an excellent exercise for the Doubling of C.