A little advice for parents of musicians.

imagesInstructor’s often go through the horrible experience of teaching a student the basics, months if not years of effort, only to find that the student quits over the summer. I imagine this is not just limited to piping and drumming, it could be applicable to any instrument. It might be just a case of out of sight, out of mind.  However, I think there are things that can be done in the background to try and minimise this happening. It involves setting up some support structures in the background that can be utilised when the student is going through some moments of doubt.

I would estimate that my “drop out” rates when I first started teaching pipe band drumming were around the 40% mark – pretty high you would think. However, over the past three years I have managed to maintain a “drop out” rate of less than 5%. For this example, let’s take a look at younger students. I see a few key factors contributing to some of them opting not to lift up the sticks all of a sudden.

  1. The student has been off on school holiday and has been focusing on summer sports and vacations. This is probably the area where most students drop off the radar – they don’t have the instructor there to motivate them regularly and have no events or performances to re-ignite the old fire.
  2. The student has too many activities that they are committed to and they quit their instrument because they aren’t seeing as much progress as they would like. This is where the parent comes in … we’ll chat about that after.
  3. The student gets a hard time or is hassled by his/her peers in their year group about playing a traditional instrument and feels like it is uncool. This applies to clarinet every bit as much as bagpipes or drums.
  4. The student doesn’t enjoy the teaching style of the tutor.

There are, of course, many other factors that contribute to students quitting however the above points are ones that I hear time and time again from fellow music tutors. So what can be done to help combat this issue? Well, some support systems being put in place will go along way in helping to solve the issue.

Let’s take a look at the student who comes back after their summer holidays and says he/she is quitting. Instead of trying to rally around and change their mind, how about you think about what actions could have been taken to prevent this in the first place.  Taking seven or eight weeks away from routine is not good for anyone. So what could we do as tutors to help keep our students on track? Firstly, a conversation with the parents is a good start. Outline to the parent the importance of continuing personal practice (after a short break of course!) throughout the holiday period. Perhaps go as far to write out specific rudiments/tunes to practice, how often to practice them and get them to make a note of their practices. This will motivate the student (and parent for that matter) to feel that they need to make an effort, so when they return to lessons they will be able to show their tutor that they have made an effort. Another option might be to look up a summer school option for them, I personally host a drumming workshop for students two or three weeks before the year begins – it’s a great way to get them enthused and to brush off the summer cobwebs.Playing an instrument can be a a very solitary activity – so encouraging some of your pupils to get together during the summer to jam could be a good idea. This gives them the opportunity to have fun with their instrument without any “disciplinarian” around. Also, it is important to take the student through a structured form of learning. As with any other subject at school, the student works from a book. I personally use the Guide to Pipe Band Drumming Books, and also have my student’s sit the Scottish Drumming Certificate.  I think it’s important for the student to have structure, but also have the opportunity to get examined and rewarded for their achievements. Not all students like solo competition, so sitting examinations can be a great way for them to see their development tracking along. If the student is working from a book, you could let the parents know what their child should be looking at through the summer break. This then involves and engages the parent with the development of their child. I think that not enough focus is placed on getting the parent involved in the student’s musical development. I find that the students who progress the quickest are the ones whose parents take an active role in overseeing their progress. Obviously there are exceptions – those students who have a crazy passion for their instrument and practice hours each day!

Ok, let’s chat about a modern-day pandemic. I see so many students who are personally involved in cricket, rugby, swimming, chess, dancing, tennis, golf, cross country, skiing, cycling, polo, soccer and they play an instrument. I am not over-exaggerating when I say that this is becoming the “norm”. When I chat to a parent about the progress of their child and why they aren’t achieving as much as they could, the number one answer is that they have so many other commitments. In my opinion, this is something that the parent and child need to discuss. It’s a managed process, and it’s an ongoing one. I think we all have to make choices at some point. It’s a cross-roads if you like. There are only a finite amount of hours in the day. So, often we need to make decisions about which activities will have to go if we want to dedicate more time to another activity. The old saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I think experiencing new things and learning from a varied palate is a positive thing, but committing to something and sticking with it (through thick and thin) until you  master it is a hugely important and valuable life lesson. If all parents knew how learning an instrument might impact their child’s life I think each and every one of them would be signing them up for an instrument in primary school. And when the child gets bored (because they can’t download a “make me a master musician app” overnight) the parent needs to explain why they need to stick at it. It’s difficult to encourage your child to stick at it when they want to quit. But in the long run they will realise that in life, you will go through tough times and there is often no option to quit or walk away. Instilling this mindset from a young age through committed musicianship could pay dividends. I’d go as far to say that a student learns as much about life in a music lesson (or perhaps more!) as they do in Maths, English or Science. But then again, Im biased.  To learn the skills of an instrument to a level where you can perform proficiently in public and create a positive emotion in your listener is a long and arduous journey. It’s also a very rewarding and enjoyable one.

Some of the key life lessons gained when learning an instrument :

  1. Perseverance
  2. Sacrifice
  3. Stamina
  4. Commitment
  5. Dedication
  6. Pursuing Excellence
  7. Goal Setting
  8. Focusing on processes, not outcomes.
  9. Empathy
  10. Self Esteem
  11. Humility
  12. Compassion
  13. Patience
  14. Self discipline
  15. Respect

Looking at the list above, as a parent, do you think any of these things will help your child to live a full and happy life? I would absolutely think so. I have many students who stand out in my mind as perfect examples of carrying the positive traits of a musician over to their academic life. In fact, one in particular placed at the World Championships and was crowned Dux (equivalent to Valedictorian) of his school in the same year. He was not the most naturally talented drummer, but he set major goals and worked extremely hard over a long period of time to reach his ultimate pinnacle of playing at the World Championships. To receive the Dux award is seriously amazing and comes with many scholarships for top Universities. When I hear parents/students saying that they can’t excel in their instrument field because of academic commitments I think of that one student. He’s an example to us all. When you want something bad, and you are willing to sacrifice time plus make a commitment over a long period … then anything is achievable. I know he will continue his life with some amazing guiding principles and will go on to do great things.

Now we all remember that moment at school when the bully spots you with your instrument walking across the playground and he heckles and laughs at you because you are doing something that’s “not cool for school”. I recall a guy at my school who used to goad me and prance around singing “Little Drummer Boy”. It was a bit embarrassing at times but to be honest I loved to drum and couldn’t care less what he said or did. I think it would be fair to say that he may have continued his life carrying his own set of “guiding principles”. So, if you are the student being teased, please don’t give up the instrument – stick with it and give the muppet who’s picking on you, a wide berth. Entertaining other humans is one of life’s amazing gifts – don’t forget it, and don’t throw in the towel.

Another huge factor affecting any musician is their rapport with their tutor. If you don’t gel with your teacher, then find another one. Keep going until you find the one that works for you. And if you go through 20 tutors and still don’t find the right one, maybe the tutor isn’t the issue?! But that is pretty rare I’d imagine.

Our fraternity (as musicians) is pretty special and is something we should try to preserve for future generations. It provides us with a strong sense of community and gives us a reason to collaborate and share great music, laughter and friendship. I hope that some parents might get a chance to read the blog, and that it might just highlight to them the major life-long benefits for their child being involved in playing an instrument.  The benefits will no doubt have a positive impact on the musicians academic life, career success and relationship happiness.

James

www.come2drum.com

 

 

Some thoughts on preparing tunes

BLOGMany students often ask me what new tunes they will be learning for solo competitions each year.  They are generally quite keen to learn a new set each year, to keep it interesting. To be honest, I often try to discourage them from changing solos sets too much. What is the point in changing for changing’s sake? If the tunes are working well then I would be asking the student to hold onto them as a set and develop them. After all, it does take months, often years, to fully develop the musical style of a tune. If you listen to some of the all-time greats like Andrew Scullion and Jim Kilpatrick you will hear Donald Cameron and Highland Wedding being played for years and decades at a time. The tunes are fantastic, so there is no need to keep changing them up.

I do believe in keeping it interesting though, but that’s where concerts and performances come in handy. You can develop sets to play at other events, outside of your solo competition sets. Learning lots of tunes can be a great way to expose yourself to lots of different pipe band drumming styles. I recall as a young drummer listening to (on repeat!) – Victoria Police Pipe Band, 78TH Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, the RUC Pipe Band, SFU Pipe Band, FMM Pipe Band, Shotts, Jim Kilpatrick, Andrew Scullion and so many more. I would try mimic or copy what I heard (not very accurately of course!) and it has really influenced my style of music today.  Honing in on one style as a learner has its pros, but it also has its cons. The more varied styles you can listen to, and appreciate, the more rounded your ear will be and it will give you a broader platform to start from. Obviously you will work out what your own unique style is in the end, but always keep an open ear. I still listen to bands now to see what I can learn from them. Every band always has some quality that is appealing, no matter what the grade.

Back to getting tunes prepared for solo performance. I dislike when a student picks a new tune 4 weeks before a contest and is adamant that they will learn it “in time”. In recent years I have been a lot firmer with my students and will not encourage them to play a tune in solos that they haven’t had prepared for six months or more. By “prepared” I mean – memorized, polished and up on the instrument. Getting a tune ready for competition is a process – a long one at that. When the pressure of competing goes on, you need to know you can fall back on thorough preparation. Last minute attempts simply will not work on a consistent basis.

If you have a solo set, try keeping it for two full seasons. During that time ensure you record practice sessions, and actual solo events. Spend the time after each recording to write a few notes on your performance. A few simple headings could be : Accuracy, Flow, Dynamic Range, Musicality, Expression and Phrasing (there are lots of others but these are a good starting point). Give the tunes a chance to develop and mature. If you aren’t getting the results you want, or a judge suggests you change tunes, take a breath and give it some time. If every judge suggests you change the tune then listen up and act quickly! Another option would be to send some of those recordings to someone and ask them for a professional opinion.

It is St Patricks Day and so a little Irish Quote is appropriate and applicable to your drumming.  “ Like a pint of Guinness … Good things take time”.

James

LAUNCH – Scottish Drumming Certificate

cert7You can now gain qualifications in Scottish drumming through the official Pipe Band Drumming Certificate course. Starting from the very beginning, you will be guided through the online course with comprehensive work books – including practical and theory. Once you are ready, you will then sit your examination in person or via Skpe. You can go through each level as quickly or as leisurely as you choose, there are no time restraints whatsoever. If you would like more help then one-on-one Skype tuition is available – please just let us know.

If you want to ensure that you are learning correctly and to measure your progress then achieving a graded certificate will give you the depth of knowledge you require. Examiners will award a fail, pass, merit or excellence for each level based on your performance.

Simply purchase the level of certificate you would like to attain. You can purchase Levels 1 -5 individually, or as a package.  Once you purchase the Scottish Drumming Certificate you will receive an email with your download link providing you with instant access to the program.

Have an amazing Christmas and here’s to a great year in 2016.

James

More drum scores added to the Library

My large compilation of drum scores has just gotten a little larger. I have added another 20 compositions to my www.come2drum.com library and will continue to add further scores in the New Year. Come on over and check out the scores.

Newest scores added this month include :

King George V’s Army

Colonel McLeod

The Hills of Argyll

The High Road to Linton

Mrs MacLeod of Raasay

Rocking the Baby

The Caledonian Canal

The Pikemans March

The Crusaders March

Pay the Piper

Mozart on the Rampage

Captain Horne

Molly Connell

The Old Rustic Bridge

The Dunkirk Boatmen

The Campbelltown Kiltie Ball

Hag at the Churn

Corkhill

Maids of the Black Glen

The Famous Ballymote

Electric Chopsticks

 

I hope you enjoy the scores.

James

 

What can pipers and drummers learn from an Astronaut?

NASA and the RSPBA may not have the same goalsIMG_7173, but their members both have a lot in common. I recently read An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield – the famous Canadian astronaut who sang Bowie’s Space Oddity that went viral on youtube. The book was enlightening and inspiring – I really love this type of book – I’ve never been a major sci-fi fan. His story was one of sheer determination and passion, with long-term gain as his major short-term focus.

As a musician I was able to relate a lot of his thoughts and philosophies to the struggles that we face throughout our music career’s.  It’s not as simple as, I’m going to learn to drum and then in one year I will reach my peak and perform on a stage in front of 10,000 people. Picking up an instrument is a life changing decision, that can shape your thinking, your lifestyle and your direction.  Once you pick it up, you are making a commitment to dedicate your life to discovering the instrument’s possibilities and constantly challenging your personal ability. There is a never a final destination for a musician, it’s an ongoing journey of learning and developing.

Who doesn’t enjoy rudiment practice? One hour each day, for a year, on drags. 500 tachums each day for six months. 1 hour of GDE’s for two years. That should be music to our ears (pardon the pun) as musicians – the practice of simple tasks over and over again, so that we develop strong form and correct technique. But most of us would cringe at the thought of practicing menial tasks over and over – particularly those who are new to learning an instrument.  When we need it most (performing or competing under pressure) we will be thankful we have performed these mundane tasks over and over again. During these tasks, day-in day-out, it is so important that our mind is focused on the reason that we are practicing these simple and repetitive patterns. If we don’t have a long-term tangible goal – then why would we be motivated to actually perform these rudiments repetitively?

The journey to becoming an astronaut (particularly for a Canadian as they don’t have their own launch pad) is one which is very difficult and next to impossible.  The selection process is incredibly difficult, the intelligence requirements are extremely high, the physical demand is huge and the emotional drain is never-ending.

From a very young age Chris talks of wanting to become an Astronaut. Everything, from the age of 10, was working towards his final goal. Every sport he took, every book he read, every question he asked his elders – every single moment was dedicated to his goal of one day, becoming an Astronaut. He was not going to get an instant gratification – this goal wouldn’t come to fruition for many years – and he was perfectly comfortable knowing that it may never come true. It was the pursuit of an overriding goal that drove him. That overriding goal shaped his decisions and his life, all for the better. Had he not become an astronaut, he still would have achieved many great feats in his career.

When Chris finally became an Astronaut and flew in space – he realised that the journey was not over. He realised that the journey had just started! He felt that being in space was an ongoing journey of discovery.

For us pipers, drummers and other musicians – we need to be comfortable and happy knowing that we will never truly reach our end goal. We may have lots of personal victories along the way, but once we have achieved those goals, we then need to re-focus and re-calibrate. If every person quit performing once they had won their national or world title – it would be a sad world for musicians.

Set yourself a long-term goal, get down to some tedious rudiment development and enjoy the small successes along the way. Get out there and perform for the public. That’s what music is all about. Performing.

A little gem from Chris Hadfield :

“We can’t always control what happens to us in life when big moments come around. But we can control how prepared we are. It might seem obvious to prepare if you’re planning to pilot a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station, but many of us fail to prepare for normal stuff in life – even if we know there are big moments are coming up.

So whether it’s a big exam, a job interview or sports final, when the high-stakes situations arise planning for success is key. In most scenarios you’ve passed or failed before you even begin, depending on your level of preparation.”

Chris Hadfield’s book is a must-read for sports-people, musicians, leaders, business-people and humans who want to lead a greater life. You can get it at most major book stores worldwide – or head to Amazon.

Why students really quit the bagpipes or drums (and how parents can prevent it)

iPad-Garageband-music-learningIt would be fair to say that most people pick up some form of musical instrument during their time at school. But most end up quitting a few months or years down the line. In the piping and drumming world, we have a slightly smaller catchment so it’s even more vital that we retain as many as possible. A good friend of mine passed me a great article about how to prevent students from quitting – it’s absolutely well worth a read.

Here’s an excerpt –

“Here are reasons students quit, and ways to combat them:

  1. Parents don’t treat music as important as other subjects.  The sad truth is that many non-music teachers and administrators do not find music equally as important as math or English language-arts — but parents must.  Besides, you wouldn’t let your child quit math, would you?  Many kids would jump at that opportunity!  Music is a core subject…period.  The more parents treat it as such, the less students will quit.
  2. Students don’t know how to get better.  Without the proper tools and practice habits to get better at anything, students will become frustrated and want to quit.  It is the role of music educators and parents to give students ownership over their learning.  Teachers must teach students why, how, where, and when to practice, and parents must obtain minimal knowledge about how students learn music in order to properly support them at home.
  3. Parents and students think they aren’t musically talented.  Sure, there are some kids who pick up an instrument and sound decent immediately, but they will hit a wall later and have to work hard to overcome it.  Most everyone else won’t sound that great at first.  Playing a musical instrument is a craft that, if practiced correctly, is something that all children can find success in.  As long as students know how to practice and that it needs to be done regularly, they will get better.  Many parents who speak to me and claim that they aren’t “musically talented” simply had bad teachers and little home support with music practice.
  4. Students discontinue playing over the summer.  Statistics show that students who do not read over the summer find themselves extremely behind once school starts — the same goes for playing an instrument!  A year of musical instruction can quickly go down the tubes over the summer vacation if students do not find small ways to play once in a while.  Picking up an instrument for the first time after a long layoff can be so frustrating that a student will not want to continue into the next school year.”

You can check out the full article here.

Tuning a Pipe Band Drum – the Complete Guide.

STAGE 1

Tuning a pipe band snare drum is straightforward, provided you know the basics and use your ear.

Firstly, make sure you know what type of sound you are searching for. If you don’t know, either stop before you start, or get to a pipe band contest and have a listen to see what you like. Nowadays, tone plays a pretty vital role in the overall performance, and in the end – the result.

Let’s start at ground zero.

When you receive your pipe band snare drum you should dismantle it. Yep, you read it correctly. Dismantle it. Why, you’re asking? Well, you cannot guarantee that the manufacture has correctly lubricated the drum.  Therefore, if you just start to tighten the bolts, it will be metal on metal. Not ideal, and will also result in possible corrosion or jamming.  You really want the drum to last you as long as possible.

1. Lower the height of the snare mechanism. Take the top suspension ring off using a tuning key.  Remove the head. Take a cloth and wipe around the bearing edge (the rim of the wooden shell).  Ensure there are no loose particles inside the shell. Take some lubrication (vaseline will suffice) and place it around the bearing edge where the head will sit.  Also, generously lubricate all of the holes where the bolt will insert.

2. Lubricate in between each washer using an industrial oil.  Again, this will prevent warping and friction. This is a pretty messy part of the set-up – but don’t skip it out!

3. Place the head back on the bearing edge (ensuring you have removed any stickers from the head) and then place the top hoop over it and set the bolts in. Using the tuning key, start slowly tightening the bolts so that they just initially “catch”.  Then you will want to work clockwise from bolt to bolt and gradually bring the head down. i.e. increasing the tension.

4. Introduce the Jim Kilpatrick Tuning block. This little beauty is a saviour. It helps you to ensure that you are evenly bring the head down, and is WAY better than using a vernier caliper. Start at the largest portion of the block, and work your way down. I would say go at least half way or two thirds of the way on the block to start with. This will give you something half reasonable to play on (but still pretty tubby/flat). I have gone further, and tend to do so more often than not.  Once you have got to a point where you are happy, only tighten the top head sing 1/8 turns clockwise.  This doesn’t need to be done at every practice. Try to think of when you want the drum to be “at its best” – and work your way slowly towards that.

There you go, that’s stage 1 completed! Easy.

STAGE 2

We have already talked about dismantling the drum as soon as you buy it and preparing the top head and hoop for playing.  The next thing we need to look at, is the bottom head and mechanism.

1. Remove the bottom snare wire, carefully. Use your key (or tool) to remove the snare, just loosening it off enough to wiggle it free. Then remove your bottom snare head exactly the same way as the top head, by loosening the tension bolts.  Remove the bottom hoop followed by the head.

2. Take a cloth and wipe any residue or dust from the bottom bearing edge.  Remove any other debris in the shell or cavity. Take the vaseline and place a generous amount around the bottom bearing edge of the shell.

3. Lubricate all of the bolt holes with vaseline.  You will be thankful you’ve done this months down the line. Place the head on the bearing edge, and set the bottom hoop on.

4.  Screw the hoop down evenly as per the top head.

5. Introduce the Drum Dial. This is another little gem in the process of drum tuning. Most drummers use it for tuning bass and tenor drums, but there is huge value in using it for your bottom head. It helps you ensure you maintain an even bottom head tension. This will also help ensure you have your whole corps of drums set up as close to each other in tension (and hopefully pitch) as possible.  The drum dial indicates a reading when you set it on the head. You want to ensure you set the dial in the correct position on the head – in line with a tension bolt. Also, you will notice reduced readings where the snare sits – this is due to a groove in the shell (this is the case for most drums). As for a number – well this depends on your desired tension.

6.  Take the head down until the point where the shell is sitting above the hoop. This will give you a great starting point. Also, you will notice the head creaking and making noises as you tighten it. Listen to those noises. Don’t push it too hard, too quick. Take your time if it isn’t liking the tension you’re applying, and consider stopping for a day!

7.  Set the snare back on (the correct way up, and YES, I have made this mistake!!) and tighten it until it sits snug.

There you have it – the bottom head of your pipe band drum is now ready to go.

STAGE 3

Let’s continue on with the pipe band drum tuning series. We are getting down to the nitty gritty of tuning your pipe band snare drum (scottish snare drum, side drum, marching drum or whatever else you wish to call it!).

In the last two posts, we looked at setting your drum up correctly from the point at which it arrives with you from the factory.  The key reason for doing this : you simply don’t know exactly how much lubrication has been applied at the factory.  By taking the time to do this, you will increase the life-span of the drum and burn through less consumables such has heads, bolts and snares.

Now we are going to look at setting the top snare – something that is totally down to personal preference.  No matter how you like the sound of the snare response – you need to apply the same principles or formulae to get the end result.

1. Get your top head tension to a point where you are happy with the pitch.  In the middle of winter, this might be quite dull compared to where you will have it during the summer pipe band season.  Remembering to use your Jim Kilpatrick tuning block (or old school calipers if that tickles your pickle). Once you have got to a point where you are happy, only tighten the top head sing 1/8 turns clockwise when required.  This doesn’t need to be done at every practice. Try to think of when you want the drum to be “at its best” – and work your way slowly towards that.

2. Figure out how to lower and heighten the snare mechanism.  Nowadays, drums come with “dummy proof” signs on them to show you which bolts are for tension versus height.  Lower the height down (of the) the snare mechanism – as you are doing this, confidently tap the drum in the centre of the head. You will hear the snare mechanism pull away from the head to leave you with a dull and snare-less sound.  IMG_5137Slowly, bring the height back up. You will soon hear the snare wires re-engage with the head. This is where you really want to take it slowly. The slightest turn of the height can push the snares so far into the head that you get a “choked” sound – where the snare wires don’t vibrate at all. You want to find a happy medium here – try playing with it. Don’t be afraid to lower and heighten the snare mechanism a number of times until you are comfortable with what you are doing.

3. If you aren’t getting the sound you want, then take a look at altering the tension.  By altering the tension, you are simply stretching the snare wires or loosening them.  By stretching them you will get less vibrations, and therefore less “snare sound”. By loosening them you will get a looser snare sound, or “snarey”  sound as some people refer to.  This again, is about finding the right balance. If you go too loose, you face the possibility of the snare wire falling off whilst you are playing it (and Yes, this has happened to me!). If you go too tight, you risk the chance of a choked and boxy sound.  Set the tension, alter the height, and continue to do so until you are happy.

4.  Where is the best place to get the true sound of the drum? Well, the best place is to stand where the listener stands. This will be different from the solo platform to the band platform. For the solo drummer, you need to focus more so on the top head and what the drum sounds like from the front. For a pipe band performance, you need to focus on the sound from behind. We will take a look at the bottom head in our next instalment. But here’s something to think about – if you hear a slight rattle from off the top head when you are standing over it – walk around behind. The chances are you probably wont hear it.  But if you tighten the snare and the rattle off the top disappears, chances are it may sound choked from behind. Use your ears!

5. Once you are happy with your snare setting, you wont have to adjust it every practice like the bagpipers or mid-section drummers.

6.  Make sure you look after the drum and store it in a sturdy case.  Flimsy cases are going to allow the drum to be battered and bruised – and probably damaged. If you are serious about getting the best case in the World  – you have GOT to check out the HardCase case. They are absolute life savers, and come with wheels and extendable handles. A pipe band drummers dream!

STAGE 4

Well drummers, we have finally come to the end of the Pipe Band drum tuning series. All we have to do now is look at the bottom snare setting and head adjustment.

So many people underestimate the importance of the bottom head and bottom snare wire.  The largest amount of focus is on the top head. From experience, and asking lots of questions (I was one of those annoying kids who constantly prodded for answers), many drummers think that the top head is where all of the brightness and pitch comes from.  Ok, so they aren’t totally wrong, but certainly aren’t totally right either.  I can see why they think the top head is important in terms of pitch as it’s made out of Kevlar.  They can stretch this Kevlar super tight, and get a “higher pitch”.  However, it is SUPER important to understand the the tonal quality and pitch of the drum is a result of both heads, snares and the shell being in tune with each other.  When things aren’t balanced, we get that dreaded “overtone” – or weird melodic tone that rings from the drum when you strike it.

Here’s something for you to try.

Strike the top head and listen to the overall tone and pitch of the drum.

Now loosen the bottom snare wire off until it’s drooping down.

Strike the drum again and listen to the overall tone and pitch of the drum.

Now tighten the snare again, and repeat.

What did you notice?

Well, hopefully, you would have noticed how dull and boxy the drum sounded when the bottom snare was too loose.  This is probably the one thing I check on my drum the most. It is quite easy to knock or bang the bottom snare wire – even just by taking it in and out of it’s case. It’s just such a simple fix, but one that many forget to check!

Ok, let’s get that bottom head and snare sorted once and for all :

1) Take the bottom snare off. Get the DrumDial out and ensure your head is where you want it to be on the dial. If you are setting up a whole corps of drums, line them up (upside down) and pitch them evenly. Use your ears!!! Or if you are tone deaf, get someone in your band who isn’t (a piper could come in handy for once!!).  You should really be tightening the bottom head often, especially during the competition season.  Only turn each bolt 1/8 of a turn clockwise each time. There is no need to do more than this in one sitting.

2) Set the snare back on and ensure it is sitting evenly across the head. You don’t want one end being lop-sided.

3) You are able to adjust the height of the snare mechanism. This is something that many drummers overlook.  Use the height adjustment to ensure the snare is sitting snug on the head. You don’t want it to be sitting too far away from the head. Remember as you tighten the drum head, you will need to adjust this. Make sure you set the drum on a table or on the side so that you can get eye level with the snare. Using your finger, tap the snare near the edge of the drum to ensure it isn’t sitting to far from the head.

3) Gently strike the bottom head and start tightening the snare. You need to use your ears again!! You will hear the overall pitch of the drum increase as you tighten the snare.

4) Keep tightening and listening. There will be a point where that bright pitch turns into an overtone.  This will sound strange and unpleasant. And you don’t want this.  Loosen off the snare and gradually take it back up to tension. You want to reach that point right before you have choked it!

Okley, Dokley. You’re ready! Yup – we have successfully set your drum up to be played.  Well done.

You should adjust your drum as often as you need. Don’t assume it will sit perfectly for a year without being maintained. Also, you should consider changing heads and snare wires once every 12-18 months, as well as re-lubricating all of the areas we covered in the previous posts.  Another thing to consider is your pipe band stick pitch.  If you have old sticks that are low in pitch, this will clearly affect the sound of your drum. Combat this by getting a fresh pair at the start of each contest season – and keep them dry!!

Thank you for your input, and support. I hope these posts are of some help to you.

If you haven’t already, please pop your email into the subscribe button on the top right and continue to get updates from me. Also, please check out my website www.come2dum.com for all of your pipe band drumming requirements and educational resources.

Happy Drumming!

James