Myths about Pipe Band Drum Sticks

So, we all know there are way too many drums sticks on the market. Many, many options in all different shapes, sizes and colours. But if you take the time to go through them all (which can take a heck of a lot of time and money!), then you will discover there’s literally one or two options on the market that deliver incredibly consistent pairs time and time again.

All too often I hear discussions about picking drum sticks. The key things people throw around when offering advice on picking drum sticks : 1) Roll them on a flat surface to ensure they roll smoothly 2) weigh each stick so they match each other to the exact gram 3) pitch each stick evenly.

To put it bluntly – if you wanted to do all of the above things then I would suggest you might need 200 sticks to find 5/6 pairs to tick all of those boxes. It’s really unrealistic and not required. If both of our hands performed perfectly (i mean like a robot!) then we might start getting down to variables like exact weightings – but none of us are robots. Personally, I threw my drum stick scales out the window about 7 years ago. Feel is much more important to me, if the sticks feel balanced – joy! Don’t go wasting time trying to weigh them.

Rolling the sticks on a table …well if you find new pairs that don’t roll evenly then you are playing a stick that hasn’t been manufactured with quality controls in place.  I no longer roll sticks on a table – as I’ve been happy with the stick brand I’ve played for a long time now.

Pitching – this is pretty important. Try to look for sticks that are evenly pitched and on the higher end.  Who is the #1 stick manufacturer on the planet? Vic Firth. This may only be my opinion but I’ve tested (thoroughly) every other pair of sticks on the market and not one is as consistent and well balanced as the Jim Kilpatrick KP2 by Vic Firth. I’ve played these sticks for years in the Canterbury Caledonian Pipe Band and as a soloist and they have never let me down. Great pitch, fantastic balance and they are forever consistent. I have had similar conversations with other top pipe band drummers and rock/jazz drummers – time and time again, Vic Firth comes out on top.

I see other sticks coming onto the market  with the “latest technology” or non-lacquered surfaces to “stop the sticks slipping”. In my opinion, it’s all commercial rubbish. Stick with the tried and tested products and you will not go far wrong.

Everyone has different likes and dislikes, but one thing that will always outlast others is quality.

Whatever stick you play, be sure you have tried and tested all the sticks on the market and make the best decision based on quality, balance, feel and pitch.  It’s a pretty important part of what we do as drummers, so invest wisely.

Happy Drumming!

James

 

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

Is competition healthy within a pipe band?

I look at some of the most successful teams around the world, whether it be rugby, soccer, AFL or NBA and they all have many things in common. But the one thing to me that really sticks out, is that they are all competitive within their own group. This breeds a mindset of mental toughness, drive and excellence at each and every game or practice.

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Let’s take the All Black’s (just because it’s Rugby World Cup time) for example – their individual talent level is extremely high. Each individual brings something special to the table, and they are determined to continually demand more from themselves and from their teammates. Self-ego is often viewed as a negative attribute, but to continually strive for that “X factor” or “next level”, players must posses some form of egoic mentality.  Each player doesn’t want to be outdone by the next, so they are driven to really push themselves to their limits, every time they step up to the plate.

There is no reason why the same approach couldn’t work for pipe bands. Creating a culture of healthy competition within the group cannot be a bad thing. So long as it is managed effectively it can really enhance the overall level that the team operates at. Seeing team players compete against each other in solo contest’s is a fascinating scenario, and at a subconscious level can really motivate the individuals to dig deep to get that advantage on the board. Some of the best pipe band drum corps’ of all time have all showcased a large number of the best solo players – I don’t think this is a coincidence.  The individual effort of each player can only enhance the collective product of the group.

There may not be a solo circuit happening everywhere globally that allows all bands to have their members competing regularly, however would it not be wise to consider an “in-house” solo? A way to have your players ranked by an external adjudicator?  I do feel nowadays there has been a push in some camps to make sure everyone feels good about their place and that everyone gets a prize in competitions. But at the end of the day, the only way to encourage world-class athletes or musicians to strive for new world records or Olympic bests, is to ensure that the best players and the greatest talents get the rewards. In life, there has to be winners and losers. That’s just reality. Those not getting prizes will be driven to work even harder to reach those new levels of performance. It’s a way that might help guarantee our art form will continue to develop for generations to come, just as it has done over the past century.

Do you know that moment when you witness a human being doing something freakishly amazing with their talent and you think, how on earth is that even possible? Or, Wow, I just witnessed something that this World might never see again? I recall such moments – watching George Best dazzle his fellow soccer players, being mesmerised by Jim Kilpatrick drumming up a storm on stage, watching Serena Williams dominate centre court with such ferocity … there are only a handful of things that come to mind that are truly freakish. Truly special. Once in a lifetime type things. These are the moments that make the hairs stand on the back of your neck. The moments that remind you how fortunate you are to be able to see these things with your own two eyes.  These moments are why it is important that we continue to reward the winners, the workers, the grafters and the lifers.  When a player see’s that they get the peer recognition for their sacrifices and passion, it continues to set the bar higher. And we all get to relish in the amazing potential that human beings are capable of.

Intra-corps competition in my mind – can only be a good thing for our little World.

James

www.come2drum.com

Tuning a Pipe Band Snare Drum Part 3

normal_gretalakesLet’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.

Using a tuning key, apply tension to the head by tightening the bolt on the suspension ring.

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!

I’m looking forward to our next instalment – setting the bottom snare and head.

Happy Drumming for now!

James Laughlin

www.come2drum.com

NEWS : New Zealand Pipe Band Championships

It’s only a matter of weeks until the New Zealand Pipe Band Championships 2014 in Tauranga.  I am very excited to be attending and Im really looking forward to hearing all of the bands competing. 

You will be glad to know that I have all of the drumming essentials here in stock to ensure that you get the very best sound.  Snare Heads (for Pearl, Premier and Andante), Tenor and Bass Heads (for Pearl, Premier and Andante), Snare Wires (for Pearl, Premier and Andante), all sorts of snare drum sticks, a full selection of TyFry Tenor Mallets, tuning equipment and much more.

Also I have some GREAT prices on all of these products.  Many of our heads, sticks and accessories are the most competitively priced in the country.  Please flick me an email (james@come2drum.com) if you would like any help or to chat about bulk pricing.  Or you can pick up the phone if you want to have a chat about tuning!

Also, the brand new Jim Kilpatrick Snare Drum Carrier has just arrived in the Southern Hemisphere – we are delighted to be stocking it. It’s simply the best!

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All the very best to everyone

Regards

James

www.come2drum.com

Bagpiping and Scottish Drumming Legends Share Some Advice

As it’s getting close to the weekend, I thought you might appreciate a bit of pipe band inspiration.  Yes, you got it, I’m going to share a few snippets from the Our Journey hardback book – the limited edition book featuring over 40 of the Worlds greatest bagpipers, pipe band snare drummers, pipe band tenor drummers,  pipe band bass drummers and pipe band drum majors. They share some of the most amazing stories and experience’s – check out a few of the snippets below!

“Celebrate the little successes along the way. To me, it is not unlike climbing a ladder – sometimes it is just one rung at a time. I am big on selecting little goals in addition to big goals. I remember a specific one, when I was about 12 or 13. I had heard some top local players competing with three great tunes – Hen’s March, John Morrison of Assynt House and The Sheepwife. So, I went home and dug out the music from my books. It became obvious very quickly that I just couldn’t play them. The quick gracenote sections, in each of the three tunes, were too tough for me and I just made a botch of it. So, I photocopied the three tunes and put them on my wall with pins. Nearly every day I would take a crack at them, but I just couldn’t do it. Well, about a year later, I found the three sheets under my bed, between some school books. So, I took out the chanter and, guess what … I could play them! I remember that being a real moment of mini-celebration for me.”  – Jack Lee, Pipe Sergeant of Simon Fraser University Pipe Band.

“I think the reward has to be in the journey, and the goals have to be internal, because you only have so much control over the external goals, like prizes. That is perhaps hypocritical for me to say that, because that’s not how I lived my younger piping life. I’ve learned this in retrospect. I was too focused on the goals, and as a result didn’t enjoy the journey quite so much. I had some personal strife as a result, and felt it necessary to give up chasing many of the goals. In some ways I was lucky to survive, but once I overcome those trials, my love for the instrument and its history grew, and it’s still growing. Today, I do what I love, and new goals and accomplishments arise from these activities in ways I never would have imagined 30 years ago. Aside from that, I would reiterate a lesson I’ve tried to impart many times before: the most successful pipers I’ve known, are the ones who have worked the hardest. I can’t tell you how many of the most talented kids I knew in their mid-teens, went by the wayside before they were 21. Many kids I thought would win Gold Medals, are long gone from the scene now.”  – Jim McGillivray, Gold Medallist Bagpiper, Owner of www.pipetunes.ca

“For people who experience self doubt, I have a few words of advice. ‘If you think you can’t, then you probably won’t.’ Where I learned this sense of self belief, was during my time as a corps drummer in the Pipes and Drums of the RUC. The band had a great positive attitude where they believed they could be successful, both at home and at the majors in Scotland, before anyone else did. That is a mindset I have carried to this day and try to instil in my corps.” – Leading Drummer of the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, Keith Orr – Current World Champion Leading Drummer.

 

If you would like to secure a copy of this special limited edition book please be sure to order in plenty of time before Christmas. WWW.PIPEBANDJOURNEY.COM

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Pipe Band Drumming – do we ever stop learning …

Pipe band drumming workshops and scottish drumming clinics are always a great source of inspiration for the attendees AND the instructors.  I have been fortunate enough to have been on both sides of the table.  I recall as a young pipe band drummer going along to scottish drumming schools or clinics.  It was the most amazing opportunity for me to pick the brains of the tutors and learn what I could to improve my playing.

As a young pipe band snare drummer, I didn’t have the most refined technique – in fact it was pretty average (actually it wasn’t pretty at all!!) and instead, I focussed on the pipe band drum scores.  At those initial workshops, I would simply want to collect as many scores as possible and play through Hornpipes, Jigs and Reels.  Little did I realise, that to get better at the “fun” stuff, I had to improve my technique.

What is technique? Well, it’s simple really.  It’s how you hold your scottish snare drum sticks, the position of them and the balance.  And it’s also how you propel and catch each and every stroke.  It sounds like something you can cover in a 30 minute session drumming lesson but in fact it’s something that pipe band drummers must continually work at.

I recall sitting down with pipe band drumming legend, Jim Kilpatrick, three years ago.  It was the very first time I had sat one-on-one with him and it was enlightening.  Within minutes I was fully aware that I was gripping the sticks too tightly, working too hard and generally being too tense.  Jim, in his relaxed and professional teaching approach, showed me some fantastic scottish drumming technique exercises.  He made it all look so simple.  I found it very difficult!  I have shared this story before, and many people have responded – “But you have won the world pipe band championships several times before, why change what you are doing?!”.  Well, simply – I want to learn and I want to improve.

All musicians (including bagpipers and scottish drummers) should be on a mission to constantly improve.  Once you lose your appetite to learn – you may as well give up.  This past weekend in New Zealand, Jim Kilpatrick taught at the World Masters Workshop for bagpipers and pipe band drummers.  I had the fortune to sit in on one of his technique classes.  I felt my technique was more relaxed and fluid than our session a few years ago. However, I also realised how far I have to go and Jim was able to challenge me on other areas – including mental strength whilst playing.  He also admitted to the class that he is on a relentless journey to learn and improve his technique and understanding of pipe band drumming.

My greatest joy in pipe band drumming is not competing.  It is teaching. Teaching pipe band drumming to enthusiastic students is the most rewarding part of my career.  For all you pipe band drummers out there who teach, I hope you are still passionate about learning – that way, you will be sure to pass on a solid and rounded approach to your pipe band drumming students.

The journey of learning pipe band drumming continues for me … almost 20 years on!

Do you want to learn pipe band drumming? Check out the Guide to Pipe Band Drumming Books.