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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

 

 

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

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

 

A pipe band adjudicator’s sheet

We have all signed up for a hobby that is subjective, we perform in front of a judge and accept their decision on our placement in a contest. All too often I hear people complain about the result – but at the end of the day the judge’s job is to pick the prize winners and place the other competitors based on their experience whilst listening to your performance. Of course, we all hope that no political or tutoring bias weighs on the judges decision, and this aspect is of course a grey area and something that we are discouraged from dwelling on or discussing.

Let’s delve into the adjudication sheets.  Some sheets provide generic observations and others go into part by part detailed analysis of the performance from a technical standpoint.  What is right and what is wrong?

So, what is the adjudicators key role?  To decide on the positioning of the competitors? I feel that competitors often look to the sheets to see why they have placed where they have placed. “A great sheet, all mostly positive, great tone – 7th place!?!”. Honestly I hear this so many times from competitors and even from some parents! Reading into the sheets to try and justify the position you received is probably not the best approach.

What is the best way to create an adjudication sheet? Should it detail each part with the rights and wrongs from a technical aspect?  To me, this is more of an instructional lesson than an adjudicator’s sheet. When a soloist competes (at any level), they shouldn’t necessarily expect a sheet detailing how a flam should be played, or how to orchestrate a throw on D. Naturally at the lower levels, it can be valuable to offer up some advice to the rookies if they aren’t getting the instruction from a tutor. But generally, it becomes a tedious task for the judge to write notes on every aspect of every part that goes right or wrong. They would spend so much time focusing on parts and keeping track of errors that they would potentially lose the opportunity to enjoy the big picture.  Honing in on the small detail in my mind may be more of a coaching role (at a practice or rehearsal) rather than a judging role? Again, this is just totally my perspective and I’m all ears if anyone else feels otherwise.

Some of the best sheets I have read are the ones that address tone, depth, colour, dynamic presentation, execution, clarity, composition, integration, phrasing and musicality.  The sheet usually overviews the performance relating back to most of the key headings above. Often if something terrible happens (like a major fault or breakdown), the judge may note that a slip occurred. But honestly, I think these type of sheets are the best. They really make you think as a competitor – “what does he/she mean by that? I wonder where exactly in the performance is that happening? “.  To me, this should inspire the performer to approach the judge respectfully after the contest and ask if they can expand on their comments to help develop any personal weaker areas. The judges have so much value to offer, and a ton of experience. It seems a wasted opportunity not to reach out afterwards (it doesn’t need to be straight after the results either, it could be a few weeks later) and seek some feedback. I know some people feel that asking the judge why they placed in a specific position is not “the done thing”. Some people feel that it may appear that you are questioning the judges decision or his/her integrity. But I think there is a way to approach that situation and if you handle it correctly it can be a great learning experience for the competitor.

I see adjudication sheets vary in style and approach from country to country. This can be good and bad. But at the end of the day, I think a measured, consistent approach to adjudication is key for the pipe band fraternity. The RSPBA has an extensive training program for judges and you can see this in their sheet-writing. However, some other countries have their own processes for electing judges and they don’t always seem to have the same depth of training as the Scottish system. I really think this is an area that could help strengthen our competitions worldwide – a centralised adjudication training and appointment system can only be a good thing.

A big thank you to the judges out there who put their pens to paper, listen to all of our performances and make the tough decision to place the competitors as they see fit. It’s a tough job, and often only one person or band is going to be happy at the end of the day.

All I ask is that we all look at our current education programs and appointment processes for adjudication around the World.

James

Want to learn from a structured guide to pipe band drumming? Check out the digital version today!