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

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Tips for Memorising.

MemoryWay too many drummers (and bagpipers) complain about having to perform a tune without the sheet music – they moan about how difficult it is to commit the tune to memory.  But honestly, it’s not difficult at all – it’s all about discipline and repetition.

Whether it’s your first 4/4 march or perhaps your newest medley selection, the method remains the same. It’s not rocket science (like my previous post about what us pipers and drummers can learn from an Astronaut) – it’s just a matter of hard work and perseverance.

In a nutshell here’s what you gotta do :

1) Learn one phrase (that’s two bars of music) and then play it by memory – just turn the page over and test yourself. Join all the phrases together until you have one part – that’s actually only 4 bite-sized chunks and shouldn’t take you very long at all. Turn the page over and play the whole first part – flip the page and check that you got it. Do this 10 times.

2) Put your sticks (or chanter) away and go do something else for 10 minutes – make a coffee, grab a snack, watch Keeping up with the Kardashians (or maybe not!) then return to your instrument and see if you can still remember the part. If you can, great. If not, then repeat step one.

3)Come back first thing the next day and make sure you can still play it by memory. If you can, joy! If you can’t, repeat steps one and two. Do this every morning for 5 days and you will have the tune going no problem at all.

You can top-up your memorising speed by playing through the score in your head (visualisation) – or tapping the tune out with your fingers. I think young students often do this in Mathematics class!

Bottom line is, there’s no shortcut. But it’s worth it in the end. Once you have committed the tune to memory, you can really start having fun with it and moulding it with musicality and feel.

If you have any memorising tips, please share them!

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.

Pipe Band Drumming Workshop

Well, it happened again….only it was even bigger and better than ever.

The Canberra College of Piping and Drumming hosted their annual Workshop for bagpipers and drummers. This special event brought in players from all over Australia, U.K and New Zealand. The Worlds top piping and drumming experts offered their advice, skills and knowledge.

The teaching line-up included Jim Kilpatrick, Tyler Fry, Jori Chisholm, Greg Wilson, Stuart Liddell, James Laughlin, Brenton Earl, Richard Hawke, Grant Cassidy and Ken Maltman.

Pipe Band drumming lessons were offered to students of all levels.  People arrived, wanting to know how to play the Scottish drums, and they left with all the skills and ability to play the pipe band drum!

What topics were covered at the pipe band drumming workshop ?

Drum Rolls

Paradiddle Development

Rhythmic Exercises

Playing drum scores

And way more!

James Laughlin released his new book, Learn Pipe Band Drumming Volume 2, at the Canberra piping and drumming workshop. You can get your hands on a copy here.  If you are just starting to learn pipe band drumming, then James Laughlins Guide to Pipe Band Drumming Volume 1 would be the best option for you!

Don’t forget to check out the C2D Studio – the worlds first and only digital scottish drumming studio.

Pipe Band Drumming Tip

Drumming Tip - Practice Smart - not long! Focus on your weaknesses for 20 mins each day. 
Have a little practice diary and note down what your weak points are and spend time focussing on them. 
Otherwise, practicing can be pointless and lacking direction.
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James Laughlin
www.come2drum.com