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!