Strathspeys – a bagpiper’s point of view

Following on from the last blog post on Strathspey playing I have managed to get some great information from Richard Hawke, Pipe Major of Canterbury Caledonian Pipe Band and Gold Medallist.  He kindly passed on this information after discovering it some time ago – it was written by Lorne Cousin (Madonna’s Piper!) and Richard has re-worded it slightly to suit his style.

  • This article is written from the solo player’s perspective and is intended to assist the piper to bring out the musical and enhance his or her technique when performing this most classic idiom of bagpipe music. Generally speaking, the points will be relevant to pipe band playing although it should be noted that bands play Marches, Strathspeys and Reels at a faster tempo. This is not a criticism, merely an observation.

    Ceolas Tune index describes the Strathspey as “A tune, generally in 4/4 with considerable melodic content and highly irregular timing. It is considered characteristic of the Strathspey that a cut note often precedes a dotted one.” “Additional interest can be added by accenting particular notes, either by lengthening them (particularly when playing the pipes) or by playing them more loudly. The dotted notes in a strathspey, particularly those falling on the first and third beats of a measure are lengthened more than the single dot would suggest. Such dotted notes should be considered as double dotted.”

    In other words the Strathspey is unique to the Highland Bagpipe in the world of music in its rhythm and expression. It is in Common or 4/4 time. There are 4 quarter notes (or crotchets) to the bar and four beats to the bar. The dotted noted should be held and the cut notes cut quite markedly giving a bright, bouncy rhythm.

    The tempo amongst competitors varies from 114 to 120 BPM.

    To reiterate, the Strathspey is a dance tune and should be played as such. It is generally accepted that the accent should be “Strong, weak, medium, weak.” This however is very hard to produce in reality and the best course is perhaps to put the strongest emphasis on the first beat of each bar.

    The bouncing ball analogy is often used to highlight the lift or bounce that good strathspey rhythm should produce. A good method of improving your strathspey playing is to play for Highland dancers particularly experienced ones. A regular even beat is essential, and any expression should never compromise this.

    Special attention should be given to doublings in a strathspey particularly those preceding low A. Do not cut or snatch at these doublings too much and practice them by lifting the fingers higher for both G and D gracenotes in the doubling.”

    Some food for thought!!

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 products

Update – Laughlins pipes N DrumZ has new stock just in :

Lots of KP2 drum sticks Red, Blue, White, Black and original.

Tyfry tenor mallets – special offers and all colours ready to ship.

Remo Drum heads – Powermax Bass and Tenor heads, Cybermax Snare drum heads and Ambassador heads.

Andante percussion – 100s of drum sticks in stock – Reid Maxwell, pb1 and Pb2 models. Core Tec drum heads.

Tuning – Saul Bass and Tenor Tuners, Tuning keys for Andante, Pearl and Premier, Drum Dials and Jim Kilpatrick tuning blocks

Carriers – Jim Kilpatrick bass and snare carriers in stock, KP Drum Stands for pipe band drums, TG Andante Carriers, Hosbilt tenor slings and TyFry tenor slings.

You can get all of your pipe band drumming products at Come2Drum

Suppliers for Pearl, Premier, Andante and hosbilt drums.

“Your Scottish Drumming Supplier”

Pipe Bands Unite

Pipe Bands – competitive in nature.  Pipe Bands – caring in nature.

The recent string of of earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand has left the city shaken and frail.  The city is home to a large and vibrant pipe band community.  I am fortunate enough to be a part of the Canterbury Caledonian Society Pipe Band.

Having spent almost 6 years in New Zealand, I have noticed a very competitive rivalry between the bands, a healthy and positive environment.  However, it is evident that the bands are all very inter-connected and their love of the music unites them.

I was touched when a friend from Wellington contacted me to say that NZ’s bands were putting on a concert to help with the Earthquake relief, and then another phone call from Dunedin in the south with the same intention.

Emails have been coming in from Mexico, Canada, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe,  Australia and the United States.  Our community is truly a special thing, and very tight-knit.  People have been reaching out offering money to replace instruments, offering their homes to get away from it all and sending their love and best wishes.

It  is times like this that really make us appreciate how special the pipe band fraternity is.  It is not just a hobby for us all, but a passion and lifestyle.

Long may this international community remain strong.

James Laughlin

Pipe Band Drumming lessons are available on Skype, you can also download the ” Learn Pipe Band Drumming” Book.


COME2DRUM.COM – The internet’s source for all things related to Scottish drumming.


Palmerston North Sq Day Pipe Band Contest, 2010

As always, Palmy North put on a fine day of rain and gale force winds – perfect weather for bagpipes and drums!

PM Martin Frewen, winner of the Grade 1 contest

The Auckland and District Pipe Band won the contest overall, with two competitive performances. The other Grade 1 bands also competed fiercely for the other three spots.  Canterbury Caledonian Pipe Band won the ensemble award and also took the drumming title.

In Grade 2, Manawatu No.2 got straight firsts from all  judges with Hamilton Caledonian Pipe Band finishing second.  This is set to be a great contest at the Nationals in Timaru, with the addition of a few other Grade 2 bands including Invercargill Pipe Band and St Andrews College Pipe Band.

Grade 3 Champions -Horowhenua Pipe Band

Grade 4 Champions – Scots College Pipe Band

Thanks to Jenny Mair and her team for hosting yet another fantastic Square Day contest. Well done to all of the bands involved!

Brought to you by your pipe band drumming supplier and educator.

Pipe Band Drum Scores from the RUC – for instant download

For all of you pipe band drumming enthusiasts out there, you can now download the Pipe Band Drumming Compositions Book by the RUC Drum Corps.  Featured composers include the late Bobby Rea, Gary Corkin, Robert Holland and other drummers from the RUC drum corps.

The RUC Drum corps became World Champions in 2000 at the World Pipe Band Championships – they are renowned as one of the Worlds finest drum corps’.

Some personal highlights from the book – Bobby Rea’s Lord Alexander Kennedy, his score for the Cameronian Rant and Robert Holland’s Cathy’s Willie Reel that featured in the Worlds Medley of 2000.

These scores are ideal for the intermediate and advanced Scottish drummer, many of todays top professional pipe band drummers are playing these scores.

You can now download the book instantly from or you can even just download one chapter at a time.

I hope you all enjoy these top pipe band drum scores.

Brought to you by – Your pipe band educator and Scottish drumming supplier.

Learn More About Scottish Drums

Many people often ask “what is the difference between the snare drum, the big drum and the other drum!?”.  Well, each of the drums within the pipe band has a unique role and function.

The Scottish Side Drum ( also known as the scottish snare drum, the high tension side drum or the pipe band snare) is the high-pitched drum with a very high-tension system.  The top head is made of Kevlar (Remo Cyber max and the Andante Core Tec are the two main brands) and the bottom head is made of mylar(Remo Ambassador is the main brand).  The key drum manufacturers are Andante Percussion, Pearl and Premier. They all make a great drum but they all offer different benefits. 

The Scottish Tenor Drum is a much lower and richer sounding drum than the side drum. It is also played with different mallets (the TyFry Tenor Mallet is the most commonly played mallet universally) that produce a much softer and more subtle sound.  Tenor drummers also create a very cool visual effect by flourishing or “twirling” the sticks. Check out this video to see for yourself.  Both the top and bottom head are made from mylar (Remo PowerMax and Aquarian Hosbilt are the main brands).

The Scottish Bass Drum – this is a much larger (usually 28″ by 16″) drum and produces a very rich and deep sound in comparison to the other drums.  Again, this drum is played with a mallet – much softer than the side drum sticks.  The Bass drum is considered the “heart-beat” of the band. Both heads are also made of mylar and are often decorated with logos.  Hosbilt, Andante, Pearl and Premier all manufacture quality bass drums.

To find out more about pipe band drumming please contact or visit 

There are also some learning options for those of you who would like to learn Scottish Drumming.  You can download the “Guide to Pipe Band Snare Drumming” instantly from

So what is available to those who want to learn more about Scottish drumming?

Learn Pipe Band Drumming Book and MP3′s – Available as an INSTANT DOWNLOAD or a hard copy book. The perfect start for any snare drummer. Whether you are an absolute beginner, an intermediate player trying to improve the basics, or a drummer with a different background dabbling in scottish drumming for the first time, this 65 page e-book and 43 track MP3 accompaniment outlines snare drumming from the very basics of learning how to hold the stick, understanding basic theory, developing basic rhythms, mastering the essential rudiments and learning your first drum settings.

Scottish Drum Scores to Download –

The collection of pipe band drum scores are all composed by James Laughlin.  James focusses strongly on the ensemble aspect of composition, all drum scores match and enhance the bagpipe melody to offer the listener a balance of excitement and swing. Click on your favourite pipe band drum score and have it instantly in your inbox with a clearly written drum score, and a high quality recording!

Free Pipe Band Drum Socres –  Enjoy 100 + Free Scottish drum scores at

Online Pipe Band Drumming Lessons – Scottish drumming lessons available to anyone in the World who wants to enjoy quality tuition from a World Champion drummer.   The drumming lessons are performed over Skype with web cam and mic – the results have been amazing!

You can also check out the following Youtube, Twitter and Facebook pages to keep you informed with information about Scottish drumming and the Pipe Band scene :

C2D Scottish Drumming Facebook Page

C2D Scottish Drumming Youtube Channel

C2D Scottish Drumming Twitter Page

Brought to you by

– Your Pipe Band Drumming Supplier and Educator