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Old Piping Tips

Tip #1

This first tip is concerned with band control. Pipe majors, make sure you know the commands and regulations for the drill style your band uses (i.e. American or British drill and ceremonies); drum majors should already know this. The reason for this is that the drum major might not be able to make it to a function or your band might not have a DM, it is then up to the pipe major to give all of the commands correctly. Remember it is the PM's responsibility for the issuing of commands, not to tell the pipe sergeant what is wanted and have the sergeant give the command (the pipe band is at heart a military entity, and it is bad practice, on the parade grounds at least, for someone under your command to give commands to people under your command). A good source for the modified British style drill and ceremonies is a book by Drum Major Edgar T. Macintyre called On Parade, and it is published by Vantage Press in New York.

Tip #2

This tip is concerned with pipe major no no's. Pipe majors, after you tune up your band, please DO NOT go off to some corner somewhere and fiddle with your reeds (unless something very devistating happens to your pipes). One of the pipe majors in the UMR band would do this. What happens is, of course, everybody is then out of tune with the PM. This wasn't so bad in itself, but he then insisted that everybody retune to him. Also, PMs make sure that your pipes are in the best working order. This same gent, who would fiddle with his pipes, was commanding us at the Lyon College Highland Game's band competition (in Batesville, Arkansas). During the competition set, his drone reeds fell inside his bag, but instead of pretending to play, he dropped down to the ground to fix his pipes. Of course he didn't get them fixed until the last half of the last tune in our set was being played. Needless to say we didn't do very well that year.

Tip #3

This piping tip deals mostly with etiquette. It is important that when you are participating in a function to represent the band and yourself well. Always have a professional air about you when you're performing (whether solo or with a band). Also, drum and pipe majors, if the band messes up a set, don't stop their playing to chew them out while at a performance. Save the harsh criticism for after the gig. The people that are there during the performance are there to listen to the band play, not to you vocalizing your opinion of the band's mistakes. Remember, the band is there to give an enjoyable performance, and it is your job is to make things run smoothly (even though it doesn't happen all of the time, you can give the appearance of a smooth performance).

Tip #4

This tip is concerned with peace of mind. What I mean by this is keeping your head during a performance. Quite often you will run across some distractions (i.e. people taking your picture with a flash brighter than the sun, other people tapping their feet or clapping to a beat that is slightly different than the one you're trying to keep, etc.) or you might have a major cranial meltdown that will threaten the quality of your performance. If you are the only piper playing and you suffer a break in your train of thought (like forgetting where in the tune you are or even completely forgetting the tune) then just embellish your playing until you get back on track. This is the beautiful thing about the bagpipes, it is really easy to improvise music in the same style as the tune you're trying to play. When I played with Scott Keeton for the first time, I finished my whole tune, but he wanted to keep on playing; what I did was to improvise about a minute and a half of pipe music with the same feel and tempo as the tune I started with (I did this because I wasn't sure if my going immediately to a different tune with a different tempo would throw his band; I should have known better, both him and his band are top notch). If you are playing in a band, then you have to worry about a different beast.

When you're playing in a band the important thing is for the band to sound as one pipe (that is, everybody playing the same thing at the same time so that it just sounds like just one really loud pipe is playing). If you encounter difficulties the best thing to do is to cut out the chanter, but keep the drones playing. This does two things: one, it allows you to cut out of playing so that you can hear where the rest of the band is at in the tune, and two, it keeps your drones going so that you don't disrupt the sound of the band as if you were to if you restarted your drones in the middle of play. You DO NOT want to improvise like you would if you were the only piper, that would make the band sound horrible and it could possibly throw off other band members. If worse came to worse, just keep your drones going and fake play the chanter.

Of course this all changes when you're playing in a competition. The only thing to suggest there is practice, practice, practice. You are not allowed any mistakes at this time, so it is very important that you play the music as it was practiced. The judges at these events are very knowledgeable, and you cannot pull the wool over their eyes. Although, if you are in a band, it is better to quit playing the chanter when you start to have difficulties than to flub through the tune (your band will receive higher marks if a member quits playing than if he messes up the rest of the band by not playing the same notes as them). If you are in a solo competition, my advice is, don't make any mistakes.

Tip #5

This tip is concerned with the weakest link. When the band director or the pipe major (whichever it may be) chooses the music to be played for pipe band competition, keep in mind the playing abilities of every member of the band (even the alternates). You want to pick music that you're sure every member of the band will be able to play well by the time of the competition. This is the case of "the chain being only as strong as the weakest link". If you pick music that is too complex for the less experienced member of the band, then when they play (even though they try their best), they cannot keep up with the rest of the band. This will cause the overall sound of the band to degrade. Remember, what judges look for in band competition is that the band starts together, plays together and finishes together. A band that does that with a set of simple tunes will beat a band that doesn't do that with a set of complicated tunes.

New Piping Tips