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Roll Call: Using Rhythm Syllables (March)

To add to last week's post, it is possible to use rhythm syllables (as found in The Bare Bones Reading System) to help you figure out the timing of your buzz strokes. In an effort to streamline the post I have elected to exclude the syllables for the reel as they are identical to those syllables used in the march. The rolls (as written in a score) are on the first line of each example and the rhythmic breakdown of each roll is on the second line. This week I'll go through each roll and its accompanying…

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Roll Call: Identifying Rolls in Your Written Music (Part II: The March Cont'd)

Last week we learned how to identify every type of roll used in a march or reel. Now that we know what the different rolls look like it's time to move on to how they are played. Before we begin, there are a couple of things you should know...


  • With NO exceptions, rolls in a march or reel are always played within a triplet or sextuplet grouping (dividing the beat equally into three or six parts).
  • To interpret the following examples correctly you must be aware of a couple of notation issues.
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Roll Call: Identifying Rolls in Your Written Music (Part I: The March)

In an earlier blog post (Know Your Roll), I attempted to help drummers identify a five stroke roll across the five styles of music we play. After some reflection, I realized a change in approach was needed. Instead of teaching drummers to identify one particular roll in all styles I figured it would be much more efficient to target one particular musical style and show how all rolls within that style appear. This week, we will be starting with the March style.

Rolls in a 2/4 march appear the same way as…

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Shedding the "Napster Mentality": The Benefits of Paying for Your Drum Scores

Two decades ago, a peer to peer file sharing program called Napster changed the music business. With the advent of Napster the music you used to have to pay for was, all of a sudden, free for the taking. All you needed was a computer and access to the internet. I admit, even as a musician, I used Napster. Even though I downloaded many songs for my own enjoyment, I also used Napster to download songs for my drum kit  students--especially those I would never buy for myself. This was invaluable for me as a…

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Drill the Skill: The Trizzlet

In the early nineties I was playing with the Rob Roy Pipe Band in Kingston, Ontario. Every year, The Rob Roy band would participate in a city wide cultural festival known as "Folklore". Rob Roy hosted the Scottish pavilion at a local high school where the band would perform throughout the day and into the evening playing at least 5 separate half hour shows with the Rob Roy dancers. Haggis dinners were prepared in the cafeteria and Younger's "Tartan Special" was on tap, imported for the occasion (a beer I…

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Drill the Skill: The Ratamacue

Hmmm... it doesn't look very intimidating... but there is sits, the DREADED RATAMACUE: one of the most maligned and complaint inducing rudiments we play. It is a simple rudiment to understand yet one of the toughest to execute consistently. Starting a ratamacue on the left hand (commonly found in music at the grade 3 level) is one thing but playing it on the right hand is another thing altogether. Ratamacues are also tough because they are played differently in each style. Practising ratamacues hand to hand…

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Drill the Skill: The Open Six Stroke Roll

For a snare section, the ability to play in perfect unison with each other is the toughest goal to achieve. Pipe band snare drums are notoriously unforgiving due to their extreme volume level making every tiny mistake or rough patch audible to even the most casual listener, let alone a judge. The words "rough bits" have appeared on thousands of score sheets over the years. Rough playing is the easiest thing for a judge to hear but it is by FAR the hardest thing for a drum corps to achieve. In fact, it can…

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Looking Ahead: Making a Plan for Your Upcoming Season (Part II)

Even with all the ups and downs that come with this gig still I enjoy the many challenges of being a lead drummer. As a musician, the playing, rehearsing and music writing are the parts of the job I look forward to the most. The most challenging part, and the one that does NOT come naturally to me, is the administration and organization of the drumming program as a whole. On my bumpy journey to becoming a more effective administrator I have created materials over the years to help me get and stay

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Looking Ahead: Making a Plan for Your Upcoming Season

Trying to balance my work, pipe band, gig schedule, website maintenance and personal life can be challenging at times. September is the busiest time of year as I start a new term teaching drum kit, begin the process of writing scores for the three bands in our organization, attempt to prioritize and organize my teaching materials for new pipe band drumming students and figure out which drummers will move up the ranks. For the latter I have created a tool that has helped me immeasurably:  The Rudiments…

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The Results That Matter: Evaluating Your Contest Season

A competitive pipe band is a very strange thing. You work hard with your band all year improving the fundamentals, learning music, improving reading skills, battling attendance and other personnel issues until the summer comes and your season begins. Then you take all your vacation time to stand in a field and play your best, often under adverse conditions, and judges scribble furiously picking apart your performance. After your play you have a short conference that, depending on what transpired on the…

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Know Your Roll: Recognizing Five Stroke Rolls in Your Written Music

"What kind of roll is this??" Every pipe band drummer has uttered these words at least once during their education. Anyone who has ever taught pipe band drumming hears this question multiple times every lesson. The reason it is so hard for drummers to identify rolls in their scores is because the rolls look different in each style we play. For anyone who has not visited the theory section of, our five styles are: 2/4 March (this includes 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4 marches plus 2/4 hornpipes and…

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Cutting Drummers is a Bad Idea

Cutting drummers on competition days is one of the most controversial subjects in the pipe band drumming world--everyone has an opinion. In the world of competitive pipe bands, many lead drummers cut members of their drum corps on the day of competition, sometimes even at the line. In my opinion, for a developing program, this is a very bad idea. Putting a winning product on the field using only your best players is NOT the most important aspect of pipe band competition. For me, the most important aspect of…

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Respecting the Fundamentals (Part III): The Power of the Paradiddle

One of the first rudiments I ever learned was the paradiddle. The paradiddle is very simple: RLRR LRLL. It can be taught to young students in a matter of seconds but, with all its combinations and permutations, can take a lifetime to master. Every pipe band drummer knows what a paradiddle is and how to play it. It is truly one of the most important and useful rudiments. The paradiddle has many uses and most pipe band drumming students have seen the following six paradiddle based rudiments during theirRead more
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Respecting the Fundamentals (Part II): Tracking Your Progress

As discussed last week, the rudiments are an integral part of a drummer's practice routine. However, practising in a disorganized fashion without the knowledge that you're improving can be frustrating--why practice when you're not sure if you're getting better? Tracking your progress with the rudiments using practice charts can help keep you focused and on task. Over the course of my career I've seen many practice charts designed for many different things. I have designed two practice charts specifically…Read more
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Respecting the Fundamentals (Part I): Rudiments Q & A

Since I began playing drums my teachers have impressed upon me the importance of practising rudiments. I learned the basic pipe band drumming rudiments early on: singles, doubles, paradiddles, rolls, flams and drags. Later, as a percussion major in university I was introduced to the 40 P.A.S. (Percussive Arts Society) Rudiments and was tasked with learning them all. It was quite helpful to have a definitive list to which I could refer. This list made it easy to practice as I could check off the rudiments IRead more
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Getting Your Drum Corps on the Same Page... Literally!

In my early years writing drum scores I used loose leaf paper, a pencil and (most importantly) a good eraser. There were virtually no music notation programs available and those that did exist could not handle pipe band drumming notation. Scores were distributed by making photocopies (as long as you knew someone that had access to a copier) and changes to scores required whiteout and a pen. Thankfully things have changed over the last few decades and music notation software is readily available. The power…Read more
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Tools of the Trade: Practice Apps and How to Use Them

In my younger days, my practice tools included sticks, a drum pad, pencil, paper, a metronome and a cassette recorder. These days, I still have my sticks and pad but the only other practice tool I need is my phone. For under $30.00 I now own a metronome with infinite features, looping software that can change pitch and speed of recordings and several digital recorders with the ability to convert to any file format, save to Dropbox and send files by text message or email. My generation has lived through the…Read more
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Six Steps to Building a Sustainable Drum Corps

In an age of instant gratification, myriad distractions and short attention spans it can be very tough to run a pipe band organization.  With so many different hobbies, sports and other activities to choose from these days it can be difficult to recruit and retain potential drum corps members. In my own experience I have found that the following six concepts have helped me tremendously as I've worked to build a sustainable drumming program.

Grow Your Own Players:

As any successful sports team knows "growing"…Read more

The "2346": A Warm Up You Can Count On

The importance of warming up before a rehearsal or performance cannot be overstated. If a drum corps is not warmed up properly it can mean the difference between success and failure on the field. So, which warm ups should you use? All lead drummers have a few good warm ups in their repertoire and the most effective exercises share some common characteristics.

A good warm up should always:
  • be easy to understand
  • provide a challenge to "engage the brain"
  • address a fundamental aspect of playing
  • place…
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Underrated and Underappreciated Part IV: The Mids and The Pipes Continued

Welcome to Part IV in our series discussing note choices for the mid-section.  Last week we covered the "keys" of A Major and A Minor and this week we'll learn about the other two common bagpipe "keys": D Major and B Minor.

The "key" of D Major is quite common and easily identifiable due to the fact that tunes "in D" usually start and finish on "D". The well known march "Teribus" is written in D Major.  Note the fact that it begins and ends on "D" (the first "A" is a pickup note and not the official…Read more