I Hate Competing Solo... So why do I do it??

I have a confession to make that I've never told anyone: I hate competing solo. There. I said it. When it's just me, a piper and a judge, I get nervous, my memory fails me, my hands turn to stone and my confidence goes bye-bye. I am dogged by feelings of insecurity and self-criticism as a little voice in my head pokes at me with reminders of why I should quit and what I did wrong. The judge's sheets don't help my internal negativity either. Here's a sample of the judge's comments (with my translations) from my most recent competition:


Judge: "play softer on soft bits". My Translation: "I suck at playing quietly"

Judge: "tempo picking up". My Translation: "I can't keep time"

Judge: "Rushing a bit and losing the phrasing". My Translation: "I'm so nervous that I'm not listening to my piper and relaxing with the music. I'm an Idiot"

Judge: "You seem very 'fired up!'". My Translation: "I'm playing too loud because I can't play quietly"

Judge: "Open work a bit shaky". My Translation: "I tried to play more quietly here but failed miserably"

Judge: "Softer bits and more relaxed overall. It's as if you're trying too hard". My Translation: *shakes head. Mutters under breath...


And so on... and so on...




So... why do I continue to compete solo when it causes me so much misery??


The answer is simple...

...I just want to challenge myself and continue to get better.




I'm 45 years old, I run an educational website for pipe band drummers and I'm in charge of the drumming program for both bands in my organization! I should be a better drummer! I should be able to play quieter! In fact, if I'm going to teach anyone I should be in the professional grade right?? Enter self doubt... again... ugh.


Let's take a look at where my self doubt originates...

I have always had this nagging feeling that I've been "behind the 8-ball" musically my entire life. When I arrived at the Rob Roy organization in Ontario at 12 years old, the "good" drummers were my age. I always felt like I was playing "catch up". Then, when I began my music degree (percussion/education) at Acadia, I was behind on the mallet instruments and timpani and worked for five years (never quite making it) to catch up to my class mates. When I got my first job teaching drum kit I had students that were better than me. I would show up early to work most days to make sure I could play things just a little faster/better than them!

From 1991-2011 I took a twenty year break where I continued teaching drum kit, touring and recording as a sideman and singing, writing songs and playing guitar with my own folk band. Needless to say, when I returned to the pipe band drumming scene after this long break my feelings of being firmly "behind the 8-ball" returned with a vengeance.

Logically I know that if I had taken the time during my life that I spent on learning piano, saxophone, percussion, drum kit, guitar, sound recording, live sound reinforcement, song-writing and singing and had concentrated only on pipe band snare, I would be a much better pipe band drummer! However, I chose a different path and, to be honest, I think I would do the same thing again given the choice.

My time spent on other musical pursuits has given me skills that are very useful in my role as a teacher and lead drummer: the ability to compose, the ear for tuning and orchestrating the bass section, the ability to read music, an understanding of ensemble playing, a good sense of time and groove and the ability to build a strong team. So it's not all bad.

But those feelings of inadequacy are still there...




I got to thinking about how I can flip my insecurity and negativity into positives and came up with a few ideas. I need to APPRECIATE the positives of competing solo. When I actually sat down to think about it I realized there were many positives, some I'd never even thought about!


  • It is a HUGE Personal Challenge: Graduating university was a huge challenge for me. So was touring with a band in a mini-van throughout North America. PipeBandDrummer.com has been the biggest project I've ever attempted. I've enjoyed these challenges, especially when I've finished them! Playing solo should be no different. When I do have a nice, relaxed play (hopefully sometime soon) that will be a huge victory for me!


  • I Love The Camaraderie: The drummers against whom I'm competing are a bunch of really nice guys-- very humble, encouraging and completely self-depracating. They are also very good drummers and the competition is fierce. We have fun.


  • It Forces Me to Get Better: In the week following my last competition I've spent at least half an hour every day playing through my MSR and HP/J as quietly as I can. I've even noticed some positive results which is always a plus.


  • I Can Set a Positive Example: I truly believe that competing solo is the best way to improve your individual playing. If people know I'm freaking out when I compete but I do it anyway, hopefully that can inspire others that may be experiencing the same anxieties.


In closing I encourage everyone to get out there and compete solo. If you get nervous, experience memory lapses, feel sick to your stomach or find every muscle in your body is hyper tense, please know that you're not alone. If you're older, you need to know that it's never too late to start, or to pick up from where you left off as a kid. Let's all get out there and play in front of a judge, get our humbling score sheets and go back to the woodshed with a mission to improve. We're all in this together. We can do this!!