Welcome to the Club: Easier Massed Band Scores Released at the Perfect Time

Change, when made purposefully and for the good of everyone, is always a good idea. But, sometimes, change can take a while.

In the pipe band world, things can take a long time to change! One of the most common things I hear from members of the pipe band community (both pipers and drummers) is that ridiculous nausea-inducing phrase "we've always done it that way". Truly, the rate of evolution for all things pipe band-related could best be described as "glacial".

To be in a pipe band is to be in a "club" of sorts. For aspiring pipe band drummers the price of admission into this "club" is a large time commitment (usually at least two years) which is spent learning how to read, attempting to master rudiments and honing technique, all geared toward learning [in a loud "God-like" voice] THE MASSED BAND DRUM SCORES!!!

The North American massed band snare drum scores are difficult. They contain elements of drumming that challenge players into their fourth and fifth year on the instrument--sometimes even longer. There are left drags, runs of singles that switch between sixteenth note triplets and thirty-second notes as well as accented roll passages. In short, they are complex and require a long list of skills that takes several years to acquire.

For tenor and bass drummers, there is nothing. No music, no guidance. Nothing. Only the faint whispers of a disinterested lead drummer...

"Do whatever you like... " [bass section shrugs shoulders]

"I don't care what you play... " [bass section rolls eyes]

This is why I am so happy that the PPBSO (Pipers and Pipe Band Society of Ontario) has released a new set of scores for massed bands. These scores are much easier than those currently in use and the timing of their release couldn't be better.

Take for example the new massed band 3/4 score. In the first part there are only four rudiments used: a right-handed flam, seven-stroke roll, thirteen stroke roll and an accented paradiddle. Tenor drummers and bass drummers are assigned quarter notes where basic flourishes can be inserted easily.

If massed band scores are easier, more students can learn them quickly! When students learn scores more quickly they gain admission into the pipe band "club" sooner, thereby growing the ranks of drummers. And, from what I've seen in the past, if a drummer is outfitted with a uniform and drum and gets to experience a massed bands at a highland games, there is a very good chance they "catch the drumming bug" and stick around.

If there is a faster way to get drummers into our drum corps then we should do it! The last two years of the pandemic have been hard on every pipe band. Attendance is down. Gigs have dried up. Morale is at an all-time low. We need every strategy in our arsenal to help restock our bands with new drummers.

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Unfortunately I have encountered some negativity regarding the new massed band scores. I have heard things like "these aren't challenging enough" or "they're too repetitive" to which I say "these scores are not for you!" Any negative responses I've heard are from those drummers who are already in the pipe band drumming "club". These new scores are for those hoping to gain entry.

As a final note, simpler scores usually mean better execution. So many massed band drum corps sound terrible because only 50% of the drummers are actually playing the music correctly. What we get when we listen to a typical massed bands is the "average" of all the different versions of the score being played. Hopefully, with the introduction of these new scores, we will start to hear some massed band performances that include better unison and musical precision.

If anyone would like a copy of the new North American massed band scores, please send an email to zach@pipebanddrummer.com and I'll be happy to send them along. Hopefully we can hear these new scores at a Highland Games this summer. I hope everyone is happy and healthy as we try to move forward in 2022. Stay safe my friends. Hopefully some hugs and high-fives in the beer tent are on the horizon.

4 comments

  • Skymed
    Skymed
    Welcome back Zach, great to hear you are on the mend. Look forward to more wisdom and insight from you and all the best in the coming year. Steve

    Welcome back Zach, great to hear you are on the mend. Look forward to more wisdom and insight from you and all the best in the coming year. Steve

  • Doug Stronach
    Doug Stronach Toronto
    Well done Zach. Great article and spot on as usual!

    Well done Zach. Great article and spot on as usual!

  • David Parkhurst
    David Parkhurst Springfield, Oregon
    Bang on! My wife is a Grade II WUSPBA Champion of Champion, and she laments the lack of direction for the bass section.

    Bang on! My wife is a Grade II WUSPBA Champion of Champion, and she laments the lack of direction for the bass section.

  • Zach, although I understand the logic of your argument, I must respectfully but emphatically disagree. These new scores are ridiculously, overly simplistic and boring. I'm sure that the vast majority of pipe band snare drummers are quite disappointed with this change and there's going to be a lot of grumbling. For many if not most of us, the former standard massed band scores were the first things we learned and in many cases were required to learn in order to be issued a drum and permitted to participate in performances and massed bands. If a person is unable to learn to play those, it's unlikely that they're going to be able to master any of their band's drum scores, regardless of grade level. For many years, I was a drum sergeant in two lower-grade bands, teaching many beginners (of various ages and levels of drumming experience) and in all that time, there was only one student who was ultimately unable to gain proficiency in playing those massed band scores. And there is also the option of letting a beginner play a simpler version of them, omitting the more challenging parts (just playing the root rhythms and notes). As far as being able to "join the club," that would offer a solution. In most massed band situations, I would guess that less than 10 percent of the snare drummers present are beginners. It does not make sense for the other 90 percent of us to have to go out there and suffer through having to play these boring, dumbed-down settings. Many people already resist having to participate and have to be forced to go out there and do it. This just makes it worse.

    Zach, although I understand the logic of your argument, I must respectfully but emphatically disagree. These new scores are ridiculously, overly simplistic and boring. I'm sure that the vast majority of pipe band snare drummers are quite disappointed with this change and there's going to be a lot of grumbling. For many if not most of us, the former standard massed band scores were the first things we learned and in many cases were required to learn in order to be issued a drum and permitted to participate in performances and massed bands. If a person is unable to learn to play those, it's unlikely that they're going to be able to master any of their band's drum scores, regardless of grade level. For many years, I was a drum sergeant in two lower-grade bands, teaching many beginners (of various ages and levels of drumming experience) and in all that time, there was only one student who was ultimately unable to gain proficiency in playing those massed band scores. And there is also the option of letting a beginner play a simpler version of them, omitting the more challenging parts (just playing the root rhythms and notes). As far as being able to "join the club," that would offer a solution. In most massed band situations, I would guess that less than 10 percent of the snare drummers present are beginners. It does not make sense for the other 90 percent of us to have to go out there and suffer through having to play these boring, dumbed-down settings. Many people already resist having to participate and have to be forced to go out there and do it. This just makes it worse.

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