Learn to Play Bagpipes

A Horse Drinking Water

How to Join a Competition Pipe Band - And Why You Should

So you want to join a competition pipe band? For some people, this seems to be a natural and fun progression. For others, it may be a bit intimidating. In this article we will explore how to join a competition pipe - and why you should.

If this is the beginning of your exploration then there’s a good chance that you may already be in a band. First off, I will tell you from experience something that may come as a shock to you. If you are coming from a band that doesn’t have any interest in becoming a competition pipe band, the best you can do is play with another band. This doesn’t mean you have to leave your old pipe band, but you will never be able to give the desire to ANYONE to want to play and get better. As the old saying goes, You can lead a horse to drink water, but it will probably tell you to @#$% off if you want to get it to compete.” I know because I was in the same boat. Thankfully I have been able to impart that wisdom to other members who were in the same exact boat. Years later, these same people are now playing in a successful competition WITHOUT the stress of getting a competition band off the ground. They would never have been able to form a band with people just not interested. By joining another band they got to where they wanted to go without wasting years, and they are quite happy now.

The second tip I can offer is to join the right band. Firstly you will want to determine which band is right for you. Is the band good? In other words, do they get results (place in competitions)? Do they have an infrastructure? Is the band run by competent leadership who know how to correct faults in the band’s playing? Can they tune a band? Do they have instructors who are actively teaching their members? Or do they just practice endlessly and get no results?

Generally the better the band, you more you may have to travel to get to practice. This most likely will be the case with higher grade bands, with band members traveling internationally to play in Grade 1, or driving hours to get to practice. Of course, if the band you want to join is a Grade 4 pipe band, then maybe they’re only an hour’s drive or less. That all being said, be prepared to have to travel and commit to going to practice. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and there is a band nearby that is good, but on the other hand maybe the band that is better for you will be an extra half an hour drive (or longer).

The other aspect you want to figure out is which band grade do you want to play in. The higher the grade the more demanding the work will be. Perhaps if you are a hot shot piper that won’t be the case, but for most people it will be. Even a grade 4 pipe band, which used to be the entry level band grade in the U.S., still has to be able to play an MSR at respectable tempos. This requires one to get comfortable playing with good note clarity, rhythm, embellishments, and the like. And if your playing isn’t there yet, that’s OK. It’s still a beginner band grade, but you ought to put some work in so that your playing gets better. After all, that is one of the main reasons for you to join a pipe band: to improve.

If you are a competition soloist, it can be difficult to keep up with the workload for both solos and band. Here are several options. If you are intermediate grade soloist, then you can probably manage to play with a grade 4 pipe band since you have a foundation. However an intermediate or advanced soloist can have difficulty playing in an intermediate or advanced band grade. I’m not going to lie; it’s a lot of work to have success in both. If you are an entry level soloist, playing in an entry level band can also be a lot of work since you are still developing your fundamentals. There’s nothing wrong with with just focusing on one when you start. But definitely consider your options. You may choose to be cavalier and take on a big workload, but understand that can also leave you thin.

I hope these tidbits were helpful. Playing in a conception band can and should make you a better player (as a soloist, band player, and a gig performer). It’s a lot of fun and the comeraderie is special. Nobody can understand what it’s like to be in competition pipe band culture unless they are in it, but the sacrifices are worth it — especially when you have a good run on the field or your band takes home a trophy.

Published: September 14th, 2023

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