Scottish drumming is a unique and demanding discipline. It borrows elements from Swiss and American rudimental drumming, traditional Scottish musical idioms, and jazz phrasings. The goal of any competitive bagpipe band is to field a highly competitive drum corps in the Scottish competition circles.
On the surface, Scottish drumming may seem very simple and easy to pick up, when compared to the contemporary American marching band and drum corps style of drumming. This is often the case in the music used for parades and general performances. We use simple music in these circumstances in order to give people experience and early exposure to public performances. Competition music and more elaborate performance tunes are far more challenging for drummers.
Here are some key concepts to Scottish drumming.
- Side Drums. The modern Scottish side drum is very similar to the modern marching snare drums used by drum corps and marching bands. In fact the earliest free floating snare drums that are widely used now were first adapted from Scottish drums. The biggest difference is the use of metal snares, instead of the gut snares, and the presence of an internal set of snares on the top head. The drums lack a snare throw-off mechanism as well, so the snare is always on. The result is a softer and wetter sound.
- Tenor and Bass Drums. In stark contrast to marching bands and drum corps, a pipe band will typically only use a single Bass drum. In addition instead of having a single drummer playing multi-drum tenors (such as quads and quints), pipe bands use multiple players with single tenor drums pitched at different pitches (similar to marching band bass drums). While the number of notes played by these instruments is very small compared to marching bands and corps, the tonal and dynamic elements provided by these instruments is very important, and demands a very musical and exacting performance. In addition, the tenor drums provide a visual flourishing element unique to pipe bands. Tenor drum flourishing is very entertaining and challenging.
- Grip and Sticks. The predominant grip in Scottish drumming is a traditional grip. The Scottish form of this grip is somewhat different than the grip used by marching bands and drum corps. The right hand is generally identical, although it is somewhat looser and lighter. The left hand has more differences in that the hand is more open, and there is less contact with the sticks, and the thumb is the main means of stick control. The left hand is also much looser. The lighter contact that results from these variations is necessary to produce a high and brighter pitch, which is the desired tone in Scottish drumming. The Scottish sticks are similar to a typical marching stick, but lighter. The sticks are also less dense which also adds to the brightness of tone. Some Scottish sticks are available through general outlets, but the model we use is special ordered by the band in lots. The band sells the sticks back to the drummers at cost.
- Rolls. Open rolls, as played by marching bands and drum corps are not common in pipe bands. We play closed rolls, which are often called buzz rolls or press rolls in marching bands. Even though we play more notes per stroke, we still refer to them as 5, 6, 7, 9, 13 stroke rolls, since they have a fixed duration and strict musical value. Most open work is done hand-to-hand (called singles).
- Rudiments. Flams are more open than most marching bands and drum corps. There is no equivalent to the Scottish drag, which looks outwardly similar to a flam, but totally different in execution and usage. Combination rudiments, such as cheeses, flam-drags, and similar movements are rarely used in the usual fashion, but can manifest themselves in unexpected ways, due to the open nature of the single work. We do play a different version of a ruff, and other typical rudiments such as flam accents, flamacues, paradiddles and windmills are commonplace.
- Expression. Since Scottish drummers play with bagpipes, a lot of what we do is driven from the unique nature of the bagpipe. For example, a bagpipe has no capacity for dynamic expression. In other words, it knows only one dynamic value, and that is LOUD! As a result, all dynamic expression in a pipe band comes from the drum corp (as the drum section is called).
- Fortes. Another uniquely Scottish concept is the use of Forte’s (also know as “chips” or “seconds”). This is a throwback to traditional days when many drummers did not read music. The lead drummer would play a phrase, and the rest of the corp would play the same phrase on the repeat of the part. Now it has evolved into a form of musical choreography, used to emphasize rhythmic, melodic, and dynamic expressions.
- Notation. The notation is rather conventional, but has one unique feature, adapted from Swiss drumming. The right hand notes are written above a single staff line, and the left hand is written below the staff line. Interpretation and convention of notation can have quite a bit of variation between different bands and composers.