What kind of drums are played in a Pipe Band?

There are 3 kinds of drums normally played in a Pipe Band:  the Side Drum, which is related to the snare drums found in a brass band;  the Tenor Drum, which is a drum about the size of the Side Drum but without snares and played with mallets rather than sticks;  and the Bass Drum, which is the large drum that makes the “heartbeat” of the band.

Side Drum

Isn’t the Side Drum just an ordinary snare drum?

No, though it’s closely related.  The Side Drum as played in a pipe band uses two sets of snares  (an upper set and a lower set) as opposed to a single set of snares used on a typical snare drum.  A snare is a band of wires and beads that make the sound of the drum sharper than just a simple drum head.  The drum heads on a Side Drum are also much tighter than the heads on many snare drums, so that the sound is much sharper than most snares.

I can play the snare drum, how hard is it to learn the Side Drum?

Like the Snare Drum, the Side Drum uses rudimental drumming techniques.  This means that the drumming technique is built up from a set of standard rudiments like a flam, a roll, and so forth.  Many of these techniques transfer directly from the Snare Drum to the Side Drum, however rolls used on the Side Drum are almost always closed rolls rather than the open rolls used on the Snare Drum.  Previous experience on the Snare Drum is very helpful when learning the Side Drum but not necessary.

What do I need to buy to learn the Side Drum?

A drumming student needs to buy a set of drum sticks and a practice pad.  These will cost a total of about $40-$60.  The drumsticks commonly used for the Side Drum are heavier than those usually used for a Snare Drum, but ordinary Snare Drum sticks are perfectly acceptable for learning.  These can be purchased at any good music supply store or from one of the stores that provide Pipe Band supplies.

How long does it take to learn the Side Drum?

If you have previous experience on the Snare Drum and a good aptitude for the drum, you may be able to pick up the Side Drum in 6 months or less.  If you have no previous drumming experience, count on as much as a year or more before you are ready to play with a band.  As in anything else, it is impossible to make a general statement because of differences in aptitude, amount of practice, motivation and so forth.

Where can I learn to play the Side Drum?

As with learning the bagpipe, most pipe bands have some kind of teaching program for prospective drummers. We offer classes on the Side Drum at the J.P. Fell Armory, and welcome any prospective students.

Tenor Drum

What is a Tenor Drum?

The Tenor Drum is a drum that looks much like the Side Drum (often slightly larger) but has no snares and is played with mallets rather than sticks.  There are two styles of playing the Tenor Drum:  Flourishing Tenor and Rhythm Tenor.  The former puts more emphasis on twirling the mallets and only occasionally hitting the drum head;  the latter puts more emphasis on using the mallets to complement the rhythm of the Bass Drum.

How would I learn the Tenor Drum?

As with the other instruments, most pipe bands have some policy for providing instruction on the Tenor Drum.  Our drumming classes teach the Tenor Drum and we are quite happy to arrange instruction for students interested in learning the Tenor Drum.