Pipe Bands

What Instruments do you play in a Pipe Band?

The instruments played in a typical Pipe Band are Bagpipes, Side Drums, Tenor Drums, and Bass Drums. Ideally, there are about twice as many Pipers as Drummers; for example, a typical band might have 12 Pipers, 4 Side Drummers, 2 Tenor Drummers, and 1 Bass Drummer.

Why do you guys march so slowly?

The traditional Pipe Band marching tempo is about 80-88 beats per minute. This is taken from some of the older military bands such as the Fife and Drum Corps which also march at this tempo. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, roads were not as good as they are today and faster marching tempos were usually not practical. The music has been adapted to this older tempo and it is mostly too complex to be played properly at what is nowadays considered to be a typical marching tempo, which ranges from about 100-120 beats per minute. If you ever visit some place like Colonial Williamsburg you will hear the Fifes and Drums playing at tempos very similar to those of a Pipe Band. But Pipe Bands do play at faster tempos as well, when playing dance music.

Why do the drummers in some bands wear checked hats and the pipers wear plain?

In some regiments of the the British Army, the Pipers were personal employees of the Commander of the Regiment rather than the Crown, while the Drummers were always soldiers employed by the Crown. The soldiers employed by the Crown wore the checked (more properly called “diced”) hats. Some military and even civilian bands maintained this distinction long after it had any basis in reality, though the practice is now dying out.

Why do you sometimes see one or more of the Drummers wearing an animal skin?

This is likewise an old British Army tradition.  Strictly speaking, the privilege of wearing the animal skin was granted to specific Army regiments as a regimental honor for meritorious service, usually in Africa.  Because of this background, the use of the cougar, bear and leopard skin in civilian bands is in somewhat dubious taste but does present a very interesting look.  (Note that modern bands usually do not use real animal skins but imitations, because of the endangered species acts).

Are there different levels of pipe bands?

Pipe bands often compete against each other at Highland Games or other contests.  These contests are offered under the auspices of the local Pipe Band Association, and the exact rules differ between each Association.  In most countries, the Associations are national, but in the United States and Canada they are regional. In most of the world, there are 4 levels of pipe bands, from Grade 1 (the highest level) to Grade 4.  In a few Associations in the United States, the levels are from Grade 1 (the highest level) to Grade 5.  Essentially, these Associations have split the Grade 4 level into an upper and lower level.

2012 Canada Day Waterfront Park