Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Virtual Pipe Band Rehearsal Tips

At Home Band Rehearsal Tips

Part of the fun of playing in a pipe band is getting together with bandmates at rehearsal, work hard, come out sounding better at the end than when you went in, and having a bevvy and a laugh after. The challenge comes when the band hall is closed or unavailable thanks to storms, snowfall or highly infectious pandemics.

Here's a few ideas to keep your playing sharp and keep everything in shape so you can hit the ground running the next time you can physically get together.

Tip 1 - Remember, you Practice at home and Rehearse with the Band.
The PM/Lead Tip may chose to work on music and break things down while sitting around a table with chanters and pads. Unless you were handed the music THAT DAY, a diligent musician will have worked on in and come in prepared to play it with the group. Practice at home. Get it as close to "street legal" as you can on your own. Then bring it in for a reality check. 

Tip 2 - Getting Street Legal.
Most people practice and thing "OK, that wasn't too bad" or "hmm, that could be better." What is hard is concentrating on what you are doing, and listening for HOW you are doing it. I know from my own experience that I like to delude myself in this way. How do I fix it?  Same way I suggest to everyone now (and not just when "isolated" or "quarantined".) Record yourself playing. Play it back and listen. Listen critically. Listen for mistakes, listen for ornaments with "cheating" parts in them - like not getting "quite all the little" notes in, or choked moves. Listen for rolls not quite being carried through to the end. Listen for the little wavers in tempo. Listen for the BIG wavers in tempo. Do it again until you can't hear it yourself.

Tip 3 - Getting more street legal.
Now for the harder part. Get a metronome going. Set it a couple beats per minute SLOWER than the PM says he wants the tunes played. For example, if something is to be played at 76 beats per minute (bpm) in competition or performance, set the metronome to 74 bpm. Play it at that speed and record it. It will likely feel unnaturally slow. Listen to the result. How are the ornaments? Relaxed? Clean? Consistent? Or are they still kind of choppy? Is one "fine" and the next a trainwreck? Repeat this process until every ornament, every move, every embellishment is consistent and identical to every other embellishment of that type. Then, set the metronome to the "performance speed" and play the tunes through again. While recording. Play it back and listen critically AGAIN. Are the ornaments still good? or are the fuzzy and icky? Slow it down and play the tune until you have no choice but to play it right. Then speed it up again and listen again. (piping/drumming version of 'shampoo, rinse, repeat.)

Tip 4 - Reality check.
When you have the tunes at the correct tempo, and you cannot hear any more problems or mistakes, make one more recording and send it to the PM or Lead Tip. Ask THEM to listen to it. Ask THEM to critique it.

Tip 5 - For PM/DS.
Make recordings at performance speed, with a metronome in the background, getting played the way YOU want the music played. (Better make sure your stuff is spot in as well!) Then send it/share it with your respective corps, and the band as a whole! That way, the individual drummers can play along with the PM's recording and hear how their playing fits with the pipes. Individual pipers can play along with the DS and hear how their playing fits with the drums. 

This won't replace in person rehearsal completely. However, it WILL help your playing overall, so when you get together in person, for real, you can work together more easily.

Just one more thing.
You can do this any time. You don't need to wait for a blizzard or a massive pandemic to practice this way. You can do this all during the off-season and be even more awesome come performance/competition season.


  1. This doesn't just pertain to pipe/band practice. Anyone (soloist or group musician) could use this technique. I might even try it myself!

    1. True. At the time I put this out there were waves of pipe band folks freaking. Partly, I suspect, because less experienced, lower (competition) grade players are not used to strenuous practice at home. There is a huge conflation between "practice" and "rehearsal" among many folks. I addressed my comments to pipe bands, because that is the musical world I've been circulating in of late.

      Thanks for reading!