If you’re wondering how to gain more confidence in yourself while playing in a band, solo competitions are the best thing for it.
People have asked me how competing in solo competitions can improve your playing in a band. Well here’s the thing, you have to take the time to sit down and look at the music that you’re playing and to really study it. Working out the finer details of the piece to improve your polished performance really forces you to lift your game. For drummers it could be finding a whole new understanding of your dynamic range, which in a drum corps is key. For pipers it could be making sure your blowing is steady and smooth throughout the performance, this gives the pipe corps a more solid sound.
The main thing is it’s all on you to give your best performance you can. There’s no one else to carry you through the tunes like they might in the band, and if you have that confidence from playing solos then you can be the one to carry others, helping and inspiring them through your own improvement. It’s a cycle:
This cycle may take a little while to go from playing solo competitons, to gaining the confidence, to then helping and inspiring others. Some people may take this as a reason not to play solos, deciding that they can just relax and be carried by the better players, but what happens when those players leave? If you do not make an effort to improve your playing ability and confidence, you run the risk of letting down the band or falling too far behind in skill level as other players continue to improve around you. Especially when you have the potential to be so much better, you just need to put in the effort. Solo competitions provide the perfect opportunity to do this.
I came across a particularly interesting story the other day. It was when the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band (SFU) were heading over to Scotland to compete at the World Pipe Band Championships. Each time someone made a mistake, the Pipe Sergeant would stop the band and say to them that it was a $100,000 mistake. Of course this is a Grade 1 band, however this idea can be applied to all grades.
Now that you’ve decided to play solos (I hope), you need to know how to prepare. I’m am currently working hard on developing my solo perfomances and I’ve had the privilege to learn and talk to some of the top solo drummers (and some pipers) in the world. Here are some of the tips I have picked up:
1. Lock in a Piper to play with you. As a drummer it’s important to have a piper sorted and available to play for you on the day, but you should always get them to confirm that they are available.
2. Check what the requirements for your grade are before you make any final decisions.
3. Determined what you’re going to play
4. Memorise the drum score that you’re playing.
5. Practise with your piper. This is essential to create a good, musical performance. Setting the tempo for the tune makes sure that you and your piper are in sync. If you’re playing multiple tunes like in a March, Strathspey and Reel you must make sure that both of you know the breaks between the tunes.
I have asked for some tips from the piper who plays for me in my solo competitions; Nick Tomkins. I asked him to provide some advice for pipers who are playing for drummers in their solos, and how they can best prepare to help their drummer.
Nick outlined 4 main steps for pipers playing for drumming solos:
1. You wouldn’t expect to play well in your piping solos without practicing. So make sure you prepare to play for a drummer – best is with them if possible.
2. Help them out by making a recording. That way they can become accustomed to your playing style and lock in that ensemble.
3. Make things simple – I always prefer 2 beat breaks for all drummers I play for. That way you don’t have to second guess yourself – it’s always the same.
4. Remember it’s about the drummer not the piper. You are there to provide a melody to their playing. Focus on being a metronome and sticking to that throughout the performance. Don’t make them rush their phrasing because you are.
Nick has also graciously provided the steps that he takes as a solo piper. He has also included some points that are relevant to drummers so it’s beneficial for all to read this next part. There are 7 steps and they are as follows:
1. Know your sets inside out, including names of tunes, requirements of the comp, etc. Make sure in your practice you can get through the sets 3 times over without mistake. If you can’t play it right in practice, then with the pressure of competition you aren’t going to get it right on the day.
2. Be prepared! Have your instrument pristine and be prepared the night before. Print out the draw, know which platform, have your uniform prepared.
3. Have a back-up plan – if my drum head breaks, what am I going to do? If my chanter snaps, do I have something else that I can use? If you do 1-3 right then on the day will be an easy experience.
4. On the day, stay calm. Remember it’s not life and death so if things don’t go to plan don’t let it get to you. Quite often, with drumming in particular, the judge seems to fall behind. If you are standing around worrying, it’s going to make you tense up in your playing and won’t let you play to your potential.
5. Be confident. You may not notice but a judge can see if you know your music, or at least put out that impression that you do. For pipers, stand up straight, put out your chest and be purposeful with every note. For drummers, make your commands to the piper strong, clear and precise.
6. If you make a mistake, don’t let it show when you are finished because the judge is still there and it gives the judge an easy excuse to write you off if they know you aren’t expecting a good result. If you have a second or third event to go to, don’t let the previous result impact your performance.
7. Have a good breakfast in the morning, pack a snack and drink lots of water. Playing pipes or drums is physically demanding so treat your body like you would a competitive sport. Give your body and mind every opportunity to be successful.
I hope that you can take away some great tips for this article and that it will help to inspire more people to compete in solo competitions.
Let me know in the comments below if you play in solos and how you prepare. Or are thinking about it and has this article helped you decide? I’d also love to hear if you have any tips not mentioned above that you would like to share, put them in the comments below!
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Good job Cam.→