Drums & Drumming
"They are so tight that their heads are going to pop." We’re speaking of snare drums in a Scottish bagpipe band. When the drums are properly tuned the heads are tight enough to tap dance on. The first difference any drummer will notice about pipe drumming is the drum itself. It has basically the same dimensions as other field snares, but it’s tuned much higher than any other drum. Only drum and bugle corps come anywhere close to this kind of pitch. This is because it must match the high pitch of the bagpipes chanter, where the melody is produced. I've been told that the high pitch and drone sound much like a cat with its tail caught in a bench grinder.
You either love them or you hate them.
"I love them"
Intensity is an inherent part of this style of drumming. It’s a controlled intensity and the better the corps the more control they have of that intensity. They can increase or decrease it to perfectly match what ever tune they’re playing to. Drums were first played with bagpipes by the British army during the last century. Pipers, being notoriously bad time-keepers, needed someone to help them keep in step. So drum sections consisting of bass drum and field tenor played by drummers swinging large felt headed sticks in rhymic patterns for an exciting visual effect and snare drums were added to regimental pipe sections to form the first pipe bands. This was followed by the formation of the police and civilian pipe bands. It was in these bands that pipe drumming saw its greatest development and became one of the most unusual styles of drumming in the world today.
To achieve the pitch of the snare drum you must use the strongest head to be found. Batter heads were used. However this was the cause of much aggravation and the outlay of much time and money for pipe drummers. Mylar heads until the last few years were only able to withstand the pressure only for so long. When their will to live wore thin, they would announce their untimely end with a loud gunshot like bang resulting in a lovely split across the head. This would always happen at the least opportune time like in the middle of the 50 yard line at the Rams and 49ers half time show. The advent of the kevlar-mesh head has pretty much eliminated this problem.
But these stronger heads, while being more capable of withstanding the high pressure exerted upon them, also exerted a much stronger pressure on the drum itself. Drums fall apart. Tension lugs would pull through or snap off. Rims warped into strange shapes, and tension brackets would pull out of the shell.
Premier, one of the oldest manufacturers of pipe drums, came out with the HTS 200 pipe drum. This drum has a high, crisp sound required in pipe bands.
More on pipe drumming in the next newsletter.