The Duncan McCall Pipe Band is a Grade 5 competition and concert pipe band under the direction of Pipe Major Steven Bicknell and Drum Sergeant Michael Paige.


The drums in a Highland band make the music come alive. They give the band a pulse, a heartbeat, energy, which the music simply doesn't have without them. The Highland style of drumming is different than other marching styles. Not only is it very precise and military, it is high tension, and intricate with numerous rolls and an energetic "popcorn" sound. The drumming is also what gives the band dynamics, since bagpipes are not capable of playing louder or softer. The drummers are responsible for much of the feeling in the tunes, as well as the flourish. The motion of twirling tenor and bass drumsticks adds to the excitement and the overall visual, as well as musical, presentation.

What kind of drums are played in a Pipe Band?

There are three 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. The drum scores played on the Side Drum also tend to be more ornamented than those usually played on the Snare Drum, and have a much more "pointed" and syncopated style than typical Snare Drum scores. However previous experience on the Snare Drum is very helpful when learning the Side Drum.

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

A drumming student needs to buy a set of drumsticks 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 Drumsticks 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 and motivation, and so forth.

Where can I learn to play the Side Drum?

As with learning the bagpipe, our band offers classes on the Side Drum in and we welcome any prospective students.

The 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 drumhead; 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, our band can provide instruction on the Tenor Drum.


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