Tips for a Novice Competing Piper of Any Age

April 24, 2007 on 8:05 pm by Michael Grey | In Tips | 2 Comments

I attended a Pipers’ & Pipe Band Society of Ontario adjudicator’s seminar on April 25 (the first day of 2007 where the weather was good, the sun shone and the temperature went above 15 degrees – perfect to sit indoors).

Lots of talk. Some discussion on the merits of providing tune selection guidelines for grade 4. This got me to thinking of other guidelines – tips, really. Here’s a few suggestions:

Tune selection: Listen to your teacher (duh) – let s/he pick the tune you end up using in competition. If you don’t have a teacher, ask around, find out what sorts of tunes successful players in that grade category played the year before. Really stuck? Have a look at the PPBSO’s guideline list – it’ll be online soon. Super stuck? Drop me a note.

Practice: Six days a week for at least half an hour – minimum. If this is all you can spare, 20 minutes of your time should be spent rehearsing your competition piece – the remaining third in practicing technical exercises. Btw, if you have an eye to be a champion, 30 minutes won’t cut it – bump the time up four fold. A second-hand quote I often bore people with comes from Bill Livingstone (not a lot of boring quotes attributed to him!) … this from John MacFadyen, who taught Bill for a time: “the secret is, there is no secret, its all damned hard practice…”

Games day: Get sleep. Be prepared (leave lots of time to arrive at your event on time). Be cordial to stewards and others there to make the competition happen.

The competition: Know the name of the tune you’re playing (I have seen and experienced countless times where a competitor blanks out and says to the judge/me, “Um, I can’t remember; it goes like this … [a nervous and indecipherable monotonic scat follows of the intended tune]…” This is a bad start.

Do not tune your pipes unless you know how to tune. If you do tune, take no more than two minutes. Consider getting some generous (and able) piper nearby to tune before you play …strike up … and lay out your performance.

Don’t wear sunglasses. I hate this. Bands, soloists …all competing with big Roy Orbisons … its like yer hiding something … not a great portrayal of confidence. It’s just me, I know, but a pet peeve.

Take your time and do your best. That’s all that matters after the drones stop.


  1. You summed up this subject nicely for me – especially the 30 minutes per day part. I expect that my pupils are pretty tired of me harping on with, “practice every day, blah, blah…” These days I refer them to the Dallas Symphony website for kids that has lots of good practice tips (My favourite is the suggestion that you only need to practice on the days when you eat!). I’m going to send them to read your articles too. Great stuff! – G.M.

    Comment by George Macintosh — July 6, 2007 #

  2. Thanks for your note, George. Great line about practicing and eating! All the best with your teaching! M.

    Comment by mike — July 6, 2007 #

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