Building Medleys: 7 Principles

June 18, 2007 on 7:29 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Pipe Bands, Tips | 2 Comments

So before we begin this musical adventure – this virtual attempt at creating an interesting competitive selection of music – it might be a good idea to establish a few principles to help move us along.

Consultants and David Letterman love lists: “3 reasons for this” and “top ten” for that; so let’s keep it simple and try a list.

7. Play by the rules but don’t be afraid to stretch to the last hole on the belt. There are a lot of rules, particularly in associations outside of North America, but not as many as you might think. Consider rules talent-testing challenges. For the purposes of this online effort I’m using PPBSO rules for a grade one band (of special note: a band can start any way they like).

6. Begin with an idea or musical intention in mind. Rather than a piecemeal approach – grab-a-tune here, pick-a-tune there – or bits and bobs from the book of old medleys – have an idea from the start what kind of selection you are aiming to create: a bold statement of the avant garde? A tip of the hat to the classic tunes? An exploration of minor key misery?

5. Consider listeners. It’s your call how much you take into account the adjudicator’s lugs but I suggest if you stand by what you know is well-considered and musical then the chips will (eventually) fall your way. This tip is in place really as a check to help balance the natural tendency to indulge yourself. Balancing the desire to create art and need to impress and entertain is difficult. I think the outcome of this balancing act is what people generally call “taste” – and sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s a stink bomb. You’ll know the question of “taste” is a controversial concept when applied to art. I defend including “listener consideration” and tastefulness only as they apply to a list of principles – brief points of guidance that can easily be dismissed – as you may. I do like that Picasso quote though, “Good taste, what a dreadful thing”.

4. Balance simple with complex. We need hooks: simple phrases, melodies that engage the listener as much as clever riffs on complex polyrhythmic Icelandic gnome dances. So often it is the simple that is the biggest challenge.

3. Consider percussion when developing your selection. Consulting your percussion maestros is good, too. You may find an excellent melody offers little to a non-piper’s imagination. Yes, it might be a good challenge to overcome, but why unnecessarily tax, or worse, frustrate the team? It is a pipe band, after all. We’re looking to create a masterful explosion of ensemble – and interest. Collaborate. I acknowledge this is one of the biggest challenges in the creative process.

2. Plan for a surprise, a positive ear-tingling surprise. An unexpected something that will delight and be fun to play over and over again. Now, this is the biggest challenge.

1. Leave them wanting more. It’s the oldest rule in showbiz, I’m told.This means not milking the tricks, the harmonies, the bippidy-boops, the rests, the rolls, the reels. You know what I mean. Unless he’s the timekeeper, no one at a medley competition should be looking at their watch for sonic relief.

So, a few principles. Not a complete list. But, I say, a good start to get building medleys.



  1. Mike – just wanted to say that I’m really enjoying reading your updates – and I’m not even a _piper_!
    Seriously, it’s just very interesting to hear your thought process on your music, and it’s great to see you taking the time to continue to update this forum. Cheers.

    Comment by Mikael — June 19, 2007 #

  2. Well, you should be a piper then! Thanks. M

    Comment by mike — June 19, 2007 #

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