Pipe bands encourage teamwork, confidence, a sense of dress and discipline, fun and friendship, and they open the doors to travel too. Pipe bands are a focus of pride for schools, and build positive relations with the community. And of course, the bagpipes and pipe band drums are traditional Scottish instruments, and an important part of our shared heritage and cultural future.
Bagpipes, snare and tenor drums. Pipe bands generally have one bass drum.
Pipers start to learn on the practice chanter which is like a recorder before progressing to the bagpipes. Drummers can play the snare drum, tenor drum or bass drum. Snare drummers learn with drumsticks on a practice pad before progressing to play on a drum. Tenor and bass drummers learn how to beat time on the drum and also perform flourishing movements with their drumsticks (or beaters). Pipers and drummers learn musical theory and how to read and write music.
Progression from practice chanter to bagpipes, and from practice drum pad to the actual drum can take six months for the fastest learners, and anything up to two years. Much depends on the amount of tuition, practice, and capability of the learner.
Bagpipers and snare drummers can achieve SQA qualifications through the CforE Music, Scottish Studies and Broad Education curriculums, as well as SQA accredited solo examinations through the Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board. Progression pathways can lead to higher education and degrees. Bass and tenor drummers can take PDQB examinations too although these are not SQA accredited. More about qualifications and progression pathways
Extensive international research also shows that learning an instrument and playing in an ensemble raises attainment in a range of areas including mathematics, literacy and language, self-esteem, fine motor and social skills.
A good age to start is around eight of nine years of age, or from P5 upwards, although you can start at any age. Like any instrument, if you start at a young age there is more chance of progressing to a very high standard.
It is essential to practise at home in order to make good progress. Ten minutes every day, or twenty minutes two or three times a week would be a good level of practice to aim for.
Mostly pupils receive at least 30 minutes of tuition a week, either in a group, or in pairs and as they become more experienced, in a one-to-one lesson. Additional development sessions and/or band practice tend to be held on a weekly basis, sometimes more often.
Quartets and small ensembles could give performances after six months of tuition.
A school pipe band could start with up to six pipers, and ideally two snare drummers, plus if possible, a tenor and bass drummer. There is no maximum limit. For competition purposes, if the band registers with The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA), the minimum number of players at the lowest grade starts at six pipers, one bass drummer and two snare drummers.
It should be possible to form a pipe band to a basic performing standard within two to three years for schools that provide regular tuition.
Yes. It would depend on how quickly learners become competent enough to be able to play collectively as a band.
The main steps are appointing piping and pipe band drumming instructors; attracting interested pupils; introducing chanter, bagpipe and drumming tuition; setting up a committee to help administrate and fundraise; developing the learners to a level of competence to enable them to play collectively; acquiring instruments and uniforms; and then forming the pipe band.
That depends on the school and on local authority charging policies. Some tuition might be free; or there may be a cost for lessons.
The main costs are for tuition and instruments. Other costs include travel for performances and competition and uniform.
Costs for instruments vary depending on the make and model. For school pupils who can purchase instruments through their school or local authority these are approximate costs:
Practice chanter – £30
Practice drum pad and sticks – £35
A set of bagpipes including bag – £500
Snare drum and harness – £600
Tenor drum and harness – £500
Bass drum £700
There are a number of possible funding sources: Local authorities provide tuition in schools through instrumental music services (IMS), and loan instruments; you could ask your local authority to support tuition in your schools.
YMI funds (Youth Music Initiative) are disbursed by your local authority for tuition and instruments in primary schools, and this can be directed towards chanter/ pipes or drumming. Other YMI funds might out-of-school lessons.
Some schools contribute towards costs from school budgets.
Sponsorship from companies or grants from charitable trusts are other avenues to explore.
Income can be raised by charging for lessons, although this approach may exclude young people on low incomes.
Setting up a constituted pipe band committee is very helpful because a committee can raise funds on behalf of a pipe band as well as help with administration.
SSDPT provides grants to support the development of pipe bands, and may be able to help by loaning instruments.
Being part of a pipe band is fun and a good way to sustain the interest of young people in music. Many young people go on to play the pipes and drums with community bands and other music groups when they leave school. Solo players can also continue to compete and play at private functions.
Pupils learning in school can buy instruments through their local authority or through their school. This is usually cheaper than purchasing through a shop or supplier because the pupil does not have to pay VAT at 20%.
Local authorities loan instruments through their YMI programmes (Youth Music Initiative) or through Instrumental Music Service.
SSPDT also loans instruments.
A pipe band committee can be very helpful to support the management and funding of the programme. If you are thinking of setting up a committee, SSPDT can provide sample constitutions.
The support of parents is important to the success of a school pipe band. A support committee can be very helpful in raising funds for uniform, and sometimes for instruments and other band costs.
There would be no requirement to compete, but competitions such as the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships provide a goal for the young people to aim for, and are a great way to meet other players and bands of all abilities. Some school bands progress to join the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) and compete in national and international competitions.
Send in your enquiry here, and someone from SSPDT will be in touch.