All About Piping and Drumming
The pipe band contest consists of pipe bands in one of four grades, grade 1, the most experienced grade, through grade 5, the least experienced. Grades 1 through 3 play two different types of contests, the harder MSR (think Figure Skating compulsories) and the Medley (think Figure Skating freestyle program). In the MSR, each band must play a March, a Strathspey, and a Reel to demonstrate their technical skill. In the medley, each band can play any tune types, from marches, reels and hornpipes, to slow airs, jigs and retreats to display not only their technical skill, but artistic skill as well. In Grade 4 and 5 bands play the March/SlowMarch/March and the Quick March Medley (instead of the MSR), which consists of a collection of marches in any time signature.
The band's performance is judged in three separate elemental areas: piping, drumming, and ensemble. Each element has at least one judge and it is common for piping to have two judges. The piping and drumming judges in their respective areas will listen for mistakes as well as listen to each corps' unison playing (multiple players playing but sounding as one). They will listen for tone, tuning and musicality. The ensemble judge will listen to how both the pipers and drummers sound and play together, as a whole unit.
The pipe band is made up of four separate instruments. The pipes, the bass drum, the snare drum and the tenor drum. The pipes provide the melody and harmonies of the music, while the bass drum provides the beat, and the snare drums provide the dynamics to the music. The tenors add not only musical quality to the drum scores but the tenor drummers also add a visual aspect by flourishing with the mallets.
As the word "Solo" indicates, a piper will play by himself in front of one piping judge, and a drummer will play with 1-2 pipers in front of one drumming judge. The judge will listen for tone, musicality and mistakes. When tenor drummers compete solo, they will play with 1-2 pipers and a snare drummer and will be judged on how their music fits both the pipe and snare scores in terms of musicality as well as the artistic flourishment.