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The next contributor for our composition goes a little bit out of our comfort zone - talking to a drummer! But, considering the dynamic a good drum score can add to piping, it is important to understand aspects of drumming - even as a piper.

Dean Hall is the owner of 'DrummingMad' (, a teaching program developed specifically for pipe band drummers of all levels, to provide quality, affordable and easily accessible resources and tools that promote an increase in the uptake and musical skill level of Pipe Band Snare Drumming across the globe. Dean also has a world class Pipe Band CV, having played in multiple Grade 1 bands, including lead drummer of the St Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band in Ireland, while also teaching a plethora of now Grade 1 snare drummers. So, lets see what Dean had to say.


When Nick and Cam asked me to write a short article on score writing, I thought yes this is pretty straight forward, answer a couple of questions and give some tips on getting started but as I found out, it is not as straightforward as I had thought. Once I got started, I immediately realised that there are many many approaches to getting into it that I have come across over the years so have settled on giving you a series of tips and pointers that I have personally used throughout my journey of pipe band drum score composing.

Let’s look firstly at what it is that we are trying to do. Essentially, the pipe band snare drum in an ensemble is an accompanying instrument to the great highland bagpipe. That is, we play along with the piping melody picking out points here and there to highlight and emulating the rest. A kind of punctuation of the melody line using accent and rhythmic effect. So let’s look at the basic structure of the tunes we are writing to and that is question and answer. Most tunes are divided into repeated parts of music that are further divided into four phrases being question, 1st answer, question, final answer. For example a part of 4/4 March has 4 bars per part and each phrase more or less follows these four bars in structure. I say more or less because often there are some anacrusis “lead in notes” leading into each phrase starting before the barline. Now that you know a bit about what phrases are, let’s have a go at writing a score.

PART ONE: Writing your first score

To kick things off, I thought we could write a score to the well known 4/4 March, Scotland the Brave. So do you think you can hum it? If you can’t get onto YouTube and search Scotland the Brave and get familiar with the tune. If you can sing or hum the tune, you have a great advantage right from the get go. So the first phrase consists of 4 beats with a half beat (quaver - eighth note) anacrusis coming in. Let’s write the rhythm of the melody for the first phrase.

Now that we have the first phrase monotone, write another set of barlines below it ready to draw some notes onto.

So let’s look at the first phrase. The first note is the anacrusis and to keep this simple, we can make this either a tap or a 7 stroke roll finishing on the first note inside the first bar, let’s use a left tap.

Next, the first note in the bar can be a long 13 stroke roll or a flam. Again just keeping this simple, you can get more complex later. So let’s make it a 13 stroke one beat roll starting on the right hand and finishing on the right hand on the next note.

The next note can be a left tap leading onto a right handed 7 stroke roll followed by another 7 stroke roll, one after the other.

So our first phrase can look like this:

Now you can write a phrase of your own. I would suggest that you start with a 13 stroke roll following the theme that was established in the first phrase. This is not unlike a response to a question where the start of the response mimics the start of the question.

So you can insert a triplet or a set of single taps or a funky rhythmic flam combo, the choice is yours.

Phrase three can copy phrase one since that’s what the pipers are doing. And the last phrase can be a flam then a 13 stroke roll to finish just like this:

If you are stuck for ideas on phrase two, you can use this:

And there you have it, a complete part of music. The score is simple and complementary to the piping melody. The two main check points for getting started. Keep it simple on your scores, especially your first ones.

Go ahead now and write the second part using the same second and fourth phrases as part one. In fact, you really only need to write one phrase as this phrase will be used as both phrase one and three.

This is just a simple and short way to get started with writing a score. Remember that you can take the piping notes as a guide to writing the monotone rhythmic layer in step one.

PART TWO: Tips for score writers with some experience.

Tip: Families of sound confined to phrases for effect. Identify the rhythm, select a sound and record or write your phrase out. E.g. use lots of rolls in phrases one and three and flam sequences in phrases two and four.

Tip: Try writing scores from recordings to get into the flow and mind of different composers. I used to do this in the 1980’s when all we had were records or if we were really lucky a video recording, it is fun trying to write out what you think you are hearing and then test it by playing it back along with the recording and seeing how close you get.

Tip: Use the piping score to get the layout of the tune.

Tip: Try and play to an audio of the piping tune. Ideally try and be able to “sing” the part before writing the score. It is really important to have as familiar an idea as possible of the melody line when you’re searching for a cool sequence of drumming to compliment it.

Beginner Tip: Start with short scores of no more than two parts to develop your composition technique first. The easiest are 4/4 Marches. So i suggest writing at least 10 x 4/4 marches before writing anything else.

Beginner Tip: If you're brand new to composition, you may be interested to try using certain rudiments to match the notes of the piping tune. For example, you can use rolls for long notes and triplets/paradiddles for shorter notes. Flams are great to make an impact statement with the pipe tune. Every now and then, try breaking this rule to surprise the listener.

Tip: Keep your first scores simple.

Tip: always use pencil so that you can edit easily.

Tip: Remember that you can always play your first iteration of the score and develop it further by playing it along with a piper. The first draft doesn't have to be the final edit. In fact even if the phrase isn’t complete, don’t worry, move on to the next phrase and come back to it later.

Tip: If you are writing for your own corps, be sure to get both the piping manuscript and an MP3 audio from your pipe major. The piping audio should be steady (have your PM play to a metronome if necessary) and played at the tempo that the band intends to perform it at.

Tip: Collect loads of drum scores and when you are starting to write one, pull out all your favourite scores of the same time signature to use as inspiration. Even play through them all to get full submersed. Remember that if you explicitly use full phrases from another composer, you must not write your name as the author on the top of your score but write “arranged by:”.

You can only write your own name on the top of the score if you have written every phrase yourself without copying another composer.

Titling rules: Ideally, all scores should have the following attributes:

  1. Tune title

  2. Time signature

  3. Tempo

  4. Author:

  • Written by (when you’re the composer)

  • Composed by (alternative author category when you’re the composer)

  • Arranged by (when you wrote some and copied some)

  • Adapted by (when you copied most of it and arranged only a few items)

PART THREE: Writing guide for composers who have written a few scores already.

A basic writing guide to create your next few drum scores.

Start by drawing the monotone version of the complete piping score.

Next, draw up the number of bars needed for the whole tune including the horizontal monolinear line that separates the right and left hand note heads.

Next, familiarise yourself with the first part of the piping tune. As you gain experience, your imagination may start to assign the occasional rudiment or word here or there to the melody. Don't worry if this doesn't happen straight away.

Imagine/sing/whistle/listen to the first phrase of the tune and see if anything at all comes to your mind. Take as long as you like with this. If you don't have a complete phrase, don't worry, just write down/record what you have and leave any gaps that you may have and come back to this later.

Next, take the next 3 phrases and do the same with those.

Now take a short 5 minute break and come back and play through each phrase one by one with the piping tune. It is usually at this point I will fill in some of the blanks that I had with new ideas that I have come up with.

Using this process, fill your whole score with something. It doesn't matter if you don't like it at this stage, just get something onto the page. It is much easier to edit an idea than it is to start from scratch. Remember to use pencil so you can edit your ideas later.

Once that is done, take a longer break and come back and play through your score making edits and changes as you go. A drum score is like a sculpture, starting with a block of marble, you chip away chunks until the final piece starts to reveal itself. Ideally, you have enough time to put your draft aside for a day and come back to it to pay through.

Things you can start to do at this stage are:

  • Is the score easy to play in terms of “sticking”? For example could changing a flam onto the other hand help the flow for the player?

  • Include a variety of “part starts”. Check that not all parts start in the exact same way.

  • Play the score through with the piping melody to get used to it. It is at this stage that you can gain a complete objective overview of how your score is developing.

  • Imagine yourself (and the rest of your corps if you are writing for your corps) performing this piece and how it is being received. Can you see the audience “getting into it”?

PART FOUR: Questions and Answers for Dean

Q: What was your first composition and what did you learn from it?

A: I had arranged phrases and runs from other tunes to make short two parted tunes earlier on but the first fully written score from scratch was a 4 parted 4/4 March to the tune Gardens of Skye for the Warrnambool and District Pipes and Drums in Victoria, Australia. I was 17 years old and had already been playing for 6 years. I learnt that once I had drawn up all the bars that I needed firstly, I only had to come up with phrases here and there as they “came to me”. It was not as daunting as I had first thought.

Q: How do you get the idea for a tune?

A: When I started, I just asked any piper that would have the patience to run over and over a part of music until I could play along with most of it. At that stage, I just wrote down whatever I could and once written down, we would try playing it again. Part by part, the scores would be written but it does take time and patience which I had loads of in my teens so that was great. I think I probably wrote 100 drum scores in my first 12 months.

Q: What/who are your main musical influences?

A: My main influences at the start were my teachers, Phil Howell, Andrew Womersley, Allan McBean, Brett Staley and Alex McCormick who all composed and helped me in my early years. That coupled with listening to classical music from when I was 4 years old, my dad’s Beatles records and any pipe band records I could get hold of at the time. Once I had started writing, my greatest influences were Reid Maxwell, Harvey Dawson, and Paul Turner, hands down.

Q: What are your 3 top tips for budding composers?

A: The three most important things to remember are that you can definitely compose, keep it simple and do it with a friend (piper or drummer) as playing along with another player helps keep you going. Oh, can I add a fourth? Celebrate your achievement and show your scores off to the world!

Good luck with your new venture and if you ever want some feedback, please do not hesitate sending your score to me at DrummingMad and I’d be happy to help.

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