The Dynamics of Pipe Band Competition – Remember, Most Do Not Win Prizes!

Bands throughout the Northern Hemisphere will soon begin their winter practices for the 2022 season. In eight short months we will have, fingers crossed, the resumption of competition after a three year hiatus. We hope this article will help bands focus productively on what lies ahead….

This article examines the band competition environment. First of all, let’s try and understand the ethos of pipe band competition and why we do it. I think most of us would agree on the following:

  • It serves to promote pipe bands
  •  It provides incentive for bands and individuals to improve performance
  •  It provides for public performance
  • Through adjudication, it allows for benchmarking against other competitors
  •  Last but not least, it’s fun

By P/M Barry Donaldson

Unfortunately for some, ‘fun’ is the last thing on their mind, with the ‘prize’ becoming the be all and end all. This more often than not leads to frustration and disillusionment when loss is experienced. The reality of pipe band competition is that the majority of bands do not win prizes!

Consequently, if the primary reason for performing is winning prizes, forget it and re- evaluate your motives for playing the instrument (think about what made you want to learn in the first place).

Pipe Major Walter Cowan once told me, ‘Treat the music seriously, but don’t take judging seriously.’ A more profound statement I have yet to hear. 

Walter was one of the most competitive, musical players of his day, winning and losing significant prizes (both as a pipe major and solo piper). However, he never lost sight of his reason for engaging in these musical disciplines – his love of the music.



The simple fact is that pipe band music is facilitated far more significantly in the competition environment than in any other areas of performance. Competition can provide a truly exhilarating experience, with opportunities to perform, to listen to great music and to enjoy the company of fellow musicians.

Every pipe band competitor, first and foremost, should approach competition looking forward to enjoying the music and taking pleasure in the event, win, lose or draw.

How should we approach competition?  Assuming the band is well prepared and the season is about to commence, what are your considerations? 

Here are some:

  • Type of event, major or minor
  •  1 leg or 2 (are you involved in the MAP competition / will your band play twice)?
  •  Should the band play up a grade? 
  •  Performance time
  •  The players
  •  Location
  • Lay out of event (performance rinks / final tuning areas)
  • Travel arrangements
  •  Location
  •  Weather  (if outdoors)

 What you shouldn’t be considering:

  • Judges (you can’t do anything about them)
  •  Other bands
  • Previous performances
  •  What’s on the web (ignore it)

Generally, preparation during the week leading up to competitions, particularly the majors, will see an increase in tension within band members. Remain focussed on the practice and importantly, enjoy. These periods are when the band usually performs best and indeed this is the main reasons why you have chosen to play music in the first place.

  • To be continued. Barry Donaldson is a senior solo piping judge and a member of the RSPBA’s Ajudicator Panel and as such a judge at Major Championships. He is the winner of multiple World Pipe Band Championships with the former Strathclyde Police Pipe Band and a successful pipe major and soloist in his own right. He is in much demand as an instructor and travels regularly to Europe and North America to teach. His article first appeared in Pipe Band Magazine. Stay tuned to PP for more.

1 thought on “The Dynamics of Pipe Band Competition – Remember, Most Do Not Win Prizes!

  1. Totally agree with the above. The buzz of hitting the grass and meeting up with friends to enjoy what we do. I would add a couple of things to the consideration list…
    . What will I take as my carry oot
    . Where will we stop for chips…
    What not to consider…
    . Gordons crabbitness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.