Competitions – Pipes, Drums & Bands

SFU Pipe Band at 2017 BC Highland Games in an interesting formation.

The most common form of pipe band, the Scottish pipe band, consists of a section of pipers, a section of side drummers known as a drum corps, several tenor drummers and a single bass drummer. The tenor drummers and bass drummer are often referred to collectively as the midsection.

Standard instrumentation for a pipe band is from 6 to 25 pipers, 3 to 10 side drummers, 1 to 4 tenor drummers and 1 bass drummer. Occasionally this instrumentation is augmented to include additional instruments (such as additional percussion instruments or keyboard instruments), however this is typically done only in concert settings.

While a great number of pipe bands exist purely for the enjoyment and performance of the music, playing on parade and in festivals and tattoos, the primary focus for most bands today is competition. Since 1930, when the Scottish Pipe Band Association (Now the Royal SPBA) was formed, there has been an event known as the World Pipe Band Championships held in Glasgow every August. For competitive bands, the title of World Champion is highly coveted, and this event is seen as the culmination of a year's worth of preparation, rehearsal and practice. Until 1987, when the Canadian 78th Fraser Highlanders band was awarded the Grade One title, every band that had won had been Scottish. In recent years however, this has changed and several non-Scottish bands have had success, most notably the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, and the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band of Ireland.

Massed Bands


Piping Judge Bob Worrall

The British Columbia Pipers’ Association administers the solo piping, drumming, and pipe band events. All information related to event registration, order of play, and schedules will be posted on the BCPA website.

Competitors visit the BCPA website for registration information.

Results of competitions are available here.

The Order of Play can be viewed here after entries close.

You Be The Judge…

Whether adjudicating a solo player or pipe band contest, the decision of a judge is dependent upon a number of variables beginning with the playing level of the competitor. A beginner, for example, is not held to the same standards as a professional. Beginners play in a grade 5 band. As players gain more experience and perform with higher skill level, they progress upward through grades 4, 3, 2, with grade 1 being the highest. Solo competitors can play in the professional class after grade 1.

The primary elements judges use to consider their prizes are:

  • EXECUTION – the technical aspects of playing an instrument with controlled sound.
  • MUSICAL EXPRESSION – the ability to properly phrase tunes at tempos that contribute to its overall musicality.  As players proceed up the grades they are expected to combine execution and expression into more competent performances which show an increase in control, mastery of the rudiments, and more expressiveness.
  • TONE & TUNING – the overall sound of the instruments. Proper tuning and blending of the chanter and drones contributes to tone. Tuning should be done so that no wavering sound is detected as the instrument is played. (Wavering is a sure sign that the drones are out of tune with the chanter). Side drums should always have a crisp sound, but when it comes to bagpipes, judges may have preferences for a particular tone. The judge listens in order to ascertain whether the tone is consistent throughout the performance and pleasing to the ear.
  • ENSEMBLE – pertains to band competitions. The ensemble judge listens to the ‘fit’ of the drum score to the pipe music, the balance of volumes from side, tenor, and bass drums with the pipes, and the overall effect of ‘one great instrument’, rather than a collection of individual instruments.



Hal Senyk, Dowco Triumph St. Pipe Band