I have been learning and now competing with the highland drum for more than 2 years now. I wanted to write up some tips for others that are thinking about learning the highland drum or ANY new instrument.
5. Keep an open mind
If you are like me, I already have experience playing a musical instrument. I am a classically trained, rudimentary drummer/percussionist. I WAS use to playing with several Wind Symphonies, Orchestras, and Musical Orchestra Pits. Knowledge was and still is helpful, but not technique. You may THINK you know what is going to be like…. not the case until you try. Keep an open mind and enter in this new adventure ready to re-learn your craft in a different (if not sideways) way. Your musical world might be turned upside down for a moment, just until you adjust, find common ground, and finally put it all together (and is will all make since, I promise);p
4. Use what you know
Don’t forget your musical roots. I was going from a Classical setting to highland music, it was disorienting. It may sound and seem strange, but I had to re-learn how to read music; highland drum scores and highland rudiments are not the same as rudimental music and rudimental technique. As I started to become more comfortable, I found that my knowledge and theory is still applicable. For example, a 3/4 time signature still gets 3 beats per measure, you still play rudiments, and you still have a role to play in the over-all ensemble.
3. Do Your Home Work
I highly recommend searching on Google and YouTube for any recordings and videos of the instrument you are trying to play. This has been done since the being of music itself. Listening and learning. African Tribes would do call and response music. A rhythm would be played, it then would be repeated. Jazz Music took this a step further. A Jazz soloist might take the main ‘theme’ or the piece and then modify or improvise on the theme and/or key. It is not looked down upon to learn and borrow from others. I have my musical mentors whom I watch and study. They may play a riff or rhythm that I like and will work into my scores or playing. You will mold your own technique. That’s what makes music so personal, music becomes a part of you when you play, it becomes an extension of your out-ward self.
2. Set a GOAL
When I started to learn Highland Drumming, the pipe was 1 month away from performing at a festival. I made it my goal to play at least one song with the pipe band at this festival, I had less a month to learn and memorize a song. So, I kept a mind, I used my past musical theory, and I studied other highland drummers. I was able to meet my goal and surpass it. I played 3 out 4 tunes with the pipe band. If you don’t set goals, you risk slowing or even stopping your momentum/drive to learn this new skill. I’m setting goals for myself. I set a goal to compete as a solo drummer (placing was a bonus). My next goal is to get lst place in a solo competition. I have an overall goal of competing at the high level possible in 5 years. Set goals and reach them, then make more. 😉
1. Practice with a Metronome!!!
The most important job/role/responsibility with ANY drumming is to keep TIME! If you can’t play in time, you will be ‘cut’ (asked not to play) at rehearsals or performances. Highland Drumming is complex and full of fast 32nd notes and quirky rhythms. It is expected of you to be able to play drum scores not only as an individual, but also as snare line. We call playing perfectly together, playing ‘clean.’ Having a ‘clean’ snare line that keeps time is the ultimate goal in Highland Drumming. There are plenty of FREE metronome apps for Smart phone and also really cheap digital metronome at your local music store. I use a Dr. Beat DB-90. I like this metronome because I am able to add 8th, 16th, 32nd, and triple clicks to help sub-divide note values. My last piece of advice, if you can’t play it slow, you won’t be able to play the score fast.