Step 1...Take a deep breath

— You've got this.

It can be a little nerve racking settling in to bagpipe competition.  Here are a few things to remember and ideas what to expect.

Before you leave the house:

  • Check the weather forecast for your destination, and pack rain gear regardless of what it says
  • Double check your uniform kit bag…everything from your hat to your shoes…and everything in between…twice!!
  • Double check to make sure that you have everything that you will need for your instrument…including extra (broken in and ready to play) chanter and drone reeds…drying brushes…general maintenance equipment
  • have a print out of the order of play from the games registrar.
  • Don’t forget your passport if you are going out of the country...

When you arrive at the games:

  • Check in at the appointed time at the piping and drumming tent…check the rules for the piping society that governs the highland games you are attending..
  • Verify the order of play…the time that the event starts…and check in with the steward at the judges station...
  • Know that your playing position may be moved up if other competitors drop out or don’t show…so be ready early!
  • Be sure to have your instrument warmed up and tuned up prior to stepping inside the judging area.

Playing for a judge:

  •  #1…relax…the judges have been in your shoes…they know what it is like and they WANT you to play at your best...
  • Speak to the judge.  Give your name and the name of the tune or tunes that you are playing for them. You can salute  the judge if you like…I personally don’t because I have not been a member of the military and don’t want to disgrace the salute.
  • After you speak with the judge, they typically say…”take your time”…they mean it!!! Depending on the event that you are playing …you will generally have 2 or 3 minutes to final tune your instrument prior to playing your piece. This time, I have found, is even better for calming myself down. At this point you either know the music or you don’t…you must gather yourself mentally and calm your nerves.
  • Typically, when I am ready to play for the judge, I will face that person, play a long E…then begin my tune…the judging starts when you start your tune…not one moment before.
  • If you make a mistake…squeak on a note…get off the tune…do your very best not to quit (break down)…play your tune to the end…you may not get a prize..or you just might…but once you start the habit of breaking down…it seems to happen more frequently in the future...

After the judging:

  • Properly pack up your bagpipes and secure them
  • After all the competitors in your event have played…check back at the piping and drumming tent for results…you will get your score sheet there...

About the Scoresheet:

  • In general there are two kinds of judges
    • the book writer
    • the minimalist
  • The judges #1 job here is to place the competitors in an order for prizes…many times the score sheets reflect the information that they need to make these placings...
  • The Book writer…some judges look at this as an opportunity to help you down your path to playing better music and make the score sheet reflect specific things that they feel you need to work on in order to improve.
  • The minimalist…may write very little at all on the score sheet…but provide just enough information to place the competitors in their proper order.
I have had many of both types of score sheets…Please don’t think the a book writing judge is picking on you…they are trying to help you. Please don’t think that the minimalist doesn’t care enough to write down more information…they are there trying to do their job…creating an order of placing.

Some Final Thoughts on Competitive Piping:

If you see your judge later in the day, it is alright to say hello to them. If you have a question, ask if they have time - often times they may have other duties that they are on there way to and can’t speak at that time…but I have always found that if they have the time, they are more than glad to answer questions that you may have. But do NOT be confrontational with them - always be respectful. They want you all to succeed.

I personally have played what I thought was outstanding music on a great bagpipe and received nothing. Other times played what I thought was not particularly  well and won my event.
Bagpipe competition is very subjective to the judge.  I equate it to wine tasting…each judge has their own tastes, preferences and things that they look for. Judging is NEVER personal…ever.
Now, if you have a less the great experience at your first competition - don’t quit competing…you will get better at it…there is nothing like seeing a date circled on the calendar knowing that you need to be prepared to play again for another judge…that alone may help you improve your playing in a very short time!!!
Lastly, while you are at a competition, ALWAYS take some time to listen to the contests in the grades above your current level.  Get used to hearing the tunes played better than you can currently play them.  This will feed into your improvement faster than you realize.

See you at the Games,


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