The 2020 competition season is officially over. Covid-19 is real, and at the moment we must all play our new part of physical distancing as to not further spread this new and unknown virus. While many of our beloved summer events are canceled as a result, how are we to continue playing and progressing our ensembles? With so much uncertainty, is it even possible or responsible to worry about piping or drumming? Not only is the immediate answer, “Yes”, but doing what we love to do is much more critical to sustaining our personal health and well-being during this period then we might realize.
We’re all searching for a new balance in our new lives, so here are 5 ways to keep progressing your music without the luxury of live performance. Let’s count-down in order of importance. Number 1 is a game changer.
Well before quarantines, lots of folks struggled with making time for practicing. If you’re a pro, you understand the necessity and immediate benefits of having a space solely dedicated to music making, practice, instrument stuff, etc. Most pros in any craft have a similar set-up and for good reason. The kitchen is a dedicated place for food preparation. The dining room— for gathering and eating. Having the same for your music serves the same purpose for any level of player and will instantly provide the same focus and internal drive.
But what if you don’t have a music room or find yourself not using it as often as you’d like? Music Bombs. Boom.
If you put music making things around musicians— boom— music happens. Strategically place your music making things— sticks, mallets, pads, chanters, laptops, books, etc.— in places around your home where you hang-out. I keep a practice pad & sticks on a tall stand near the dining room table, because this is a central gathering spot in my home. I also keep some sticks and another pad near my desk and another by the couch. There’s also a Cajon, a Djembe, two pianos, some violins, guitars, various shakers and other miscellaneous musical things laying here and there (and none of this is in my dedicated music studio). We’ve positioned these to not only be welcoming for the sporadic jam, but to add some decoration as well. Speak with your family or dwelling partners, and make sure everyone is comfortable with the arrangement, then create the opportunity to just pick-up and play. 30 seconds, 30 minutes— every little bit counts. Boom.
I’m going to get real with you. Ready?...
Get over yourself & just jam.
Another tactic that anyone and everyone can do (yes, even you!), and that’s to jam. Jamming means to improvise, to rock out, to just play— usually along with whatever music you like to listen to. Jamming is one of the healthiest things any musician can do for themselves, perhaps especially Pipe Band musicians, as we’re usually regulated to only playing through-composed repertoire (which means note-for-note compositions with ZERO alterations).
If you’re not accustomed to doing this, it’s going to feel weird. Go feel weird. It’s totally fine, and the point is to just let your hair down and play. No judges, no critics— get over yourself and just jam! You will feel better even if it’s the lamest thing you’ve ever played. If you’re really feeling saucy about your jam’n and want to add the social component, take a quick vid and post it on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, TikTok or Twitter. Don’t even think about doing this unless you’re ready for open feedback. Don’t feel pressured by the social media stuff. Jamming at home is extremely rewarding for you and you only. Now, pick your favorite tune, album or Youtube track, and go forth and jam!
Monster Instructor, Grant Cassidy of Red Hot Chili Piper fame, has an awesome class on improving, jam'n, chill'n, etc. Check it out.
If you’re a social media person, you might see a sudden increase in music groups doing this. This is not a new thing, it’s just suddenly necessary. Online group meetings and rehearsals are super normal and don’t require much ‘tech’ to execute. Here’s the most popular and reliable platforms:
For Newbies with a $0 budget:
No downloads. Totally free. All browsers and devices. You DON’T need a gmail account. Up to 150 people can be in a virtual room at once. It’s the quickest and easiest way to get your whole crew on your screen at once. Forget about the bells and whistles. This is about ease and accessibility. FYI- Google Hangouts is upping their game to Google Meet. By June of 2020, it's all Meet all the time. Fear not. If you're just getting started, they are essentially the same, just a different format with a few more options in Meet. Growth is good:)
You’ll need to download the app and create an account— yes. But once you’re set-up, you’re good to go, and you can have up to 50 people on at once. The limited options are totally fine for the $0 price tag. Video quality, btw, is more about your camera and wifi connection than anything else. Forget about cameras. Just get connected.
I’m sure there’s lot of others, especially if you’re attempting this from your phone. But the less popular, less used mobile apps and platforms are just not worth the hassle, IMHO. Google and Skype are tech giants so you can easily connect with your crew and schedule a rehearsal. Don’t over complicate the situation. Stay chill and just get everyone in the same virtual space at the same time so you can spend more time playing together.
For Pros with a budget:
It’s worth the $12 monthly charge, download and set-up. Every feature you would want, and the quality of delivery is stellar. If you’re gathering at least once a week, it’s time to upgrade, and GTM is a longstanding and reliable option. Remember, quality begins with your camera and wifi connection, NOT the platform.
Another great option at $15 per month. Set-up, download— yes, but super smooth sailing after. It’s not better or worse than GTM, because it really depends on your computer/device, camera and wifi connection. It’s a comparable solution that’s worth your money if you have enough committed people to practicing together each week.
What else do you need to know about these or other platforms? Nothing. Just try one out and see if you like it. They both offer free trials, and you can always cancel. But more important than the platform is the process. You’ll need to change your routine and expectations. For example, you can not have everyone play at the same time. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re the host, you’ll need to make sure you have a comfortable way to run the session smoothly. If you need some more help with this, just give us a shout, and we’ll help you out.
We crave human connection. Since we can't get our regular fix, we’re all drawn to our screens even more now. However, we also need time to ourselves and away from the tech. A great way to motivate while progressing your music is to finally buy that book you’ve wanted to get for years. Take a moment and think about it. You’ve either heard about it from a friend, saw it at a convention, online, whatever. The typical hang-up is time. You don’t want to buy something you’re not going to spend time with, right? Now that you have the time, get the book. Buying that book will also support your local Drum or music shop, so go straight to them rather than Amazon. Oh, it’s $5 cheaper on Amazon? Your local shop will make better use of those $5… promise.
Stop here. Open a new tab, go to your local shop’s website and buy that book (or those books) you’ve been thinking about. It’s worth it. Do that real quick then come back. I’ll wait here.
You: Epub or physical book?
Me: Go physical.
You: But the epub is cheaper and I can get it right now.
Me: Then go epub.
You: But the epub has me on my screen even more.
Me: Then go physical.
You: But the epub...
Don’t stress over these things. Go physical, and buy local. Why? The goal here is to find a new balance in progressing your music without live performances. This requires a change in your routine; a change in your approach. Do things that will get you onto your pad or chanter.
The book(s) is(are) purchased and en route? Great. Once your package arrives, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Take some time to skim over the whole thing. Give yourself an overview of what the book has to offer. Then determine where you want to put your focus. It’s not necessary to play every note or read every word. Choose what is most important for you specifically, then allow yourself the opportunity to stay on a specific concept until it’s understood. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Take advantage of the time and investment by playing the book.
A final thought for Pipe Band Drummers:
Look outside of your genre for inspiration. There aren’t many Pipe Band Drumming books (yet) anyways. Think about expanding your musical horizons and library and consider a method or score book of American Rudimental Drumming, Swiss Drumming, British Drumming, Orchestral Percussion, hand Percussion or Drum set. It’s amazing how beneficial non-Pipe Band Drumming is for your Pipe Band Drumming.
It’s amazing how beneficial non-Pipe Band Drumming is for your Pipe Band Drumming.
That’s right. Total plug and zero shame. Yes, I am one of the 15 team members who work tirelessly every day for the awesome subscriber community of Rhythm Monster, LLC. As a public school and University Percussion Instructor for nearly 20 years, I can state objectively that a subscription to this online education resource is a no-brainer. It’s the best bang for your buck in the best of times, and now that you’re stuck at home with no performances on the calendar, it’s the easiest way to get the Exposure, Education & Experiences you need to keep progressing. Here’s a quick glance:
Rhythm Monster creates the absolute best video and audio content of the best Pipe Band Drummers in the world absolutely free. You’ve likely seen the Monster Drum Corps Series on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram. The short clips are on social media, the full clips are on Rhythm Monster Pipe Band Drumming Blog page, again, totally free.
This is the real meat and potatoes—the haggis, neeps & tatties. Dozens of World Champion Monster Drummers teaching every Drumming concept imaginable. There are currently over +400 instructional video classes for Snare Drum, Tenor Drum, Bass Drum, even some Bagpipe stuff (but for Drummers, of course). A Rhythm Monster Annual or Monthly Subscription allows you to learn from all of these amazing instructors, and they’re available to you 24/7 on any device.
There’s also this amazing educational tool called PadLab. PadLab will change the way you learn drum scores. You have full control over everything. You can choose which camera angle you want to see, control the tempo, Isolate a phrase and repeat it endlessly, isolate the piping, drumming or metronome audio tracks, and choose any screen formatting. You’ll never learn drum scores the same way again after you’ve learned with PadLab.
We can’t gather, and that’s why you’re reading this article. Normally, Rhythm Monster organizes live events and sometimes even pays for subscribers to travel to The Worlds, Winter Storm, etc. The digital experiences are all about our Monster Drummer Community. Subscribers have private forums and pages for questions, feedback on performances, or just to hang and chat.
While the greater piping and drumming community remains obsessed with competition, the Rhythm Monster community is relaxed, supportive and ready to help any member with anything they would need to Drum better.
There is no criticism, no judgment, only Drumming and music. While nothing beats the real thing, these digital experiences are made awesome because of these awesome people.
This too shall pass. Covid-19 will not last forever, and we’ll all be back together before you know it. Enjoy this time you have with your loved ones and with yourself. You love music, so allow yourself the time to just play music. You'll be happier. You'll be healthier. Create the environment around you to explore this freely. Put sticks, mallets, pads and chanters where you naturally hang-out. Jam, improv and just play. Get your crew together once a week for light rehearsals or just to hang-out. Buy the book and play the book. And get an Annual or Monthly Subscription to Rhythm Monster. These things will help you find the new balance you’ve seen searching for.