Preparing for the World Solo Drumming Championships
A Monster Blog by Kerr McQuillan
The World Solo Drumming is the biggest event of its kind and attracts people from all over the globe. For us drummers, The World Solo Drumming Championships is an opportunity to present our hard work and it can be a tense and nerve-racking experience. That said, preparation is key and builds your confidence to ensure you give yourself the best possible chance of making the prize list.
I prepared for the competition in a number of different ways, both psychologically and physically. You wouldn’t think for one second that psychology and the way you think would come into a drumming competition, but for me it is a big part.
Talking with drummers is always enjoyable and we can hear ourselves asking each other “Who am I up against?” “Where have they placed before?” “What might excite and attract the judges’ ear?” “How well prepared am I?”
These thoughts are natural, right?! They can be useful to drive you forward. I find it better to clear my head as quickly as possible and to focus on how I can present my performance. At the end of the day, unlike Football and other sports, we can’t control the outcome and this is why I put all the obvious questions to the back of my mind.
Deciding What to Play and Setting Goals
The first stage of my preparation for the ‘Worlds’ was to make a plan. I divided this into portions over a 10-week period. During the first 2 weeks I went through different tunes, material and experimented with scores. Once I made my tune choice, I record them and played them back to myself and others to gain a sense of the impact on the listener and to hear how well the tunes link together.
I like to play something that is exciting and that I enjoy, that way, I know I will give it my best shot.
Over the next few weeks, I then practice for technical accuracy, definition and integration. I do this by going over and playing the tunes in two bar phrases, again recording these and listening back. I find setting myself goals for improvement is a good way to work over the next few weeks and continue to listen to recordings to see how I am doing. Inviting feedback from others is also helpful at this stage as you gain another perspective.
In the final two weeks, I rehearse, rehearse and rehearse until I get to the stage that I feel fully confident. During this time, I use a few tips that I picked up from my dad, for example, while I’m playing or counting out an intro, I get someone to shout out a random part and then I have to play that part in response. Oh! This really sharpens your mind. This is also good for understanding the mood and natural expression of a tune within the various parts and respective key changes. I also practice the breaks between tunes, for example, the last four bars of the march into the Strathspey and the same to the reel. This ensures the idiom is established from the off and is something that judges really focus on.
For me, practicing with a metronome is also important to ensure composure and to feel comfortable in playing at a designated tempo. I like to get a feel for things and ask myself “is it too fast, too slow, does it flow and excite?”
Being at a music school, I have benefited from being taught about how rhythm and tempo together can influence the temperament of a presentation, so I work on that too. This helps me to ultimately feel settled in the competition room and it is one less thing you need to worry about.
I then practice with my piper at least twice a week leading up to the solos so I feel secure and locked in. We focus on integration and ensuring we are working together. A piper who knows how you like to play is an advantage.
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It Takes More Than Practice
The final stage to my preparation is positive self-talk which may be a new or a unique thing, but I have been learning about this and it certainly helps. Motivating yourself and believing you can achieve is a big part of it. So, before the event, I visualize these pictures from the past and how I felt hearing my name being called out as the winner.
“The only person that can beat me is me”
I use this technique when entering the competition room because it makes me feel more in control of myself. The quote I use all the time in solos right before my two intro rolls is “the only person that can beat me is me” and that sets me up and settles my nerves.
I know I am still young and learning, but I have been in the solo scene for a few years now and like everyone else, I want to play to the best of my ability. To help my development, I have started reading and viewing videos on what successful sports, business and musical performers do and it really comes down to being prepared to deliver 100% high quality. They also talk about winning and how the human body feels a sense of achievement. This triggers you and spurs you on to compete even more and to try and achieve success on your goals. So, I try to play at as many solo events as I can including events out with the UK. For example, I loved my trips to the USA and winning on both occasions and in particular the gold medal in the Grade 1 at Winter Storm 2019 was such a special achievement.
Some of my friends and people competing for the first time ask me what it’s like to play as a soloist at the worlds. I tell them it’s great craic (fun)! You meet so many people from different countries and bands. It’s held at a big University and if you get a prize (or better still, if you win!) it makes it all the more special.
The event might scare people with it having a huge title, but the prestige is great as everyone wants to win. I also like to watch other competitors and my favorite drummers to hear what they are playing and how they present musically. This is great for learning and so special as it can be a once a year opportunity.
The results being called out at the end of the day are the most tense and nerve-racking part. Your mind races and you begin to think about questions again, “Have I done enough?” “Where will I finish?”
This year, I played very well and won Juvenile Section 4 at the World Solo Drumming Championships against a field of great drummers. This isn’t just down to my ability, my preparation was key as was the support, help and guidance I received from those around me to achieve this great goal - thank you I am grateful.
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