How Slow Can You Go?: Breaking Down the Massed Band 4/4

This week on the blog we'll be breaking down the North American massed band 4/4 drum score. The massed band scores have been around a while and they have quite a history. Dave Coleman, from the Fredericton Society of St. Andrew's Pipe Band, provided me with some history: 

"The massed band drum scores used in North America were formalized by Hugh Cameron and (I think) Dave Constant circa 1977 or early 1978 based on 1- and 2-bar phrases employed by Alex Duthart, Army Manuals and others in much older scores. Hugh was a member of the PPBSO Music Board in those days and, as I recall, they were originally composed at the behest of the PPBSO to provide a higher standard for massed band scores at Highland Games and other occasions where a collection of pipe bands may come together to play as a single unit. Not all drummers were musically literate in those days (even in Grade 1 Bands), and these scores were sometimes the first ones written to a commonly-accepted standard learned by both new and experienced players alike. The scores caught on and became widely used in North America over the next few years. (For example, the scores were learned and used by the drummers of the massed pipes & drums of the Nova Scotia Tattoo in 1979.) Hugh Cameron would certainly be able to provide more history and insight as to how they were put together and originally communicated." -- David Coleman

Despite the age of the massed band scores, they still have value from an educational perspective. Unfortunately, innumerable lead drummers have changed the scores to make them easier or to "dumb them down" for inexperienced players. Full disclosure: I have done the same thing changing drags to flams, switching difficult stickings out for easier ones etc. But, in order to realize the educational potential of these scores, we need to get back to playing them correctly!

 

And... what is the best way to (re)learn a score correctly? You guessed it: by playing it slowly!

 

The massed band 4/4 drum score contains many rudiments but there are three that stand out to me as being particularly tricky, and therefore candidates for slow, repetitive practice (thank goodness a video exists that you can rewind again and again!).

  1. Five Stroke Rolls: In the first line, you will be confronted with a series of "slow" and "fast" fives. "Slow" fives begin on the "dot" of a dot/cut and "fast" fives begin on the "cut" of the dot/cut. The buzz strokes of the "fast" five are played exactly twice as fast as those of the "slow" five. The contrasting speed of the buzzes in both iterations of the five stroke roll are really only distinguishable at slow speeds so have a listen to the slowest version of the score before playing along.
  2. Accented Rolls: In the second part, you are met with accented rolls (known also as "back to back" or "cut" sixes). These rolls are played as sixteenth note triplets. Note that the "accent" is not really played as a heavy stroke. Instead it is merely a tap instead of a buzz.
  3. Drags: In the third part you will be met head on by a difficult series of drags played on both hands. This is one of the hardest sections to execute properly in all of the three massed band scores. Playing at slow tempos will help considerably when practicing this section. Try to remember to "place" the dead stroke of the drag instead of "playing" it to avoid any unwanted "buzz".

 

The videos below contain the massed band 4/4 played at three speeds: slow, medium and fast (march tempo). I recorded the first two with a metronome set to a triplet pulse to aid in playing both the dot/cut rhythms and the roll pulses correctly. The "march tempo" version is recorded with a simple eighth note pulse. If you would like to follow along download a copy of the music from the PPBSO website. Let's get started!

 

Massed Band 4/4 (Slow Tempo)

 

Massed Band 4/4 (Medium Tempo)

 

Massed Band 4/4 (March Tempo)

 

Next week we'll be slowing down the massed band 3/4. Until then, happy drumming!

2 comments

  • Dave Coleman

    Dave Coleman Fredericton, NB

    Hi Zach: The massed band drum scores used in North America were formalized by Hugh Cameron and (I think) Dave Constant circa 1977 or early 1978 based on 1- and 2-bar phrases employed by Alex Duthart, Army Manuals and others in much older scores. Hugh was a member of the PPBSO Music Board in those days and, as I recall, they were originally composed at the behest of the PPBSO to provide a higher standard for massed band scores at Highland Games and other occasions where a collection of pipe bands may come together to play as a single unit. Not all drummers were musically literate in those days (even in Grade 1 Bands), and these scores were sometimes the first ones written to a commonly-accepted standard learned by both new and experienced players alike. The scores caught on and became widely used in North America over the next few years. (For example, the scores were learned and used by the drummers of the massed pipes & drums of the Nova Scotia Tattoo in 1979.) Hugh Cameron would certainly be able to provide more history and insight as to how they were put together and originally communicated. -- Dave Coleman

    Hi Zach: The massed band drum scores used in North America were formalized by Hugh Cameron and (I think) Dave Constant circa 1977 or early 1978 based on 1- and 2-bar phrases employed by Alex Duthart, Army Manuals and others in much older scores. Hugh was a member of the PPBSO Music Board in those days and, as I recall, they were originally composed at the behest of the PPBSO to provide a higher standard for massed band scores at Highland Games and other occasions where a collection of pipe bands may come together to play as a single unit. Not all drummers were musically literate in those days (even in Grade 1 Bands), and these scores were sometimes the first ones written to a commonly-accepted standard learned by both new and experienced players alike. The scores caught on and became widely used in North America over the next few years. (For example, the scores were learned and used by the drummers of the massed pipes & drums of the Nova Scotia Tattoo in 1979.) Hugh Cameron would certainly be able to provide more history and insight as to how they were put together and originally communicated.
    -- Dave Coleman

  • Pipe Band Drummer

    Pipe Band Drummer

    Dave: Thanks for this info! Great to learn some history about these classics!

    Dave: Thanks for this info! Great to learn some history about these classics!

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