2016 is the 175th Annual Highland Games to be held at Tomintoul and this year we decided to hold a Drumming Competition for the first time. 


Drums are the oldest instrument known to man.  The drum dates back to 4000 BC in Egypt where they were made from crocodile skins but before that have been found in China, dating to a period of 5500–2350 BC; the Neolithic period.  


In literary records they were often used in ritual ceremonies having shamanistic characteristics and some primates also use drumming to show dominance often beating their chests with cupped hands.  Drums can be used for various purposes not only in their musical context.  They have been used to communicate messages over great distances in both Africa and the Sri Lanka for over 2500 years and in some cases they can imitate the tone patterns of spoken language.

Drums have also considerable use in a military context where a drum is used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Fife-and-drum corps of certain mercenary foot soldiers also used drums. They used an early version of the snare drum carried over the player's right shoulder, suspended by a strap typically played with one hand. It is to this instrument that the English word "drum" was first used. Similarly, during the English Civil War rope-tension drums would be carried by junior officers as a means to relay commands from senior officers over the noise of battle. These were also hung over the shoulder of the drummer but typically played with two drum sticks. Different army regiments and companies would have distinctive and unique drum beats only they recognised - this was essential in times of strife. 


In the mid-19th century, the Scottish military started incorporating Pipe Bands into their Highland Regiments.  Interestingly the band of the Gordon Highlands was known as the Drums and Pipes of the Gordon Highlanders.


The drum corps of a pipe band consists of a section of drummers playing Highland Snare Drums and the bass section the early days of pipe bands, rope tension snare drums were common, but as the technology evolved, so did the music. Pipe band drummers now play on drums with very tight, knitted Kevlar heads, designed for maximum tension to create a very crisp and strident sound.  This crispness has become an integral part of the pipe band sound. Since today's drum is so facile as a result of its design, players are often able to execute extremely complicated and technically demanding rudimentary patterns.


In the context of the pipe band, the drum corps is responsible for both supporting the piping with a solid rhythmic foundation and sense of pulse, often creating an interesting musical line unto itself. The line played by the drum corps (referred to as the 'drum score') is usually based on rudimentary patterns and can often be quite involved, with solo, unison and contrapuntal passages throughout. A popular pattern in many scores is for the lead drummer to play a phrase, and the section to play in response. This technique is known as seconds (sometimes referred to as chips, or forte).


While standard practice in pipe bands is for the pipe section to perform the traditional or standard arrangements of the melodies, often including grace notes much as with piping, drum scores are very often composed by the lead drummer of the band.  These grace notes or augmentations can be important when judging a competition.


The competitions on offer at Tomintoul will be in three sections: Two Junior sections and an Open  

Junior  13 Years and Under will be required to play 2 Parts of  March

Junior 14 – 17 Years will be required to play 4 Parts of a March 

Open  will be required to play 4 Parts of a March Strathspey and Reel.


The Judge this year is John Moneagle from Kingussie who is a highly recognised teacher and judge of Drumming.