Competition Tips

Competition tips

Before the Competition

Join your Provincial Piping Association

In order to track you piping / drumming history, the association needs to know who you are.  As a member of PGPB, we coordinate registering you with the BCPA.

Send in your registration for the games ASAP

Sign up as early as you can! Generally, the last sign-ups have to play first – not the best playing position, since judges have not yet heard others to reference in relation to your performance.  If you have not yet received your association membership number but it has been applied for, put “membership number pending” on registration forms.

Select an Appropriate Tune

You will score better playing an easy tune well than a hard tune poorly.  Don’t overreach.  Pick something that you can be comfortable playing with your current skill level even on a bad day.  If selecting from several, equally challenging tunes, select the one you enjoy playing most.

Record yourself

If you don’t do it as part of your normal routine anyway, record yourself to study before the competition; video, if you can do it.  You’ll be surprised what you see / hear as an observer of your own performance.

Play in Front of People

This can make a big difference.  You learn to play the bagpipes and drums for the benefit and enjoyment of others, not just yourself, so get used to being watch.  The less you know the listeners the better, but start with people you know of course.  You’ll be surprised how much you performance might be affected by feeling a little self-conscience.  Careful to not poison strangers’ appreciation for the pipes by playing a poorly tuned instrument for them, or for simply playing poorly.

Watch Other Competitors

If you are lucky enough to get the change, go to a competition and watch everything – the bagpipers, the stewards and judges.  Concentrate on the events in which you plan to compete.  Don’t short-change your solo piobaireachd observations – if you’re competing in the piobaireachd, listen to the experts play!

Mental Preparation

Take a few minutes once in a while to relax and then, closing your eyes, visualize playing perfectly at the event.  Go through this scene with as much detail as you can image – greeting the judge, walking to a starting spot, starting the tune, playing, marching, etc., all in “real time”.    If your event takes six minutes, take six minute to visualize.  It may be helpful to practice in the outfit you will be competing in so it feels perfectly natural.  Olympic athletes use these techniques to prepare; it can assist you with your piping / drumming performance as well!

Don’t just Memorize; Internalize

Once you think you have your tune down cold, try this:  play and read at the same time.  Grab a newspaper or magazine and read for comprehension while playing your tune, the tune should be secondary in your head.  Record yourself.  When you’re done with the performance, see what you’ve remembered from the article you’ve just read.  If you can successfully play well and read well simultaneously, you’ve internalized the tune – you’re better prepared for any distractions.

Practice with a Metronome

Again, if you don’t do it as part of your normal practicing anyway, take time before a performance to play along with a metronome.  This is particularly important for marches, but is not really recommended for piobaireachd where you typically take some liberty in timing to enhance the fundamental emotion of the tune.

March tunes may require you to walk / march in a particular manner. Check with the provincial association for any marching requirements for each tune to be performed.   Work with your instructor and practice at home in whatever form the requirement suggests, marching in place or walking in time.  If it is not required and you’re not comfortable doing it, don’t do it!

Play Longer and stretch

Be able to easily play at least double or triple the time required for performing your tune.  If your tune is two minutes, you should be able to play five or 10 minutes straight on your bagpipes without your technique breaking down; the longer the better.   While practicing, push it past the point where your lips start to give out or your arm is tired.  But if your fingers start to go (usually the last to go), play something other than your competition tune since you don’t want to “absorb” bad habits.  At that point, it is probably best to do embellishment drills or just stop.  Remember to stretch those fingers and wrists!

Back up, Pipe chanter reed that is broken in!

You never know when your pipe chanter reed may fail.  Have a spare pipe chanter reed broken in and ready to substitute gracefully rather than having to struggle with an unbroken reed in competition!

Check your Uniform

Make sure you have everything you need.  Have a checklist or memorize all components head to toe and take inventory before leaving the house!  Get safety pins to attach your competition number and store extras in your sporran or in the inside hem of your kilt.   If you forget pins, sometimes they’ll have a box at the registration table but don’t count on it. 

Double-check your instrument

Make sure you have brought all components necessary to play.  Check all the tape on your chanter is in good shape (not slimy or peeling up), make sure your tuning pins are sliding correctly and not rocking, make sure all your stock joints are tight, make sure all your interior hoses and dehydration systems are maintained and in full working order prior to the event.

Get directions to the games

If you aren’t sure of where you’re going, get complete and detailed directions to the competition venue.   Use online mapping services, maps or printed directions to guide you to a location that you’ve not been to before.   Keep the numbers of other band members handy if you need to call for any additional directions or assistance. 

The Competition 

Depart for the games early

Give yourself a comfortable amount of time to get to the games.  You should be on-site at least an hour before your first competition time to ensure you’re oriented, have your instrument ready and are fully warmed up and prepared to perform.  If this is your first piping/ drumming competition, head out 90 minutes before; these are busy and sometime expansive venues.  Add time for any unknowns or additional passengers’ needs en route.  You don’t want your performance to follow a rushed experience getting to the venue late and stressed.

Also, remember it is BC and the weather can change every ten minutes.  Take along some disposable hand-warmers, mitts and a warm coat!

Register and find your first platform (room)

At most games, the ticket sellers, gatekeepers, parking attendants, and other staff will not know where the piping / drumming competitions are.  Try to have a site map ahead of time; otherwise another piper or drummer is sure to be able to direct you to the right area.  Solo competitions usually take place in the early part of the day (early morning through noon-ish) and band competitions in the afternoon.  Check in at the registration table as soon as you arrive at the competition to make sure you are registered and registered for the specific competitions / events you intended.  It sometimes occurs that an entry error occurs in the schedule – helps to confirm with the coordinator prior to the start of the event as well.   On site, you’ll be expected to check in with the steward for each event. Take the time to orient yourself to the whole layout of the venue and ensure you know the location of each event platform, room or table.  You may need to move quickly from one event to the next depending on scheduling.

Warm up before approaching the judge

Take the time to settle your instrument and warm up with your tune.  Your friends may be about but make the time and space to refocus yourself on this specific tune and your desired performance.   You want to look and feel settled into your performance rather than rushing or scrambling up to the line.  Play a few tunes and/ or exercises to settle your tuning and your fingers but don’t overdo it.  You don’t want to exhaust yourself before you step up to the judge.  Warm up in the same conditions as the playing area (sun, cloud, shade, temperature, etc.).  Most games don’t have designated tuning areas, so take the lead of other pipers but be sure not to tune too near a judging table or platform; you don’t want to disadvantage another competitor’s performance by competing for the judge’s ear.

Now Relax!

Although this may be difficult, take a moment, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, releasing all of the tension in your body.  You’ll play better if you aren’t tense.  You play this instrument for fun and the judge is wishing the very best for and you want to do well and just release and play the tune.

Walk up to the judging area when the steward advises that it is your turn.  Wait at least ten to fifteen feet away while the judge is writing up the previous score sheet.  The judge will make eye contact with you to indicate they’d like you to proceed forward.  Walk up, make eye contact, mod or salute, and introduce yourself with a formal greeting such as “Good morning / afternoon, I’m [your name] and my tune is [tune name].”  The judge will ask your name and your tune if you forget.  It is important the judge get your name down properly so your performance isn’t filed under the wrong name.  Also, if you know the judge, try to remain reasonably formal; respect their role as it relates to the event.

Take a moment and be sure with your first notes

The judge expects you to take a few moments to compose yourself, tune your instrument and play a bit of another tune to test the tuning if necessary.  Face away from the judge while doing this so as not to confuse this with your actual performance.  When ready, run through part of the first line in your head.  Think about which note you start on.  Now face the judge, make eye contact and give him / her a nod or other indication that you are ready to perform.


Avoid looking at (or listening to) the judge, crowd or friends.  These are all distraction.  The only thing you are living at that moment is the tune.  Try not to think about the embellishments. Think about your place in the tune.  Don’t be concerned when the judge starts writing notes; he / she may be noting what they like and they need to make notes to refer to later.  Keep your focus on where you are in your tune, ‘singing’ it in your head to keep track of your place to a strong finish.   If you struggle or make an error, keep playing to the finish of your tune.  The judge wants to hear the whole of your performance!

Pause before exiting

Stop playing and just pause for a few moments, once again make eye contact with the judge and say “Thank you” before exiting the play area. You do not want to start a conversation with the judge at this time – unless they talk to you, in which take the time, they may have something they’d like to share with you. The judge must drive any conversation that is held after the performance.  If you have questions, look for the judge after they’ve finished the event and turned in the adjudication sheets.

Exit Gracefully

No matter how you feel your performance went, do not scream, sign, swear, shake your head or give any negative signs.  The judge knows what you did wrong, and right; don’t feed your emotions into their adjudication.

Check results and Get Your Adjudication (evaluation) sheet

Results are usually posted within a couple of hours.  The grading sheets used by the judge are usually filed at the registration table – ask there if the results are in but try not to pester them too often for your sheet.  Once results are posted, ask for your sheet by event.  They may wish to see your competitor number or get your name to confirm they’re giving you the right results.  Sometimes the handwriting may be difficult to read – they write a lot in the course of a day!  If you have questions, try to find the judge for clarification and ask him/her when they’re not busy with another event. 

One final note…

Even the best players have had their OOPS days – ask your instructor about the range of their competition experiences.  Don’t lose heart or take a disappointing performance too personally.  Take advantage of the advice provided by the adjudicator, work with your instructor and go try it again!  If you continue to play, learn and compete, you will improve!

Good luck and enjoy!