Snare Drum

Pipe Band competition tends to focus on well-tuned pipes, the absence of errors and an integrated band performance between pipes and drums, especially snare drums. Drumming is now a highly technical art. Having moved from providing a tempo and basic rhythm to the melody, drumming now contributes to the overall performance as a group instrument in its own right and gives extra drive and excitement.

The structure of the snare has altered to accommodate these changes. Rope tensioned drums have been replaced by screw tensioned instruments with tighter heads, snares have been added to both top and bottom heads to provide a brighter and sharper sound and the shell of the drum has been redesigned to facilitate greater tensioning of the head. All of these changes were needed to accommodate the playing of an increasing number of strokes per bar. It is now quite difficult to pick out single strokes in modern pipe band drumming.

Basically, all drumming is developed from a single stroke, but beats can be combined to form a roll, where single beats cannot be differentiated by the ear. The 'flam', another grouping, may be compared to single grace notes in piping, where a short stroke is played before the actual stroke. A 'paradiddle' is a group of four strokes played from hand to hand in a particular way and in which any stroke of the group may be accented. This technique gives a wide variation in intensity and expression.

Lambeg Drum

Long-associated with the marching bands of the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Lambeg drum is made from oak and goatskin, is rope-tensioned and is decorated on hoops and shell. Developed from the 18th century 'long drum', at 13kg, 90cm in diameter and 75cm wide, its hefty dimensions can produce very considerable volume +/- 120 decibels. In order to keep in step with the increasingly competitive side of Lambeg drumming, where drum is pitted against drum and volume is king, over the years the drum tension has been tightened and the measurements augmented to the present size. In the 1870s, the introduction of canes to replace ball-headed beaters meant that faster and more complex rhythms could be facilitated.

Over time, styles changed from single time (slow single beats in a set tune) to double time (where rolls were added), to today’s 'competition time' (where fast, loud, repetitive rolls are employed). Lines of songs or snatches of phrases are sometimes used as a means of identifying rhythmic patterns.

Unique to Ireland, Lambegs (also variously known as slashers, tibbies and batteries) are found in Antrim, Down, Armagh and Tyrone and competitions are arranged all year-round. Indeed their significance marginalised the role of fife with Lambeg, mid-Antrim being by and large the last area to still exploit the combination.


Gavin Noade and Chris McNicholl