Published: July 28, 2015

p|d Survey: Almost two-thirds of Grade 1 P-Ms favour size limits

The results

Almost two-thirds of Grade 1 pipe-majors said that, Yes, there should be some sort of limits placed on either competing section sizes or overall band rosters or both. In most democratic countries, gaining two-thirds of a vote would be considered a convincing statement that change should be enacted.

Of the 30 bands, 19 of them – or 63 percent – said that there should be some sort of limits, while 11 – or 27 percent – said No, things are fine as they are, with no limitations placed on either competing sections sizes or complete rosters.

We are maintaining the anonymity of how specific pipe-majors completed the survey, but we can say that, of the bands that finished in the top-six at the 2014 World Pipe Band Championships, five of them selected No, there should be no limits. That is 45 percent of the overall No vote.

It almost goes without saying that the most successful bands in the world benefit from the flexibility of unlimited numbers, as competition success attracts more interested and incrementally better pipers and drummers. The more success, the more high-quality players, and the more high-qulaity players, the more competition success, and so on.

Depending on your perspective, it’s either a virtuous or vicious circle.

Those who answered No to the question “Should the overall size and/or section sizes of a pipe band be limited?” were finished with the survey since their opinion is pretty cut-and-dried – no limits, no rule, no policy, nothing more to be said.

Those who answered Yes went on to complete a few more questions.

The first was How should size be limited? with four choices.

Pipe section and drum section should each have a maximum number of players who can compete on the field, but no limit to total roster size. Some 68 percent of those answering Yes in some selected this option.

No pipe-major selected the option of, “A band’s total roster should be limited, but can compete with as many players from that roster as they wish.” For the those who support limits on numbers, they must include provisions for the maximum number of competing members.

For the option, “BOTH section and overall roster sizes should be limited,” 32 percent selected this.

No one from the Yes camp picked “Other (please specify),” providing no further ideas on limiting numbers.

Those who selected “Pipe section and drum section should each have a maximum number of players who can compete on the field, but no limit to total roster size.” Then went on to provide more details with several options.

“Since you said that competing section sizes should be limited, which combination from the options below would be closest to your idea of ideal maximum numbers?”

  • 20 pipers, 10 snare drummers, 6 bass-section – 46%
  • 23 pipers, 11 snare drummers, 7 bass-section – 15%
  • 18 pipers, 9 snare drummers, 5 bass-section – 15%
  • 25 pipers, 12 snare drummers, 8 bass-section – 0%

Three selected “Other” and filled in the space with:

  • 21 pipers,10 snares, 6 bass-section
  • 27 pipers, 12 snares, 8 bass-section
  • 21 pipers, 9 snare, 7 bass-section

Those who said that Both roster size and competing section sizes should be limited, were then asked Which from the combinations following is closest to ideal?

  • 20 pipers, 10 snare drummers, 6 bass section / 40 total roster – 67% (four votes)
  • 23 pipers, 11 snare drummers, 7 bass section / 45 total roster – 15% (one vote)

Again, Other was an option, and only one pipe-major had another suggestion, but only recommended a combination of competing members (21, 11, 6) and no maximum roster size.



  1. Andrew, you are incorrect in that ‘no organization seems terribly interested in investigating let alone resolving the matter’. This matter was discussed by the RSPBA Music Board at the back end of 2013 and early 2014, at some length, from the reports our Branch received. This was taken to the branches and was dismissed by a number of those. I think you sometimes forget that the Association is made up of ALL the grades and not just Grade 1. Some of the comments at the time were that if someone didn’t get a game with the band of his/her choice then they wouldn’t necessarily find another band, either in Gr 1 or Gr 2, or3. Also, as per your sample, no one system could be suggested that everyone could agree on, and so as a result of the negative results from the Branches the matter has been deferred to be loked at agin at some future point

    1. Thanks for that information, We ask and we ask and we ask the RSPBA for information and radio silence is the result. It would help if that organization shared developments like that with us, or at least responded to questions. Grade 1 sets the tone for the rest of the grades. If they play bigger sections, the rest will, too. Grade 1 defines what pipe bands do. We would love to survey every pipe-major and leading-drummer in every grade. That’s not feasible, unfortunately, so we went with the 30 leaders of Grade 1 bands. We know of no organization that has actually polled its members on this matter, or sat down to consult with them in any meaningful way. To us, that indicates their not terribly interested in investigating this. So we did. Thanks for reading.

  2. This has been going on for years, Of course there are advantages to having a bigger band. Potentially better harmonies, and one thing I know is that if you only have 8 people in your wee grade 3 band( as we often do) and there’s a slip, that’s 12.5% of the total volume of the band, and every judge, by band size alone will be closer to that error where as a slip in a corp of 20 pipers and you’re on the other side, there’s a good chance that you miss it. That doesn’t necessarily make it right that they didn’t get caught.
    However, as I know it and I”m sure i”ll be corrected, I do not know any other sport/competitive event where you can just throw out as many as you want. If you could, well lets just say that the Toronto Maple Leafs have enough money in their organization that they would bring in 3 or 4 goalies and that would hide any hole in the net. Or look at the Yankee’s in their big days in the 80’s , Steinbrenner would have bought up every good player he could with his money and would have had 12 people in the outfield.
    There’s a reason why they have limits, and that is to make things fair, person for person. This argument is silly, the top bands obviously pull their weight around and as a result, we’re losing bands all over the place now, compared to the numbers we used to have. It can be 20 ( my choice) or 23, don’t care, just put a limit on it. As for roster, I’m not bothered as if you’re the 32nd piper on a list and you don’t get to play, then you’ll leave to find a band that will have you. Or if you’re one of those folks that likes to tell everyone that they “play” in band X, but they just don’t compete on the field with them, well, enough said. Rant over
    Bruce Gandy

  3. What Bruce Gandy said!

    It wasn’t all that long ago that PM Terry Lee said, in an interview on here, that 17 pipers was the limit. Anything over and the theory was it would start to get a bit untidy and present more risk. Well, that isn’t the case, but the situation is that the ‘have vs. have not’ issue is creating a gulf of inequity that the majority cannot possibly bridge. Of all the rules and regulation that associations have, no thought has been given to creating a level playing field in terms of maximum allowable numbers. We make all bands go through the same rituals on the line etc., yet we facilitate a situation where one band can be twice the size of the other. It corners nearly all judges (whether they admit it or not) and the game is already won and lost (barring some sort of calamity). The elephant in the living room, literally! Capping would also help to address the ‘distribution of wealth’ issue. For the love of the game, fix this now. It is a big problem (no pun intended). One we don’t see because we’re too busy marvelling.


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