June 10, 2021

The rankings: MSRs using Alan Jones’s ensemble formula (updated)

Editor’s note: The four-part series by former Grade 1 snare drummer and mathematician Alan Jones of New Zealand outlined his attempt to break down marches, strathspeys and reels for their suitability for pipe band ensemble success.

If you have not read them, they’re well worth your consideration, and the links to the articles follow.

Of course, piping and drumming are arts, but, at least the version most pipes|drums readers enjoy, is focused on competition. Just as there is art in sports, there is a degree of sport in our arts. Every pipe band looks for an edge in competition.

Many of the innovations involving bagpipes and drums are based on science. The pipe band snare drum itself is, in many ways, a work of physics, and most instrument manufacturers consider the latest innovations in manufacturing to get a business edge.

Don’t worry, no one is going to take your LAK away.

We find it ironic that the great 2/4 march “Lord Alexander Kennedy” is beloved by many pipers, drummers and pipe bands, yet when Alan Jones applies his theories and formulas, it ranks as the most unsuitable composition for successful ensemble.

On paper, that is.

There’s also no doubting that it is the creative and technical skill of the drum score composer that can overcome the challenges – real or theoretical – that the tune might or might not present. Pipe bands love a challenge. A Grade 1 band would be laughed out the park if they played, say, “Walter Douglas MBE” in their MSR.

Then again, there’s no formal reward for “hard,” especially in pipe bands where judges might well have never have even heard of, much less played, “Colonel Stockwell.”

The debate continues over whether we should challenge ourselves in competition, and thus potentially reduce the chance of a prize, or make things as easy as reasonably possible to increase the opportunity to win.

Here are 2019 World Champions Inveraray
& District
playing “Lord Alexander Kennedy”
on their way to
winning the title.
Ensemble judge David Brown
placed the band first.

Silver Stars at the Northern Meeting have been won with “Charlie’s Welcome” and “Thompson’s Dirk,” and probably far more often with the latter.

One does not have to agree with Jones’s discoveries. But, if you’re like us, we try to keep an open mind, gather the information, and make an informed decision.

Don’t worry, no one is going to take your LAK away.

Pipe band judges would be ignorant or just plain stupid to summarily conclude that no band can make a good job of “Lord Alexander Kennedy” based on a scientific analysis. There can be no replacing skill and nuance.

In Part 3, Jones concluded that Ann Gray’s lesser-played 2/4 march, “Andrew Wright of Dunblane,” provides optimal ensemble opportunities, according to his mathematical formulas.

Here, then, are the more popular competition marches, strathspeys and reels that Alan Jones put through his calculations to determine their theoretical propensity for ensemble success.

As they say, your opinions may vary.

What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 1
May 23, 2021

What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 2

What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 3

What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 4
June 6, 2021

By Alan Jones

The following scores result from a spreadsheet program that measures the piping tune’s rhythmic compatibility with the pipe band snare drum, based on the five criteria: Flow, Rhythm, Lift, Drive, and Repetition.

This is a preliminary analysis, based on the tune’s own rhythmic structure.

The higher the score, the greater the potential ensemble match between the two instruments.

For example:

“Lord Alexander Kennedy”
SCORE: 33%

A second analysis, based on an enhancement of the tune’s rhythmic structure, can be found in Part 4.

Here are percentage ratings for marches commonly played in competition.

Higher-level Marches

77%Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France
74The Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band
74The Highland Wedding
74The Links of Forth (6 parts)
74The Links of Forth (8 parts)
69The Balmoral Highlanders
69The Clan MacCrae Society
68Pipe Major Willie MacLean
66Jeannie Carruthers
62The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society
61Captain Carswell
61John MacDonald of Glencoe
61The Young MacGregor
57Pipe-Major Willie Gray’s Farewell to the Glasgow Police
56The Conundrum
55Mrs. John MacColl
54Pipe-Major Jim Christie of Wick
54The Braes of Badenoch
53The Argyllshire Gathering
53The Lochaber Gathering
52Donald Cameron
51Colin Thomson
50Hugh Kennedy
44Brig.-Gen. Ronald Cheape of Tiroran
44Carradale Bay
44The Clan MacColl
41Jimmy Young
33Lord Alexander Kennedy

Higher-level Strathspeys

79%The Ewe wi’ the Crookit Horn
73Arniston Castle
71Inveraray Castle
68Shepherd’s Crook
58Atholl Cummers
58The Islay Ball
54Bob o’ Fettercairn
52The Caledonian Society of London
47Dora MacLeod
39Blair Drummond
39The Cameronian Rant
34Maggie Cameron
31Tulloch Castle
31Susan MacLeod

Higher-level Reels

84%Willie Murray’s Reel
81Cabar Feidh
79Charlie’s Welcome
78Alick C. MacGregor
78Pretty Marion
76Johnnie MacDonald’s Reel
72Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran
68Over the Isles to America
67Dolina MacKay
66John Morrison, Assynt House
65Major David Manson
62The Brown-Haired Maiden (6 parts)
60McAllister’s Dirk
45The Smith of Chilliechassie (arr. Ramsay, 8 parts)
44John McKechnie
41The Smith of Chilliechassie (arr. MacLellan, 6 parts)
41Ca’ the Ewes (6 parts)
41Loch Carron
38Ca’ the Ewes (4 parts)
27The Sheepwife


MSR pipe tune rankings based on the pipe tune’s enhanced rhythmic framework

The following scores result from a spreadsheet “program” that measures the piping tune’s rhythmic compatibility with the pipe band snare-drum.

Each tune has now been analyzed twice by the program.

  1. The first analysis, based on the tune’s own rhythmic structure.
  2. The second analysis, based on the tune’s enhanced rhythmic structure.

The results of this second analysis provide a more accurate indication of the tune’s potential to deliver a close rhythmic match between the pipe and drum sections.

The higher the score, the greater the potential match between the two instruments.

For example:

875532Andrew Wright of Dunblane

87% – The tune’s ensemble rating – based on its “enhanced” rhythmic framework.

55% – The tune’s preliminary score – based on its own rhythmic framework.

32% – The ensemble points gained.

N.B. So that an accurate and direct comparison between all types and levels of tune can be made, enhanced framework results have been allowed to exceed 100%.


RSPBA prescribed two-part Marches:

1165858Corriechoillie’s 43rd Welcome to the Northern Meeting
1155560The Earl of Mansfield
1146549Mrs H.L. MacDonald of Dunach
1147440The Drunken Piper
1126745The Liberton Pipe Band Polka
110 6941McKay’s Polka
1106347The Weary Maid
1088226The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar
1078324Greenwood Side
1066244Duncan McInnes
1066442Miss Delicia Chisholm
1066442Prince Charles’ Welcome to Lochaber
1045252Highland Lassie Going to the Fair
1046341Mairi Bhan
1046341The Sweet Maid of Glendaurel
1016140Highland Laddie
1017031The High Road to Gairloch
994950Major C.M. Usher OBE
998514The 72nd Highlanders’ Farewell to Aberdeen
977027Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin
977819The Siege of Delhi
967323MacKay’s Farewell to the 74th
967323The McKenzie Highlanders
966828Walter Douglas MBE
956431The Atholl and Breadalbane Gathering
958015The Burning of the Piper’s Hut
956827The White Cockade
936132Muir of Ord
937023The Brown Haired Maiden
924844Australian Ladies
927418Corn Riggs are Bonny
924151Lady lever Park
916031The Haughs of Cromdale
895732Glen Caladh Castle
887018The 2nd Rhodesian Regiment
875730Campbell’s Farewell to Redcastle
876621The 51st Highland Division at Wadi Akarit
865333Hugh Kennedy
866323The Barren Rocks of Aden
857510Jenny’s Bawbee
856322Men of Argyll
845430Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen
846123Captain Norman Orr-Ewing
844935Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oben
836023The Dundee Military Tattoo
835132The Hills of Perth
81810I’ll Gang Nae Mair Tae Yon Toon
816120King George V’s Army
816417The Piper’s Cave
784137John MacMillan of Barra
766115Dornoch Links
744925The Taking of Beaumont Hamel
73730The Inverness Gathering
73721The 25th K.O.S.B’s Farewell to Meerut
704624The River Irvine
665313Pipe Major Willie Gray’s Farewell to the Glasgow Police
65578Achany Glen
65605Pipe Major William Ross’s Farewell to the Scots Guards

RSPBA prescribed four-part Marches:

1117338The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar
1107832The Siege of Delhi
1076443The Liberton Pipe Band Polka
1046638Prince Charles’ Welcome to Lochaber
1048717The Atholl and Breadalbane Gathering
1025745Lady Lever Park
1016338Duncan McInnes
1004951Major C.M. Usher OBE
996831Muir of Ord
986533Miss Delicia Chisholm
985246Mrs H.L. MacDonald of Dunach
975938Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban
977324Walter Douglas MBE
956926The Dundee Military Tattoo
956134The Haughs of Cromdale
945341John MacMillan of Barra
926428The 51st Highland Division at Wadi Akarit
915041The Australian Ladies
885830Glen Caladh Castle
886325The 2nd Rhodesian Regiment
877017Captain Norman Orr-Ewing
857510The Inverness Gathering
844737Miss Elspeth Campbell
847113The Burning of the Piper’s Hut
805030The Hills of Perth
796613KIng George V’s Army
79754The 25th K.O.S.B’s Farewell to Meerut
735617The Taking of Beaumont Hamel
724923Men of Argyll
715615Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen
65587Achany Glen

 Higher-level Marches:

1075651The Conundrum
1036142Captain Carswell
997425The Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band
946628Jeannie Carruthers
946133The Young MacGregor
927715Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France
925537Mrs John MacColl
927418The Highland Wedding
916922The Balmoral Highlanders
916229The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society
886820Pipe Major Willie MacLean
866125John MacDonald of Glencoe
864442The Clan MacColl
885038Hugh Kennedy
845430The Braes of Badenoch
846915The Clan MacCrae Society
846420Pipe Major Jim Christie of Wick
83749The Links of Forth (8)
82748The Links of Forth (6)
804436Carradale Bay
795227Donald Cameron
785721Pipe Major Willie Gray’s Farewell to the Glasgow Police
774433Brig. Gen. Ronald Cheape of Tiroran
745321The Argyllshire Gathering
725121Colin Thomson
705317The Lochaber Gathering
644123Jimmy Young
533320Lord Alexander Kennedy


RSPBA prescribed two-part Strathspeys:

12411212The Inverness Fiddler
1209822Lady MacKenzie of Fairburn
1269927Munlochy Bridge
1178730The Oyster Wives’ Rant
1136548The Keel Row
1117932Because he was a Bonny Lad
1119120Nellie’s Strathspey
1119516The Marquis of Huntly’s Highland Fling
1097435Colonel MacLeod
1099514The Maids of the Black Glen
1087731The Cowal Society
1079314The Inverness Rant
1026042Highland Harry
1026141Molly Connell
1006238Orange and Blue
997524Campbelltown Kiltie Ball
977225The Smith’s a Gallant Fireman
956134Dornie Ferry
957520O’er the Bows to Ballindalloch
93858Archie Duncan
926527Castle MacGillivray
918110Arniston Castle
895930The Spirits of Old Pulteney
896722Struan Robertson
887216The Marketplace of Inverness
876423Lady MacKenzie of Gairloch
856817Lady Carmichael’s Strathspey
855728Louden’s Bonnie Woods and Braes
833746Maggie Cameron
835528McPhedran’s Strathspey
825329A.A. Cameron’s Strathspey
815427Captain Colin Campbell
804238Clementina’s Strathspey
805129J.F. MacKenzie of Garrynahine
801961Pipe Major Hector MacLean
754035Captain Horne
763244Jennifer Finlayson
755025Kathleen Mala
745816Dorrator Bridge
72648The Caledonian Canal
705911Aspen Bank
70691Donald Bane
644519The Fiddler’s Joy
635112Dora MacLeod
604812Miss Jackson
603822Susan MacLeod

RSPBA prescribed four-part Strathspeys:

1058718The Marquis of Huntly’s Highland Fling
926032Dornie Ferry
916823Struan Robertson
904842Highland Harry
897910Archie Duncan
895534Lady MacKenzie of Gairloch
886721Pipe Major Hector MacLean
836122Captain Colin Campbell
82739The Caledonian Canal
796217Cabar Feidh
795920Dorrator Bridge
773740Jennifer Finlayson
705119John Roy Stewart
694227Kathleen Mala

Higher-level Strathspeys:

1018021The Ewe with the Crooked Horn
976829The Shepherd’s Crook
907317Arniston Castle
857114Inveraray Castle
815823The Islay Ball
733439Maggie Cameron
685414Bob O’Fettercairn
66588Atholl Cummers
664719Dora MacLeod
593128Susan MacLeod
58526The Caledonian Society of London
543915Blair Drummond
523121Tulloch Castle
493910The Cameronian Rant


RSPBA prescribed two-part Reels:

1106149The Brown Haired Maiden
1107535MacKay from Skye
1107535Piper of Drummond
1087236The Auld Wife A’Hint the Door
1067135Over the Isles to America
1066739Eastwood Cottage
1028121Marion and Donald
1018417Johnnie MacDonald’s Reel
1007030The Sound of Sleat
997722The Fairy Dance
998316Molly on the Shore
998910Willie Murray’s Reel
985840High Road to Linton
987226Major David Manson
966828Thomson’s Dirk
956530Colonel MacLeod
945638The Circassian Circle
93876Alick C. MacGregor
937617Flora, Mrs MacLeod of MacLeod
927418Caber Feidh
925834The Ale is Dear
89836Duncan Findlay’s Reel
897712Lexy McAskill
897910Mo Chuachag Laghach Thu
886622Forrest Lodge
875928Miss Girdle
863947Ca’ the Ewes
867313The Famous Ballymote
826319Capt. Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree
826517Lord James Murray
82775Sheila McMurchy’s Dance
81774Angus MacLellan
80746Jock Wilson’s Ball
806119The Blackberry Bush
774136Pipe Major Callum Campbell
762749Tail Toddle
74659The Bridge of Garry
704426Bessie MacIntyre
695811The Man from Glengarry
643826Sleepy Maggie
573819Lt. Col. D.J.S Murray

RSPBA prescribed four-part Reels:

1109317MacKay from Skye
1106347The Brown Haired Maiden
996732Colonel MacLeod
998217Molly on the Shore
99936Murdo Lamont’s Spree
985642Fiona MacLeod
978512Gena MacLeod
92875Duncan Findlay’s Reel
907218Capt. Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree
886919The Blackberry Bush
886325Thomson’s Dirk
877413Jock Wilson’s Ball
847014Lexie McAskill
847113Willie Cummings Rant
836815Flora, Mrs MacLeod of MacLeod
835726The Sound of Sleat
81765Sheila McMurchy’s Dance
804634Pipe Major Callum Campbell
76724Angus MacLellan
734726Bessie McIntyre
665511The Man from Glengarry
584414Sleepy Maggie
564016Lt. Col. D.J.S. Murray

Higher-level Reels:

1036241The Brown Haired Maiden (six parts)
1016833Over the Isles to America
978413Willie Murray’s Reel
947816Pretty Marion
918110Cabar Feidh
917912Charlie’s Welcome
916625John Morrison of Assynt House
906723Dolina MacKay
887612Johnnie MacDonald’s Reel
866026McAllister’s Dirk
83785Alick C. MacGregor
803842Ca’ the Ewes (four parts)
80728Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran
796514Major David Manson
773740Ca’ the Ewes (six parts)
714130Loch Carron
714130The Smith of Chilliechassie (6) – MacLellan
664422John McKechnie
594514The Smith of Chilliechassie (Ramsay setting, eight parts)
492722The Sheepwife

Now in his sixties, Alan Jones began learning the side drum at the age of 12 with the Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band, in Palmerston North, New Zealand. By his early twenties he had achieved a national solo drumming title, two national pipe band drumming titles (as a corps drummer), and had travelled to Scotland for a year to play a full competition season in Grade 1. Upon returning home to New Zealand, Alan and his wife (whom he met in Glasgow) settled in Hamilton, where he was to become the lead-drummer of the local Grade 2 band, a position that he held for many years. A teacher of Mathematics and Gifted-and-Talented children for most of his working life, Alan has always had a great interest in working with young people, with much time invested, and success achieved, over the years with various drum-teaching initiatives. Although now retired from bands, he still assists locally as a learner-drumming tutor or score-writer, when required.


We hope that subscribers have enjoyed Alan Jones’s interesting and scientific approach to attempting to discover what might make a composition more conducive to more effective ensemble.

Again, there’s no replacement for enjoying the challenge of a subjectively appealing composition, but, if you like the idea of finding an edge in competition, this and all detailed analyses and approaches can only provide alternative approaches to the game of winning.



What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 1
May 23, 2021

What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 2

What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 3

What Makes Ensemble Click: Is this the end for “Lord Alexander Kennedy”? – Part 4
June 6, 2021




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