Bagpipers oftentimes use terms to describe their experience and skill level that are likely unfamiliar to those outside of the bagpiping community. We'd like to help demystify some of those terms here so you can better understand and evaluate differences between bagpipers.
In competitions - there are two categories of playing: solo and band. Solo competitions, as the name suggests, is when the bagpiper is plays a tune or short set of tunes for an adjudicator. These competitions evaluate the bagpiper for their sound (how the bagpipe is tuned and whether the volume of the drones are in balance with the volume of the chanter) as well as their technical skills and musicality.
In band competitions, the bagpiper is part of a larger ensemble of bagpipers and drummers where the focus is to play a set of tunes in unison - with the aim of sounding like a single piper or drummer. The challenge is in maintaining an identical, steady sound and executing the finger movements and transitions between the tunes flawlessly.
For solo competitions, the bagpiper's skill can fall into one of six 'grades'. The grades range from Grade 5 at the lower-end and typically beginning bagpipers up to 'Open/Professional':
- Grade V (5) - beginning players
- Grade IV (4)
- Grade III (3) - seasoned players with good balance of tone and technical skill
- Grade II (2)
- Grade I (1) - proficient players, superb sound, usually stemming from many years of experience
- Professional/Open - typically some of the top bagpipers
Pipe Bands are graded in a similar fashion with the exception of an 'Open' category - Grade V bands will be comprised of learners with the Grade I bands being the top pipe bands in the world.
So now when you're reading through bagpiper profiles and come across mentions of being a champion in a solo competition grade or playing with a Grade "X" bagpipe band, hopefully you can get a sense of their background and ability to play the bagpipes at your next event.