The Drum Major is the head of the band when on parade.
Walking in front of the band the Drum Major is usually
of imposing bearing, and his drill is always flawless
and his uniform immaculate. The Drum Major carries a
ceremonial mace and in military bands wears a sash
bearing the important battle honours of the regiment.
The Drum Major has usually graduated to the position
from the ranks of the drummers, although occasionally
the Drum Major is a piper. Often the pipers and drummers
in a band will wear different tunics and accoutrements,
and sometimes different tartans. For example, by
tradition drummers' tunics are red following the model
of the English regiments, while the pipers wear tunics
of "archer green" or black according to the tradition of
the Scottish regiments. The Drum Major will wear the
same uniform as the drummers, albeit with a few
"extras", and the Drum Major is also allowed to carry a
Sgian Dubh (a small knife) slipped into the right hose
(sock), as worn by the pipers. In military bands the
Drum Major carries the rank of Warrant Officer, the
senior rank for non-commissioned officers in the army,
and will carry a basket-hilt officer's sword.
The Drum Major is repsonsible for discipline and dress
in the band (including the important role of mashalling
the players at parades and competitions), but his
primary responsibility is to lead the band on parade by
giving the drill commands. To do this the Drum Major
uses a combination of vocal commands and signals with
the mace as it is difficult to be heard over a pipe
band! The mace will be held in different positions to
signify halts, marking time, wheels and the end of
tunes. These signals are all made without letting go of
although some Drum Majors also "flourish" the mace -
that is, toss it spinning into the air. This is done
only for show, and is not done in military bands as the
regimental mace is far too precious to risk dropping.
Mace flourishing, however, is spectacular when done well
and is a big crowd pleaser at pipe band competitions.
The Pipe Major is the "boss" of the pipe band, but is
not as visible as the Drum Major. The Pipe Major stands
in the ranks with the other pipers, occupying the
position on the right-hand side of the front rank.
In full dress uniform the Pipe Major wears a distinctive
gold-embroided badge of pipes surrounded by a wreath on
the right sleeve, and may have other special uniform
The Pipe Major is always a first class player, and his
authority in the band is absolute. The Pipe Major will
select repertoire, supervise rehearsals, and set the
tempos for parades and competitions. There are many
jokes about the near God-like status of the Pipe Major
within a band, which are not too far off the mark! The
personality and abilities of the Pipe Major are the
biggest factors influencing the success or otherwise, in
both the musical and social sense, of a band.
Like the Drum Major, the Pipe Major in military bands
usually carries the rank of Warrant Officer, and is a
respected figure occupying something of a unique place
in the Scottish regiments. The Pipe Major is the head of
the unit that represents the best values of the regiment
(and country) and may well be a keeper of regimental
traditions and also the regimental dancing master,
another important role. These "hidden" aspects of the
Pipe Major's position were nicely brought out in the
1960s movie "Tunes of Glory".