Marching percussion instruments are specially designed to be played while moving. This is achieved by attaching the drum(s) to a special harness (also called a carrier or rack) worn by the drummer. The drums are designed and tuned for maximum articulation and projection of sound, as marching activities are almost always outdoors or in large interior spaces. Articulation is paramount to producing a "clean" sound from all the drummers in the line. These instruments are used by marching bands, drum and bugle corps, indoor percussion ensembles, and pipe bands. A marching percussion ensemble is frequently known as a drum line or battery.
Marching snare drums are deeper in size than snares normally used for orchestral or drum kit purposes. This gives the drum the big, full sound necessary for outdoor use. Standard sizes (listed as diameter x depth) are 13x11 and 14x12 inches. They can weigh anywhere from 16-45 lb. Smaller sizes such as 13x9 have become increasingly popular in recent times with the proliferation of indoor drum lines.
The modern "high tension" snare was developed in response to the higher head tensions made possible with the development of Kevlar and other high strength fibers bonded into the drum head. These high tension drums were first developed by Legato of Australia for the pipe band snare drums. High tension drums began and were perfected in the pipe band market and later moved into the marching band and drum corps areas. The bottom (or resonant) side of the drum has a tightly tuned head and synthetic gut or metal snare wires, which are often secured to the drum using a strainer to limit their movement and make the sound more staccato.
For outdoor use, a piece of curved plastic, called a "scoop," may be attached to the back of the bottom hoop to help project the sound forward to the audience. Snare lines vary in size from as few as 2 or 3 drummers in small high school marching bands to as many as 12 or more in very large college marching bands. Lines of 4–5 are common in high school marching bands; 7–10 is most common in drum corps and college marching bands. The snare drum section is part of the "upper battery" or "flat battery", which refers to the snare drums and tenor drums.
The lead snare player in a battery is almost universally referred to as the "center snare" and is often the drum captain (leader of the battery and sometimes the front ensemble) and the snare "section leader." In modern competitive drum lines, the center snare has many duties to keep the musical aspect running smoothly during a performance. The other members of the snare section will "listen in" to the center for dynamic and timing interpretation of their parts. They are instructed to play "like your center". Center snare will determine stick heights (which affect dynamics) as well as actual stickings of patterns that are unclear, (much like the concertmaster in an orchestra determines bowings).
Another element the center snare is part of is the control and determination of on-field and parade tempos for the whole corps or band. This is done by having certain communications with the drum major. In this situation, the drum major will watch the feet of the center snare, and get their tempo from this. The rest of the corps is listening back to the group furthest back (and/or the battery) and watching the drum major for the tempo.
While marching on and off of the field, and while marching in a parade, the center snare will play on beats 1, 3, and 5 and will often invent a complex-sounding yet simple "tap-off" to signal the battery to play the cadence, or street beat. The other members of the battery are listening into their "centers", (there is also a center tenor), with the bass drums sometimes getting tempo from the feet of the group immediately in front of them.
Snare drums used in pipe bands are similar in construction to standard marching snare drums, with two key differences. First, the drum has an additional set of snares, directly under the batter (top) head. Second, the snares under the bottom head are made of coiled steel wires, similar to a drumset (as opposed to the synthetic "gut" snares on a corps-style drum). These differences tend to give the pipe drums a "snappier" snare sound, emphasizing the higher frequencies of the drum. Recently, corps-style drums have been produced with steel wire snares underneath the batter head (while remaining the gut snares under the bottom head). These snares are able to be switched on and off separate from the bottom snares, which allows units to use the second snares as a specific effect or as a permanent modification to the sound of the drum.
The head of the snare drum can also be varied to give the drum a different sound. Depending on the music or style that the drumline plays, different brands and types of heads may be used. For maximum volume and stick articulation, a head made of woven Kevlar fibers is used and usually tuned to a very high tension. If the player desires a slightly "softer" feel, then an aramid fiber head (such as Remo's Black Max) is a good choice. Finally, if more overtones and the softest head-feel are desired, the player may want to consider a heavy clear head with a center reinforcement dot (such as a Remo Powerstroke 77). This type of head is rarely used today among competitive drumlines, mostly owing to its lack of outdoor projection in comparison with Kevlar, but nonetheless it may still be used if a unique timbre is desired. One of the most famous marching bands utilizing this head would be the Ohio State University Marching Band. Though they play difficult cadences and drum features, they still use the sling drum and Remo Powerstroke 77 head to remain as traditional and formal as possible.
Sticks used for marching snare drums are almost always very thick and long with large tips (if they have shaped tips at all) when compared with sticks used for drum kit or concert percussion. For example, a standard 5A drumstick used for the drum set and orchestral snare drum is about 16 inches in length and .565 inches (14.4 mm) in diameter. In comparison, a marching snare drum stick will be up to 17 inches (430 mm) long, with a diameter of .720 inches (18.3 mm). The size and weight of marching sticks were designed for maximum sound projection in outdoor environments. In the outdoors, sound emanating from a given source will dissipate more quickly, since there is no enclosed space (i.e. walls and ceiling) to reflect it. For that reason, the initial volume of sound produced from the drum must be greater. Because a thicker, longer stick will have greater leverage, it will come down on the drum with greater force and hence produce a louder sound than a small, thin stick. However, drum companies have recently been designing smaller marching sticks specifically for indoor drumlines, where performances take place in enclosed spaces and volume does not need to be as high.
There are two common types of grips for holding the sticks used to play a marching snare; traditional and matched. When playing matched grip, both hands of the drummer hold their respective stick in the same way, thus the name "matched grip." The stick is held between the thumb and index finger to form a fulcrum. The rest of the fingers loosely wrap around the rest of the stick. Traditional grip is, of course, the traditional grip for snare drum. Snare drums were traditionally slung around the drummer in a way so that the left side of the drum was tilted much higher than the right side. In order to play in a comfortable position, the drummer flipped his left hand over so that his palm faced upward. The traditional grip involves holding the stick in the left hand between the thumb and index finger and resting the stick on the ring finger. The right hand is held in the same way as the matched grip.
Modern marching bands and drum corps use multi-tenors, which consist of several single-headed tom-toms played by a single drummer. The bottoms of the shells are open and beveled to project the sound of the drum forward. Double-ply PET film heads are typically used for increased sound projection and durability. They are typically played with wooden- or aluminum-shafted mallets that have disc-shaped heads made of nylon. Mallets with felt or fleece heads, drum sticks, drum brushes, and other implements are occasionally used to achieve different timbres. The playing technique used for multi-tenors is somewhat different from that of a snare drum, and more like that of a timpani because the drumhead is struck closer to the edge instead of in the center. This creates a sound with more overtone, as opposed to striking the drumhead in the center, which produces a very short, dull sound with few overtones that is considered undesirable for multi-tenors.
A full-size set of tenors consists of 10, 12, 13, and 14-inch (360 mm) toms arranged in an arc, often with an additional one or two smaller (6 or 8-inch) toms called "gock", "spook", "shot", or "spock" drums inside of the arc. Because a full-sized set of tenors with a carrier can exceed 55 pounds, smaller and lighter versions of tenors outfitted with 8, 10, 12, and 13-inch (330 mm) toms are often used by lines with smaller or younger players. All multi-tenors based on the four-drum configuration are called quads despite the fact that there may be a total of five or six drums counting the shot drums. Sets with one gock drum are called quints, and sets with two gock drums are called sextets,"squints", hexes, or sixpacks. To produce different sounds between gock drums with the same diameter, the head type, shell depth, and/or tuning between the two drums may vary. A common name for all multi-tenors is simply, 'Tenors'. Tenor drums have often been compared to the Latin percussion Timbales, as many musicians, including Tito Puente use a setup similar to modern marching tenors.
Lines of as few as 1 or 2 tenor drummers are common in high schools and junior high schools. Many large college marching bands have 5 or more. Most drum corps consider 4 or 5 tenors to be optimal.
Modern multi-tenors evolved from horizontally mounted dual single-headed bass drums first used by the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps in the late 1960s. Early multi-tenors had shells with a flat bottom. These drums sounded a lot like timpani, so they were called timp-toms. As drum sizes got smaller, more drums began to be added to multi-tenor configurations. The largest sets of multi-tenors had 7 drums and were carried by both the 1977 and 1992 Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps tenor lines.
Pipe bands and traditional marching bands and drum corps may also use single tenors, which are double-headed drums much like snare drums without snares. Some show bands such as those at historically black colleges and universities use both single tenors and multi-tenors.
Bass drums used by modern ensembles come in a variety of sizes, with a 14-inch (360 mm) "universal" depth, and diameter measured in 2-inch (51 mm) increments from 14 to 36 inches (910 mm). The heads of these drums are usually made of a smooth white PET film, which gives a tonality that is mid-way between clear and coated heads. Unlike tenors and snares, bass drums are mounted so that the cylindrical shell of the drum is mounted on the player's harness and the two drum heads of the drum face out sideways. The player can then play on both heads, one arm for a drum head on either side. Each drummer plays and carries one drum, and a line is created by having several people carry different-sized drums. Such drums are called tonal bass drums. The lowest drum in a line, however, is often tuned to have a low "thump" like a traditional bass drum rather than a tone. The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps were the first marching unit to use and standardize tonal bass drum tuning. Many groups try to use the largest size bass drum that is comfortable for the physically largest bass drummer to carry as the bottom bass drum, as larger people are generally better able to carry a bigger drum for long periods of time.
In corps-style bands, each bass drummer only plays one segment of the entire bass drum part, unlike the snares and tenors. This is known as a split part. A unison refers to when all or some bass drummers play together at the same time. Lines can vary in size from as few as 3 players in small high schools to as many as 9 in very large college marching bands. A line of 5 (with individual drum sizes ranging from 18" to 32") is the most common in a drum corps. Some traditional groups, such as some show-style marching bands from historically black colleges and universities continue to use a non-tonal bass line, where each drum is roughly the same size and each drummer plays the same part.
Pipe bands and some traditional groups use a single bass drummer, who typically carries the pulse of the group. The bass drums used by pipe bands have seen an increase in size and more of a focus on tone in recent times. Typical sizes range from 12 to 18 inches (460 mm) deep by 28 inches (710 mm) in diameter. The goal is to produced a subtle deep tone which is usually in tune with the drones of the bagpipe. Various muffling techniques (sometimes referred to as "treatments") can be used on bass drums to achieve a desired sound. The most common of these involve applying foam weatherstripping, either on the head directly or on the shell of the drum. Some drumhead manufacturers make heads that are "pre-muffled." These heads usually have separate pieces of PET film or other material which are set into the head's flesh hoop and touch the head to control overtones.
Snares and Tenors
Marching bands in general and especially marching drum lines emphasize uniformity. To achieve absolute uniformity, every member of the drumline must play with proper stick heights. A stick height is an approximate measurement of how high the bead of the stick comes off the drum head on any given note. Regularly used heights range from 3" to 12", with 1" and 15" being used mostly for visual effect. Snares and Tenors can use this chart to establish guidelines for stick heights, but techniques and specifications may vary between lines and can be changed depending on what the music calls for.
Bass Drums do not use the same guidelines as snares and tenors. They are grouped in a different section of the battery. The most important thing to remember is that when playing at a higher dynamic level, one is not just trying to hit the drum with more force but with more height. This will naturally project the sound. Below are the guidelines for bass drum heights. Again, techniques and specifications vary between drumlines. (All fractions are based on the Forte / perpendicular height. Establish this height first and then work the others around it.) Start in “set” position with the mallets about 1 inch away from the head.
Stick Heights are not only important for visual reasons but they also strongly affect the sound quality. To get a uniform and consistent sound, one must play with even stick heights on the right and left hand. To practice playing with accurate stick heights, set up your drum or pad in front of a mirror. Start with a simple exercise and watch to see if your left heights are even with your right. If you have access to a video camera, you can record yourself and watch it later. It is easier to watch your heights and critique your performance when you are not focusing on playing.
Cymbals are not played in the same manner as orchestral crash cymbals, as there is a change in the grip of the straps. The hand goes through the hoop and twists, causing the hand to be flat against the bell of the cymbal, although variations are sometimes used for effect. Each player carries two cymbals of identical size and crashes them together, in addition to producing other sound effects by striking or rubbing the cymbals together. Cymbal players often perform visuals – movements such as twirls and flips that are eye-pleasing and boost the general effect of the group. There is generally a 1-to-1 or 1-to-2 ratio of cymbal players to snares, as snare drummers sometimes play on the cymbals at some point during the performance, much in the manner that hi-hat cymbals are used on a drum set. The number of cymbal players can vary according to their use. Cymbal parts are often split in the same manner as bass drum parts – each cymbalist plays one component of a larger part. Some drum corps (or less often, marching bands) do not have marching cymbal players at all, instead choosing to march additional hornline or color guard members, or other percussion instruments. In indoor percussion ensembles, the trend seems to be towards keeping or expanding cymbal sections.
Among many differences between marching and orchestral cymbals, there are many types of crashes. Crash-chokes are played beginning with a normal crash, but pulled into the body at the shoulders or stomach so as to effectively stop the sound after attaining the desired crash. Slides are played using the right cymbal to drive into the left, where the outer edge hits 1/2 way between the bell and the edge of the left cymbal. After the right cymbal slides up on the left, it is brought back straight into the body. The cymbal is stopped by catching the air pocket inside of the cymbals. The cymbals maintain contact at all times. The desired sound is a "sizzle then choke" effect. As well as different types of crashes, cymbals can use many types of visuals, which are only limited to the imaginations of those wielding the cymbals.
The glockenspiel is the mallet percussion instrument most often used as a part of the battery. Glockenspiels can be mounted on a harness either horizontally, as one would play them in an orchestral or concert band setting, or vertically, although the traditional way is vertical. Because the front ensemble typically includes mallet percussion instruments, including xylophones, marimbas, vibraphones, and stationary glockenspiel, use of the marching glockenspiel has waned.
Marching timpani are rarely used today because standard pedal timpani are used in the front ensemble. They were commonly used when competition circuits required all percussion instruments to be carried. In a timpani line, each player carries one drum, which is equipped with a hand crank for tuning. Marching timpani shells were generally made from fiberglass, but were still quite heavy and ponderous at times.
- Rudimental drumming website with discussion board
- Historic Field Drums Website
- The Marching Percussion Website
- Drumline Discussion Board
Rudimental percussion Technique People Organizations General
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