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Royal Military College of Canada band Drumline Black Lights

A drumline is a section of percussion instruments usually played as part of a musical marching ensemble.[1] High school and college marching bands, drill and drum corps, drum and bugle corps, indoor percussion ensembles, and pipe bands usually incorporate drumlines; however, drumlines can exist independent of these ensembles.[2] Drumlines call the stationary percussion within a marching ensemble the "front ensemble" or "pit."[2] This also describes the area where those percussion instruments are set stationary on the field. Test123.


The Eagle High School drumline

Drumlines use the term "battery" to refer to a specific part of the drumline. The battery is the drum section that marches on the field as a group. The battery usually consists of snare drums, bass drums, tenor drums, and cymbals.[2] In the past, marching timpani were common before the adoption of the front ensemble, as were marching keyboard percussion instruments such as glockenspiels and xylophones. A relatively small number of bands, mostly at the college level, continue to field such traditional marching keyboard instruments; however, most bands have phased out their use. Marching steel pans are rarely part of drumlines due to issues with volume and durability.[citation needed] In modern marching band and drum corps- snares, tenors, bass drums, and sometimes cymbals march on the field and are generally referred to as the battery, while the pit (or front ensemble) is stationary in the front of the field. In other cases, marching units may place the pit in the back or behind the band because the band may be too small for them to station the pit in the front. Sometimes, due to the charts[further explanation needed] set by the marching band's show, the front ensemble may have a certain position on the field in order to create a certain visual effect.

Snare Drum[edit]

A drumline with sling-harness snares

Marching snare drums have high-tension heads that manufacturers typically make out of Kevlar or PET film. In the past, snares were typically carried with slings. Due to the discomfort of this angle for the left hand, a new grip was created- traditional grip. The traditional grip is used by the right hand in the matched grip and the left hand holding the stick with the two fingers and the thumb above the stick and two below. Most modern snare drums have rigid over-the-shoulder harnesses that hold the drum with the playing surface parallel to the ground, which affords the option of performing with matched grip. Percussionists call this grip "matched grip" because both of the hands are in the same position (matched). There are, however, many groups that are returning to a slight tilt playing style in order to make using traditional grip more comfortable for the players.[3]

Snare parts are typically unison and provide the center rhythm of the drumline. The snares are the center of tempo in the ensemble. The center snare player (a position typically held by the most experienced snare drummer) is responsible for maintaining the tempo. When rehearsing or performing, the center snare may "tap off" the ensemble, setting the tempo with a solo rhythm.

During a performance the snare line is the metronome for the band.[citation needed] Everyone relies on them, including the Drum Major, who gets the tempo from the snare line’s feet. Subdividing, otherwise known as "Dutting", or "verbal checks" are a common way for the drumline to keep time and help enter a phrase together. More often than not, the section leaders will subdivide (give verbal checks pronounced "dut"), however sometimes the whole line will. The purpose of dutting is so that everyone knows when to enter and stays on time. The first "dut" will always be on beat one, and usually conists of 4-8 "duts" before an entrance, although some times they may dut for multiple measures or counts, depending on what the drum captain or percussion section leader feels is necessary. An example of hearing a drumline "dut" would be to watch any drumline from a Drum & Bugle Corps, like The Cavaliers, Phantom Regiment, or any other corps, when their drumline performs "in the lot" this is usually just some practicing of excerpts or cadences, and are just played to a group of people as a sort of crowd-pleaser. A lot of the time, one will hear one or more people on a snare line "dut" just before they play. Usually, while dutting, they are also preparing their sticks to play again from the set position. Usually on the last 4 (or only 4, as the case may be) "duts" said, on the third (or second-to-last) "dut" they go from set position to playing and on the fourth dut, are in playing position and usually lifting the stick to play just after it.

Tenor Drum[edit]

File:Drummers, Universtiy of Virgina marching band.jpg
A tenor drummer in the University of Virginia Marching Band

Marching tenor drums (also called quads, tom-toms or multi-tenors) are single-headed tonal drums. Typically, they are referred to as tri-toms if there are three drums, quads if there are four, and so on for quints, and sextets. Modern tenor configurations usually have four to six drums, but there can be as few as one or as many as seven. Tenor players add pitch variety to the drumline with drums of different sizes. Tenor players use matched grip and generally play with mallets with plastic disc-shaped heads, though traditional drumsticks and softer mallets are commonly used to achieve different timbres.[3] Tenor drummers typically play in unison. Recently, multiple percussion programs have experimented with "split" parts, meaning that the parts are not in unison. Some examples include Rhythm X's quad feature from 2007, The Cavaliers' quad features from 2000 and 2008, The Reading Buccaneers tenor solo from 2009, and many others. There are also single head tenor drums. They are typically used on the same drum form as a snare drum only without the snares on the bottom. Single tenor drums can also be tuned to have a high pitch so that a line of tenor percussionist can run split parts amongst them. Single head tenor drums are highly popular amongst the ranks of HBCU(Historically Black Colleges and Universities)drumlines where they are used on either the bases of being knee tenors(how snare drums are played) or upright tenors(how bass drums are played). For example, The South Carolina State University(SCSU)Marching 101's Bongo Brothers Incorporated(more commonly known as BBI)tenor section used the knee style single head tenor drums while their rivals, The North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University(NCAT)Marching Blue Machine's Cold Steel tenor section incorporates the upright single head tenor drums. It is also widely known the HBCU percussion sections used both multiple and single head tenor drums.


Marching cymbals are typically pairs of crash cymbals ranging anywhere from 16 to 22 inches in diameter (which are commonly used, though other sizes are also utilized) and are played in a variety of ways. Cymbals are usually bronze and most often held with leather carrying straps. Players in a cymbal line may all carry the same size and type of cymbal, or a variety of instruments may be used. It is not uncommon, however, for each player in a cymbal line to have a different sized pair of cymbals than their peers because it is an efficient way to carry out different sounds and tones depending on what the music and/or percussion director calls for. Cymbal players usually play cymbals by holding and striking them together in front the body, in unison or in split parts. In addition to being played by the cymbal player, snare drummers may play on the cymbals as ride cymbals or like hi-hats, thus there is typically a minimum of one cymbal player for every two snare drummers.[citation needed] Cymbals are also used for visual effects due to their reflectiveness while twirling or spinning them. Some tricks include creating letters or shapes and even the "viper," a move in which a center cymbal player jumps and ducks as two cymbal players on each side swing cymbals above and below the jump. Many contemporary field ensembles do not utilize a cymbal line, instead having cymbals played within the front ensemble.

Bass Drum[edit]

Drumlines most frequently use pitched bass drums as tonal drums split between several percussionists. Marching bass drums, which produce the deepest sound in the battery, are larger drums carried on harnesses or straps with the heads facing to the left and right of the player. The musicians carrying the bass drums typically line up in drum size order. Bass drummers use mallets with rounded or cylindrical heads often made of hard felt. High school and Drum Corps drumlines typically consist of four or five members to ensure enough for a melody while College lines can have eight or more bass drummers. Sometimes, in smaller bands, one may see only 2 or 3 bass drummers perform.

Each drummer plays a unique part, though the entire bass drum part is conceived as a whole. This allows for a melodic passage to be carried throughout the bass drum line, having runs of notes that flow up or down the drums and in pitch. In addition to these "split" parts, bass drummers will also have unison notes, where everyone plays at the same time. In addition to the unison parts, a good bass line can often split 16th notes and even translate that into 32nd notes with the split.

Front ensemble[edit]

The front ensemble (also called the pit) can include any percussion instrument.[2] Typical front ensembles include mallet instruments such as marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels, vibraphones, timpani, cymbals, concert bass drums, bongos, congas, cowbells, claves, tambourines, gongs, tom-tom drums, chimes, wind chimes, and in some cases drum sets. They may also include a variety of concert and world percussion instruments.[4] Instruments may be mechanically or electronically amplified. Some competitive circuits also allow electronic instruments such as synthesizers and bass guitars, which are typically part of the front ensemble. This wide selection of instruments allows for great timbre variety. Most front ensembles are centered in front of the front sideline of an American football field. However, for aesthetic purposes, some bands choose to put the front ensemble elsewhere on the field to better to suit the shows theme.

In indoor drumline competitions, however, various groups may not necessarily place the front ensemble at the "front" as the name suggests. Rather, the show designers determine placement of the front ensemble by where they would get the best sound quality, depending on the music being played.

High School Drumline[edit]

High Schools irrevocably have a marching band. And inside that band there is a subcategory called the Drumline. The Drumline generally consists of Snare Drums, Bass Drums, Tenor Drums (Generally referred to as Quads), Cymbals, Pit Percussion, and in rarer cases marching Malleted Percussion.


  1. ^ "Drum Bum Glossary". Drum Bum. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
  2. ^ a b c d "Marching Dictionary". Drum Major Resource Center. Archived from the original on 2007-09-05. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  3. ^ a b Casella, Jim (2006). Green Beats 06-07. Tapspace Publications LLC and The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. pp. 12–13.
  4. ^ Casella, Jim (2006). Green Beats 06-07. Tapspace Publications LLC and The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. pp. 44–47.

External links[edit]

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