This percussion FAQ is designed to answer the most popular drumming questions in an organized and simple way. If there are any questions you have that aren’t covered, please feel free to reach out and they can be answered and added to the list! You may also want to check out the percussion & drumming glossary.
Q: I’m auditioning for my high school’s drumline, what do I do?
A: A great start would be knowing all your rudiments. The reason this is the best starting point is that these rudiments are concrete and the 40 rudiments you’ll need to know don’t change, so you’ll be on very solid ground if you know them. Now, knowing the rudiments will get you a good start in most drumlines, but if you can get a copy of the warmup book in advance (by contacting the instructor if possible) learn the warmups and exercises as best you can before the first practice. For some of the elite groups, you’ll need to memorize this warmup packet as well, if you can do that you’ll have put in the correct amount of time to turn heads at your audition!
Q: How much do I really need to practice?
A: Any mistakes you make in practicing a part by yourself is a mistake avoided when playing the part in rehearsal. You want to, at the very least, iron out all the notes so that you can play the music smoothly by yourself. Now, that is the absolute bare minimum! Remember this cliche: practice is at home, and rehearsal is with the group. It’s true though, if you don’t put in the time at home your pulling the group down by causing everyone to ‘practice’ the part with you at rehearsal because you didn’t do it at home. Don’t do that to your teammates! If you’re truly struggling with a part you should definitely contact a colleague and maybe come to rehearsal early to iron it out with them, but that doesn’t mean you can use that as an excuse to stop practicing that part at home either, keep trying! Practice in digestible chunks, take a break, then chunk again. Prove you know a part cold by taking a break and then playing the whole phrase immediately after with no mistakes. Practice until you can’t get it wrong!
By the way, always practice in front of a mirror!
Q: What do I do to make the snare or tenor line?
A: Hang out with the snare and tenor drummers on break. Ask to see their music. Ask the instructor for a copy of the snare or tenor books. Learn a phrase or more. Learn the warmups! Put in the effort! And then keep in mind you may still not get the part, do it all again, and don’t get frustrated. The way I see it is that nobody can be entitled to play a certain drum, you need to be playing the instrument that will best perfect the group as a whole. If you’re crucial to the bass drum line then rise to the occasion! The audition for the snare or tenor line is during the entire season, show that you’re a leader, show that you’re able to memorize your parts fast, and march with few mistakes by thinking ahead of everyone else. A lot of it is the ability to play the instrument, but arguably, it might be more important to have the right attitude behind the instrument you’re currently playing – all season long!
Q: How fast do I need to be able to play? What BPM?
A: 240bpm minimum, if not faster. The reasoning behind this tempo is simple, it’s twice as fast as the standard 120bpm of the National Anthem, and if you can play twice as fast as someone else you’re obviously better. Ok, yes I’m joking. But this question comes up a lot when the warmups don’t have tempo markings on them and you ask your students to be able to play it at all tempos. Here’s what I’ll say about that… If I hear two students practicing a warmup on break and one is playing a heights exercise as fast as possible and the other is playing it as slow as possible I would probably be inclined to give my attention to the slow tempo with accurate note placement. Being able to play at all tempos means slow tempos too! Many people can play fast, but so many people cannot play slower tempos accurately. Slow things down! If you can play your part slow without rushing I feel like that’s worth more weight than playing it unrealistically fast, and probably ineffectively.
Q: How do I write tenor parts? I’m not a tenor drummer!
A: This is a fun question to explore because most snare drum-oriented people will basically double the snare part but move it around the tenor drums. This creates a 100% vertically aligned sound and will get boring very quickly to the listeners. Quick side note: why do a lot of groups put their best players on snare and then write the exact same part on tenor but move it around the drums? That makes the tenor parts harder, which means the best players should be on tenor right? Ok, side note complete. Now, here are a couple of tips for writing effective tenor parts. Do you have your best players on snare? If so make sure the tenors are playing a counter melody that compliments the snare parts without overwhelming them. If your snares and tenors are all balanced players then you’re in the sweet spot because you can interject ideas between them as long as they all complement each other! That being said, there are always fun ways to make a part less boring than everyone in unison. If the snares have an eighth-note rest in their rhythm why not try filling it in with a tenor note? Overlap some parts of the measure while detaching other parts of the measure. This can be done between snares, tenors, and basses as well. Dissect your parts and distribute the measure or phrase evenly across your drumline, this will create linear parts that can easily complement one another. Also, and most importantly, make sure the tenor parts are physically possible measure to measure. Many times, especially when copying/pasting a part the sticking or drums in the previous measure will prevent the tenor drummer from getting to the drums in the next measure.
Q: Do tenor drum parts always have to end on drum 4?
A: Apparently, yes. Again, joking, please don’t do this all the time! It is uninteresting!
Q: Do I need to be able to play traditional grip to be in the snare section?
A: Depends on the group. Most DCI snareline utilize traditional grip, but not all of them. High school is different though, many do but many don’t. Here’s the thing, don’t worry a ton about it right away if your group uses the traditional grip on snare. Practice the parts and maybe you can nail the audition using matched grip. Then, work with the instructor or a veteran snare member and see if they can help you with your left hand using traditional grip, at least to the point where you can squeeze the part out. Get that wrist turn down first and play double-stops a lot to try to let the right hand help the left hand, in a way. In my groups, if you can prove you can play the part (and have the right attitude) then I can teach you traditional grip, but if you can’t play the part you won’t magically be able to play it with traditional grip all of a sudden. But to really get down to your question, just try to stay relaxed with your left hand and try to understand where you feel the control of the stick coming from. Also, play so much that you get a callus, then take a short break and let it heal a bit because once it’s healed there’s no stopping you!
Q: How do you tune marching drums?
A: When I started out I didn’t believe you could discern an actual pitch from a high-tension marching drum. After a long while within the activity, I realized it’s not as difficult as you might think. So there are 3 ways to tune marching drums, quick, medium, and slow but carefully. You’ll always start with one drum and tune the rest of the line to that master drum at the end. The quickest way to do it is to just get them sounding correct without any regard to pitches. Tune the tenors and basses so the sounds are in the correct order and they don’t jump up or down too much between them. Snares, just crank ’em up, baby! The medium-speed version means you’ll listen more carefully to the intervals between the next size drums (tenors and bass) so that they create a P4 or P5 interval (perfect fourth or perfect fifth). That interval also depends on the show’s music and concept, you may want to play around with it, but in this medium-speed version, you’re not concerned about specific starting pitches, only the intervals between them. Lastly, the slow but careful method would be tuning everything to very specific pitches (and the intervals would obviously be pre-determined). The pitches I tend to choose by default are included in my Drumline Information Packet (along with a bunch of other great knowledge and warmups/exercises).
Q: Why is drumline called Battery?
A: I think the most probable reason people often refer to the drumline as the battery is because of the french word ‘batterie’ which literally means ‘drums’. The term ‘baterie’ means ‘to beat’ in English, and the drum heads you hit are literally called ‘batter’ heads for this reason. But the word ‘battery’ also has a military background from where marching band is also derived. In the military world, a battery is meant as an artillery battery which is designed to support the front lines from further behind, much like a drumline does on a marching band field. Those are the two most strongly connected origins, but the analogy of an electrical battery is also apt since the drumline tends to power the tempo or the band and without it, the group is less energized perhaps; but this comparison is purely coincidental.
Q: Why does drumline dut?
A: The word most drumlines use to keep time while tacit is “dut”. This is a very articulate sound that’s easy to say while exerting oneself. The reason behind it is so the center snare (usually) can keep time within the drumline while not playing in order for everyone to enter together on the next musical entrance. They also subdivide during short-duration rests such as quarter notes to clearly define the space between notes. ‘Dutting’ is not meant to be heard from the audience’s perspective, but sometimes is reliable for the pit / front ensemble to listen back to for timing. I have heard “bup” used, and some groups prefer to just count out loud, or fancier, create some audible or lyric-type vocals to reduce the monotony of the subdivision which can be an interesting tool to keep the brain engaged rather than getting lost in long rests throughout the production.
Q: Why is drumline so hard?
A: Just like anything in life, it takes a lot of practice to get good at something. Don’t get yourself discouraged, it’s hard for everyone at the beginning, and oftentimes the middle and throughout the process of mastering the instrument. I think what this question is really hitting at is that the instrument is visual and also audible, which means there’s another element of difficulty involved. However, you can – and will – improve with both of these sides simultaneously, so that’s good. That being said, the heart of the question comes down to the potential high density of notes where most mid-skilled drummers feel comfortable playing far more notes per measure than mid-skilled wind instrumentalists. Again, it just takes practice, because at least on snare drum you don’t have to worry about pitches, so instead of vertical issues with the pitch you only have to be concerned with horizontal rhythms. I like to tell people that drumming is the easiest instrument because everyone is already a drummer! Anyone can bang on a desk with their fingers, so all you have to do from there is understand more and more rhythms! Now, if you’re adding in the weight of the drums in a marching band’s drumline, then yes, they are the heaviest things currently carried on the field, so I agree, that is hard!
Q: How heavy are drumline drums?
A: Depends on the instrument and the brand, but most can range from 10lbs all the way up to 40lbs or more. Snare drums carry about the same weight as the smaller bass drums in general, and tenors are similar to the bigger bass drums. Keep in mind that bass drums work different muscles in your back too, so it’ll feel different even though they’re similar to snares and tenors in weight. Now, with advances in carrier/harness technology, we’re more able to alleviate some of the uncomfortable problems of carrying drums around a field, but it doesn’t mean it’s lighter! Also worth mentioning, because this happens to pretty much everyone, when you put on the tenors (usually the heaviest instrument in the drumline when they’re sextets) you might think after a minute that “these aren’t so bad”. You might second-guess that thought after a day’s worth of rehearsal! We’ve all had our wind friends in the marching band and drum corps try on our drums, they’ll say the same thing, but they are wrong!
Q: What is front ensemble in marching band?
A: The Front Ensemble is also known as the Pit. If you’ve ever been to an opera performance you’ll notice that the live orchestra is seated in front of the stage lowered below the deck of the stage in what is called the Pit. Marching band uses that term for the heaviest percussion instruments stationed at the front of the field. Now, the instruments in the front ensemble weren’t always just put on the ground in front of the band, nope! As most people that marched a little while back will tell you, they had to carry everything around the field from mallet instruments like marimba and xylophone to bigger drums like timpani and even chimes! All of these instruments were put on harnesses and carried around the field while played. Today we park them up front and house our electronics and mics up front with anything else that is too complicated to move around the field. This is what we refer to as the front ensemble or, for people with less time, the pit!
Q: How marching band works?
A: This question could literally take someone all day long to answer and explain. This could go on to mean the physical workings of the band on the field during a performance, or behind the scenes of how the band is brought to life and even the logistics of moving the band around the state or country to perform. So for the purposes of this question, I’m going to state a brief rundown of a typical show day for a marching band…
Start by waking up pretty early, depending on where the show is you probably will be bused to the show site after rehearsal, which means rehearsal needs to start fairly early – depending on your performance time and how far away the show site is. Get to practice early and get your instrument out, check it over for anything out of the ordinary and you’ll probably want to find some personal space and do a really quick individual warmup by yourself. Meet up with the rest of your section and you’ll probably start practice with a visual basics block or a music warmup with your section. After that, you’re looking at a little time in sub-sectional time to rep some show parts and soon after bringing it back to the full section to play through some show material, if not the entire show in digestible chunks. After this, it’ll be time for either percussion field time where the drumline and pit are alone on a field for the drumline to work drill and music and the pit has something to listen back to. The band or the corps comes next and you’ll see a full ensemble rehearsal which will usually take up a majority of the rehearsal time. Sometimes, depending on the show, you’ll get a lunch break in the middle of rehearsal, but other times you’ll eat after rehearsal and before loading yourself on the bus to travel to the show. From there you’ll change into your uniform (either before the bus ride or after) and get back with your section to do it all again at the show site. Start with sub-sectionals to quickly rep some show parts before warming up with the full section. March yourself with the full ensemble through the parking lot and to the stadium and perform the show for a number. After that, it’s just waiting for the scores and back on the bus!
Q: How is marching band scored?
A: It’s pretty complicated as you may or may not have guessed. Scoring criteria change almost every year but for the most part, there are captions that adjudicators are looking at very specific things within their scope. Most circuits have two field judges, one of whom judges music from an up-close perspective as they walk around the field with the members of the group, the other judges visual while also on the field. The field judges get a very personal perspective of each group they see, musically it’s very easy to hear things like articulation and even tuning of each member on the field, and visually they can see very clearly the performer’s feet and body movements. A lot of circuits have a field percussion judge whose sole job is to listen to the percussion elements of the group and comment – usually musically, on quality and demand. The only other judge that is down on the field is the timing and penalties judge who doesn’t walk around on the field but does make sure the performance time and boundaries are adhered to. Up in the box above the stands are the remaining judges, and these differ the most among circuits. Usually, there is one music judge and one visual judge up top looking at similar things as the field judges, but instead taking in the big picture from an audience member’s perspective. The final judge most circuits have in the box is the General Effect judge, or Overall Effect judge. This judge is, in a way, combining the idea of music and visual coming together to create the effect the designer is going for. Each judge’s score carries a different weight, and usually, the field judges’ scores are weighted much lower than the box judges. The scores are given by each judge as two numbers which are basically a composition number and an execution number, and these numbers basically tell you everything you need to know about what the judge thought. If the two numbers are not close together the judge is saying what you’re trying to do is good, so you’ll need to keep improving to achieve your potential, and if the numbers are close together the judge is saying you’ve maxed out your potential. All the numbers are combined and weighted properly to give you your overall score and thus your placement!
Q: Is marching band a sport?
Q: Is drum corps a sport?
A: Ah, the age-old question. To be completely honest I don’t think this question has an answer because it’s a little subjective in how you define ‘sport’. I personally don’t think it’s an important question either because it doesn’t change the activity in any way, sport or not. For example, let’s talk DCI: Sports teams don’t usually call their away games “touring” the country. Musical artists and stage productions or acts do this when they say they go ‘on tour’. On the other hand, those same artists and acts don’t necessarily compete against other groups either, so that leans more toward sport. To take the definition straight from Dictionary.com: Sport is an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc. Marching activities are athletic in a way, require skill and physical prowess, and a competitive nature, yes. But in my mind, when I’m preparing for a competition I already know exactly what I’m going to do on the field, nothing is left to chance, unlike football for example, where players need to react to a 100% changing environment. So what I’m saying is that if you were to imagine a branch where a player on a sports team needs to catch a ball, it will split into 2 timelines where they either catch the ball or they don’t. This means the entire game could change based on the outcome of that event. A marching performance has the opposite scenario, where everything is predetermined so much that performers practice to achieve the same outcome for hundreds of hours. I know going into the performance exactly what was going to happen every single time, and if I don’t then I didn’t practice enough. Let’s focus on a word I just mentioned too, “game”. Most sports are also considered games, I know not all are, like racing for another example, but marching band and drum corps are perhaps the furthest from games that you can get! There’s also no defense, which, again unlike racing, is usually required in most sports. Drum corps is often referred to as Marching Music’s Major League, which I think is apt. It’s the equivalent of high-end sports but also presses the sports button in referring to it as a major league, it’s fitting.
So again, I think this comes down to personal preference. I don’t personally think of it as a sport, because when I’m on the field performing I’m doing just that, performing a character in a show or production. I don’t think about the competitive element at all because that part is completely out of my hands as long as I’m executing exactly what I rehearsed. The competitive nature appears during the retreat when they’re announcing scores, but by then I’m no longer in the performance mindset, I’m more closely related to an audience member by then – like waiting for the results of a contest rather than the scores of a sporting event. That being said, I’m sure there are people that think of the competitive environment first, maybe even at practice, and they are also right! The thing is, I believe the term is just a toss-up, and by flipping the marching band and drum corps coin it lands on its edge. It is whatever you want it to be, but it is whatever anybody else wants it to be too!
Q: Are marching band shoes non slip?
A: This is an interesting question because I never actually thought about this before. Marching band shoes are definitely designed with grip in mind, but the bottoms are pretty stiff and flat. I think more importantly they need to be comfortable to march long term while wearing such as parades on hard flat pavement. The benefit that all marching shoes have over normal shoes is that the heel is rounded to allow for rolling feet and toes up as much as possible. So to answer the question, yes to an extent, but they aren’t like cleats for the turf or grass by any means, they are still flat shoes on the bottom.
Q: When is National Marching Band Day?
A: National Marching Music Day is annually on March 4th. This day was sort of discovered rather than created simply because of the homonym of the sounds “March Fourth” and “March Forth”. The day also isn’t exclusive to marching band as March 4th has long been a colloquial day of bettering oneself by moving forward. Personally, I like to celebrate April 4th as Common Time Day being that it’s abbreviated to 4/4 in the US and European date shorthand both!
Q: Is there a marching band for adults?
A: This may or may not surprise you, but yes. Not exactly a marching band, but there are plenty of marching activities you can do after you graduate high school or college. Drum Corps Associates (DCA) is an all-age circuit – actually the oldest circuit in the US. DCA has so many corps that are always looking for performers of any age to come march, some members even march in a DCA corps while still in their high school band! WGI also has independent guard groups without age restrictions as well for those of you interested in continuing colorguard after you graduate. And for you military types, most branches have an associated band, and the one that comes to mind is The Commandant’s Own United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps. I’m sure there are some others I missed, like some private groups, but these are the big ones where you can continue your marching experience as long as you like!
Q: What is drum corps?
A: Drum corps developed from military Fife and Drum Corps, or Drum and Bugle Corps. Drum corps is actually still shorthand for Drum and Bugle Corps today, though they no longer strictly use bugles. As a matter of fact, there are rule proposals on the table to allow all instrumentation into Drum Corps International, the biggest drum corps circuit worldwide. This would turn the drum corps world on its head and really bring us back into the fife and drum corps roots. That being said, for most of the DCI and DCA history drum corps were comprised of percussion, brass, and colorguard (note the lack of woodwinds). Some people refer to drum corps as marching music’s major league but are careful not to call it an adult marching band. The top drum corps in the world tour the United States primarily and rehearse very long hours every day of the summer, sometimes 12 to 14+ hours. I’ve personally been in practices that did not have an end time and went on until 1am or 2am until things were exactly where they needed to be for an upcoming competition. Members will sleep on their tour buses and on gym floors of the hosting high school or college campus at the practice site near a show city. Top DCI corps are pushing the envelope of what’s physically possible to do in regards to music and also drill on the field, if you want to go as far as possible in the marching activity DCI is where it’s at!
Q: What is indoor drumline?
A: Much like DCI is for summer drum corps, WGI – Winter Guard International – is for indoor drumline (as well as winterguard and indoor winds too). If you were to break down a DCI drum corps into its component parts, drumline, winds, and colorguard you are able to watch each of these parts perform on their own terms in a WGI competition. WGI indoor groups are smaller than outdoor groups, but the extreme demand for the performers is still very obviously there! WGI allows performers to play year-round with indoor shows across the country during the coldest months of the year.
Q: When does drum corps season start?
A: Depends on who you are! If you’re a fan and want to go to some shows the competitive season usually begins in mid to late June. If you’re talking about watching groups practice before tour the move-in date is usually late May, but keep in mind many practices are closed rehearsals and video is usually strictly prohibited. Lastly, if you’re a prospective member then the season begins well before November for you! Auditions usually begin in November and you’ll need to have the audition materials memorized well before them if you want to make a top 10 corps. For members of the corps, the seasons overlap if they’re performing with WGI indoor groups and marching DCI as well!
Q: When is drum corps finals?
A: DCI Finals is always in mid-august. DCA finals is always in early September.
Q: What drum corps should I audition for?
A: Let’s keep this relative to some numbers and be honest about your ability and experience. First, most top 10 DCI corps have hundreds, if not thousands of prospective members auditioning for a spot in the corps. When I auditioned for a DCI tenor spot it was after that corps had won the world championship the prior year, there were 76 tenor drummers at the November audition camp gunning for 2 open spots in the tenorline. The snareline had nearly 200 people auditioning, and this was just the November camp in their home city, not counting anyone auditioning at various other camps across the country! Now, if you’re prepared don’t let that discourage you, go in with confidence and make yourself known! There are only so many drums in the front of the room, so try to get yourself on those drums as much as possible. You also may want to try to wear a similar color shirt or outfit every day so that you’re memorable. If the corps provides you with a number to ID you, you may want to bring your own ‘Hello My Name Is” sticker with your name on it. More important than anything though is to bring the skills! Throw down! Be able to play the notes from memory!
So that being said, this is sort of like picking a college, have a couple fall back options too. Remember if you have some DCI experience, even in lower placing corps, it will help you in the future in how to prepare for a top 10 corps! Now, in choosing a corps that’s right for you is all personal preference. Know each corps’ musical and marching styles. If you like the techniques you used in high school you can try to find a corps with similar techniques to what you already know. Scour the internet for videos and see where you think you’d fit in best!
Q: How much do DCI performers get paid?
A: Next question…
Q: How much does it cost to march drums corps?
A: Now there’s the right question! DCI and DCA corps, as well as WGI ensembles, all charge tuition or dues. Each corps charges a different amount for member dues based on the corps’ annual budget and how many members they usually have audition. You can expect to pay several thousand dollars for almost any DCI corps, but the top corps may be even more expensive than that. Most top DCI corps have operational budgets in the millions of dollars, and their dues are also only part of the member’s financial responsibility. As a general guide, I’d say you should budget about $3,500-4,000 if you’re planning on marching in a top 10 DCI corps. DCA corps tend to be a bit lower in tuition payments, so that may help you if you’re just starting to look at the drum corps activity. They rehearse less often (sometimes called weekend corps) and so their operating expenses are lower than DCI. You should still plan on budgeting several hundred dollars if you’re looking at DCA as an option.
Q: How many drum corps are there?
A: DCI currently has about 36 performing corps. DCA has roughly 14. I’m sure there are more that are currently in the process of organizing and establishing themselves, so this number changes a little bit every year.
Q: Which drum corps are all male?
A: Currently there is only one all-male corps in existence and that is the Cavaliers from Rosemont Illinois. Previously there were two DCI corps that were all male but recently the Madison Scouts converted to both male and female membership. The reason behind the Cavaliers all-male membership is because of their history, being founded as boy scout troop 111 in Chicago. Today they are the only brotherhood in the drum corps world.
Q: What is the best marching band in the world?
A: Too subjective for my tastes, but here’s a link where you can decide for yourself!
Q: What is the best drum corps in the world?
A: Again, too subjective, but also again, here’s a link to check things out yourself!
Q: What drumline was on an episode of The Office?
A: RCC! The elite WGI drumline sometimes known as Riverside City College (and I believe it used to be Riverside Community College) from California. The RCC drumline is sponsored by the Blue Devils of DCI fame and a lot of the members march with both groups!
Q: What drumline was on an episode of Parks and Rec?
A: RCC again! The group is based south of San Bernardino and very close to Los Angeles, so being available as the go-to drumline to film is something they like to do!
Q: What drumline was on an episode of…
A: Ok folks, I’m just going to give you this link and say that it was probably RCC.
Q: Who is marching band girl?
A: Anna Eberhard from Denton High School. The video people refer to on this one is of a performance by the Boston Crusaders drum and bugle corps in 2016, so it’s definitely a misnomer calling her “marching band” girl, but hey, I think the drum corps activity is just glad to have the added exposure! I always laughed when people called my drum corps a marching band, but some people do take offense to that. To each their own I suppose!
Q: How many Drumline movies are there?
A: Technically there are 2. The original with Nick Cannon came out in 2002, and then another VH-1 ‘original’ called Drumline: A New Beat came out in 2014. Hope that clears this up for you!
Q: How does Drumline the movie end?
A: It’s been a while since I last watched the movie, but if I remember correctly they shut the lights off in the stadium because the purple team asked nicely and maybe tipped the maintenance person to do it for them (although they did have spotlights at the ready), then a limo rolled out onto the field with Petey Pablo who did a guest appearance with the band. This persuaded the judges to not look into the rule book and find the sections regarding boundary lines, gasoline-powered vehicles, performer’s school enrollment, and pyrotechnics but instead call for a drum-off to decide the winner. Anyway, Nick Cannon and the good guys won the drum off after not getting into a fight this time when they dropped their second pair of sticks on the purple team’s drums at the end. GO ATLANTA!
Q: How do I set up my drum set?
A: Start with the bass drum and hihat with your stool. Sit down comfortably on your throne so that you’re balanced and have your feet out as far forward while still being able to pick them both up off the floor without leaning back, this is where your pedals should go. Now put the snare drum between your legs and make sure it fits without adjusting the pedals too much, if at all. Mount your toms so that they have a minimal angle, as flat as you’re comfortable making them, this allows the energy of the stick to go perpendicular to the drum head instead of glancing it at an angle. The floor tom should go close to your leg, but not touch. Cymbals should not completely cover the drums, but not too far away that you’re leaning forward to play them. Usually, the ride (biggest cymbal) is on the right for right-handed players. Keep in mind this is all personal preference, if you want to experiment and make a unique setup that’s great! Just make sure you’re not expending too much energy on unnecessary things like leaning or twisting or glancing the instruments – but even that is subjective!
Q: How many drums and cymbals do I need?
A: Again, this is subjective, as most things in the drum set world are. But it can really depend on what kid of music you’re playing. Some drummers only have a 2 piece kit with a bass and snare, that’s cool if it works for them because a good percussionist can make a small drum set speak well for them! The other side of the spectrum is that you might want a ton of different colors to choose from for each phrase you play. So there, get a big drum set then! Really in the end, it’s up to you, but I would start small and utilize what you have before you experiment with bigger kits. From an audience perspective, they’ll see a huge drum set and expect that drummer to play on everything all the time. This is not the fault of the audience, they just want to be entertained, and if you show up with a Lamborghini of a drum set they’re not going to be happy with you driving 25 mph. However, if you show up with a golf cart and then drive 190 mph you can bet they will be thoroughly impressed!
Q: Are drums hard?
A: This is another subjective question, but think of it this way, you’re probably already a drummer. Ever bang out a rhythm on your car steering wheel? You’re a drummer. Now, to progress beyond that, yes, it’s a little hard and a little discouraging, but what hobby isn’t? Drums, just like everything else, takes practice, and if you can create the time to practice it doesn’t matter how hard it is, just battle through the rough patches and try to have fun with the stuff you’ve accomplished already! I very specifically remember the eureka moment I had when I became coordinated enough to play 3 parts at once! I literally felt myself crossing the threshold into drum set territory, and I think if you can find yourself that moment you’ll be past your first major hurdle and start to really have fun with it all! Keep in mind though, if you want to keep progressing drums are never NOT hard, but hopefully the more you uncover the more fun you’re able to have with the stuff that’s behind you on your path forward.
Q: Can a drum set fit in a car?
A: That really depends on if you’re John Stanier or Terry Bozzio. First, I would recommend drum cases, which will take up more space in the car, but you should still be able to fit a small drum set into a car with the rear seats down. I’ve done this with my gigging kit, it’s a really tight squeeze, but it’s possible. I think a standard five-piece drum set should fit in the average car depending on the cymbals and stands. Now if you want to get clever about it you could take the resonant head off the bass drum and maybe fit another drum inside before you put it in a case, but it might get banged up a little bit inside. You could also consider a jungle kit or a suitcase kit, both of which are intentionally small for various reasons. A cocktail kit would also be deliberately small, but then you’d be standing up to play it all night, and who really wants to do that?!
Q: Which drum set is best?
A: This isn’t as important of a question as which drum set SIZING is the best? The brand of a drum set might change wood species or design components, but overall most ears can’t distinguish a brand just from hearing the drum. That being said, most ears have a much easier time determining the size of a drum! That means you’ll want to decide what size drums you want and then choose a company that either has that size for their kits or order the drums individually from that company. For example, if you want a big meaty thud out of your bass drum you could go with a 24″ kick, but you’re sacrificing a bit of articulation, so then you’ll need to look at bass drum beaters and drum head options. Same with the toms and cymbals too, it will all depend on the application. So I would recommend going to the nearest drum store and requesting the beating stick and hitting every drum and cymbal they have (and taking notes!) Lastly, I would highly encourage you to learn about different factors that influence the sound of your snare drum, that drum has the most flight-critical components and all of them will change the output sound. Start with the shell diameter, then depth. Understand how the thickness of the shell changes the sound qualities and maybe at this point, you’re thinking of a custom drum. Stave shells combine two or more woods into the shell and many companies offer very artistic hardware to go with your desired sound. Last but not least, drum head choice is probably the second most important decision behind diameter and depth!
Q: Which drum set is best for beginners?
A: Let’s see, if you’re buying your first drum set (or buying one for your child for example) you’ll want to take an educated guess on how long it will be used. Are we talking about a one-off thing to try and see if you like it? Or have we been in the school’s percussion program for a bit and we’re bringing something into the home to practice with? In the first example I would think about a cheap starter set that doesn’t cost too much, has some single-ply drum heads, and usually comes in one box. Try it out, make sure this is what you want to get into, or maybe it’s just a bit of a fad and doesn’t go anywhere. You’ll eventually upgrade the entire kit when things got serious down the road. In the second example, I’d be more confident finding a name-brand drum set where you can buy some good quality drums and not have to worry about upgrading them down the road, instead you could simply add on to the current kit. I would think about just a 4 to 5-piece kit (a ‘piece’ is basically just a drum). For cymbals, you’ll probably want a pair of hihats, a ride, and a crash to start. Then think about adding a secondary crash down the road or some effects cymbals like a splash. The purpose of this second kit would be to invest in the future, it would not be something that someone would grow out of over time, you’d only need to raise the height of the stool!
Q: What size bass drum should I get?
A: The default size for most standard drum sets is 22 inches. You can find them as small as 18 inches usually, but the smaller the drum the less low-frequency sound you’ll get out of it. Now you can also usually go as big as 24″, but keep in mind the bigger the drum the less articulation you’ll get, so there’s a sacrifice in both directions in terms of size. 22″ seems to be the sweet spot, especially for rock drummers.
Q: Which electronic drum set is best?
A: This is a difficult question because there are so many different factors. For a short answer, we can narrow it down to 2 things you need to really consider: audio and feel. Audio means the sound library you’ll have access to and how good or bad the sounds imitate actual drums. If you’re at the drum store don’t just hit each pad once to test them out, instead hit one pad a bunch of times in succession, and see if the sounds sort of cut each other off or if the sound is super repetitive. Also see if the rim of the pad makes a different sound that the center, or if you hit it harder that you get a louder sound. On the other side of the coin, how do the pads feel? Are they a solid rubber or are they a nice mesh surface that feels more authentically real? Keep in mind if you’re going to practice on an electric kit and perform on an acoustic kit you’ll want a practice kit that feels as real as possible. Lastly, if not obvious, the more you pay the better the kit (basically). If you see an expensive kit you’ll probably be looking at one that has all the luxuries the industry has to offer, but if you’re happy with some drum pads just to keep your hands moving in the apartment, maybe that’s the best electronic drum set right there!
Q: Acoustic or Electric kit?
A: Depends on the application. If you’re just practicing in an apartment then electric all day and all night. If the volume isn’t an issue you’ll get more information out of an acoustic kit, in terms of learning how to tune it and maybe even mic it. Electric kits will be easier to get a nice sound, but sometimes that sound is a little too repetitive, especially on lower-end kits. Acoustic kits can also be turned into hybrid kits by adding some electronic drum pads, triggers, or a sample station. You can get the best of both worlds by doing this, but again, you’re going to have some potential issues in both worlds as well, technology never seems to come without problems. If you’re planning to perform with any electronic drums make sure you know how to troubleshoot issues quickly! Practice setting up quickly and see if you can find the logistical problems before you try to do it in a show situation. This very much applies to the marching percussion world! Don’t try to lean too much on electronics, especially to start your show, because if you can’t get them to work you might be up a certain creek without a certain key item.
Q: How to tune a drum set?
A: I bet if you searched for a book online about tuning drums you’d find hundreds! So for a short answer, this is a bit of a non-starter. This could definitely turn into a future article about how I personally tune my drum set, but to tune one in general with a brief answer here let’s see what I can do…
Start with your bass drum, then your snare drum. Play a little while with just your hihat and these 2 drums, and make sure you’re happy with them. Then, after that’s comfortable on your ears, move on to the toms starting at the smallest one. Now, you’ll start from scratch on all of these drums by basically removing both heads. If you’re just looking for tuning tips you can skip this part. Put the batter head (top head) on first, and set it by finger tightening the tension rods until they contact the rim. Now going back and forth across the drum head turn the drum key on each rod about 3-4 half turns, do this for all the rods in a star pattern and check the sound of the head at each lug by tapping on the drum head right next to each tension rod. Make minor adjustments to any rod that doesn’t match each other. Repeat this process until you’re happy with the batter head. Now do the same thing with the resonant head (bottom head) until it’s harmonious with the batter head (usually not as tight). This will be done with all drums including the bass drum. Now to fine-tune a drum, just tap next to each tension rod and turn the drum key 1/4 to 1/2 turn to bring it up in pitch a bit. Usually, I start by turning all the rods on the drum about 1/4 turn if it’s been a while since tuning. Do a similar adjustment to the resonant head but maybe only 1/8 to 1/4 turn on this one. Don’t get lazy, take the drum off and check the bottom head! Also, if you’re like me and overlap the tension rods with cymbals don’t cheat and tune around the cymbal without checking the rod underneath the cymbal!
There, your drums are perfect and you definitely don’t need to read a book about tuning and sonic physics at all! But seriously though, if you want a bit more info why not check out the question above in the marching section about tuning, then consider looking up a book if you really want to try to perfect your sound.
Q: How do I mic a drum set?
A: This is a HUGE question, so you should start by using the internet as a major resource and find different techniques and understand what you want to do and what different ideas will give you audibly. Do a search for the “Recorderman Technique” to start. But, to keep it simple and to answer the question, start with a snare mic, bass mic, and a pair of overhead mics. You’ll need a mixer and may want to get a pre-amp or headphone amp too. Mic placement is key, so play around with some placement but make sure they aren’t in the way. I’ve played so many gigs where the newer sound guys put the snare mic on the rim right next to my left leg which is literally the worst place it could go! Snare mic is dangerous because it needs to avoid hihat wash, position it so it points slightly away from the hats. Overheads are the hardest to place because you want to get the tom sounds without being overbearing on the cymbals. This could cause you to rethink cymbal placement. Experiment! On the mixer, start with the sliders all at max volume and the gain all the way down. Soundcheck by hitting the drum at full playing volume (not just really hard, only as hard as you play in the songs). Turn the gain knob up until you see the clipping light flicker. Then turn the gain down just a touch so that light does not illuminate. Now you can balance the volume slider down so that you’ll get a clean sound that will never clip! Lastly, EQ the drum based on the frequency it produces, but again, have fun with this step! For the bass drum, you’ll want to punch up the low end, but play around with the mid-range and find a sound you’re happy with. If nothing sounds good you may need to consider a different drum tuning. This is HARD, don’t get frustrated the first time, give yourself a lot of time to trial and error, and have fun with it!
Q: When to replace drum heads?
A: This is a lot like glasses, you don’t usually realize what you’re missing until you get new ones. If you’re starting to notice a bit of a dead sound and it isn’t getting better with tuning then it’s probably way past time to change them. That being said, sometimes your snare drum, being the highest tension usually, will go until it breaks. I would hypothesize that if you had two identical drums with brand new heads on them you would hear a difference, after a long while of playing them, by tuning one and changing the head of another. I think the drum with a new head would be a refreshing sound easily obtained while the used head was harder to control and loses its tuning more quickly. We kind of see that quite a bit in the marching percussion world.
Q: Can we have two drum sets in my band?
A: You can do whatever you want dude! It’s your band! But to answer the question, yes, I’ve seen several groups with literally two drum set players. I’ve also seen countless groups with a drum set as well as a multi-percussion or auxiliary percussion setup as well. They work together very nicely for sure! Imagine the superhuman parts you can now play with two drummers! I’d go to your show!
Q: What is some lesser-known or interesting drum set terminology I should know?
A: The batter head is the drum head you hit with the stick. The resonant head is the head you don’t hit underneath (the one that resonates). A snare drum’s resonant head is called a snare side head because it’s the side of the drum with the snare wires. A piccolo snare is usually really short. A soprano snare is usually deep but small in diameter. Tension rods are the things you put your drum key on to tune, the lugs are actually the things that hold the tension rod to the shell, many people get these mixed up. Free-floating drums are drums that do not have lugs that drill into the shell of the drum, the heads and tension rods “float” over the shell. A beat is pretty much just any groove. The downbeat is beat one of the next measure (more generally it’s every main count of a measure). The upbeat, or offbeat, is the ‘and’ counts of a measure. Upbeat can also just mean a higher tempo. Backbeat is a style of groove where the snare hit is placed on counts 2 and 4 of a measure. Blast beats and break beats are styles of drumming where the snare is hit rapidly. A beat-beat hasn’t been invented yet as far as I know. Linear refers to grooves where no drums or cymbals are hit at the same time. Playing in the ‘pocket’ means you’re right in time or that it feels really good, not too fast and not too slow. A remote hat is a cable hihat that is usually placed somewhere a normal hihat couldn’t reach. A strainer is referring to the snare drum wires.
Q: How percussion instruments work?
Q: How percussion instruments make sound?
A: So the best part about percussion instruments is that they’re literally named after the word that means to strike! All percussion instruments create sound by striking them, or in some cases pressing a key that causes a hammer to strike a string as is the case for pianos. Sound waves are created when the ripples in the drum head or mallet bar are vibrated and bounced off like a trampoline. If you’ve ever watched a drum or cymbal get struck in slow motion you can literally see the ripples across the mylar or the metal. You can also create a very dead sound by striking a drum head in two separate spots on the head, the ripples that collide will cancel themselves out and flatten the sound at that intersection point (this is called a double-stop for hopefully now obvious reasons). Now, to amplify or broaden the sound many percussion instruments use resonators that resonate the sound. Mallet instruments utilize hollow tubes under each bar that cause the pitches to resonate up and down the instrument. These bars are cut to specific sizes that are harmonious with the pitch of the bar, the bigger the bar the bigger the resonator. Drums usually have resonators too, they’re just less obvious. A snare drum or tom-tom resonator is actually its shell, and the drum head on the bottom acts similar to how a speaker would by resonating the sound waves created by the input (the batter head). Even the drum sticks themselves resonate when they strike the instrument, this is why sticks and mallets should be sonically matched so that you don’t have different tones coming out of each stick. If you lightly knock the shoulder of the drumstick against the side of your head you should be able to hear a pitch, do this with both sticks and make sure they have matching pitches. By the way, this is called Bone Conduction and you can actually listen to music through bone-conduction headphones without them touching your ears at all! This works by turning the bone into a resonator, just like percussion instruments!
Q: Which percussion instrument can play a melody?
A: I think this question is hinting at the less obvious. So most people know that pianos are percussion instruments and because they have several full scales of pitches they can in turn play melodies. Mallet instruments are similar in that the marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, glockenspiel, bells, crotales, chimes/tubular bells, handbells, metallophone, and others all have a full scale of pitches and therefore can play the melody. But what many people don’t tend to think of as melodic instruments are drums, and if you have enough drums with specifically tuned pitches then you can play a melody. For example, timpani have variable pitches and many great timpani players can change the pitch accurately while playing and are able to perform complex melodies with the percussion instrument. Another example of this is the marching tenor drums or even marching bass drums, while only having 5 to 6 drums (usually) the instruments can still create a melodic phrase. Lastly, an extreme example if you’re curious, would simply be tuned tom-toms such as on Terry Bozzio’s custom DW drum set. Bozzio uses 26 tom-toms tuned to specific pitches in order to create melody while drumming. Some other more common melodic instruments you already know would include steel drums, handbells, and some of you I’m sure know what a hang drum is (if not, look them up, they’re very relaxing).
Q: What percussion instruments are tuned?
A: All percussion instruments are tuned. Some are done less often than others such as steel drums or marimbas for example which are tuned at the manufacturer and hopefully not necessary to fix tuning once they leave the factory. Others are tuned slightly more frequently, such as piano which requires professional tuning on a regular schedule in order for the metal strings to maintain the correct pitch. Lastly, and what the question is really looking for, is drums. Drums are all tuned nearly every time they are played. The tension rods around the rim are tightened with a standard drum key (or high-tension drum key for marching drums), and the drum head is stretched tighter around the shell which creates a higher pitch.
Q: Which percussion instrument has the lowest pitch?
A: There are a whole bunch of low-pitch percussion instruments, but the most obvious ones are usually the biggest ones. For example, a large timpani can bend down to a very low pitch, and concert bass drums tend to be quite large and can be tuned quite low. Now, if you want the extreme low end you can find some gigantic bass drums in some football stadiums that are sort of a prop to drum up crowd engagement. The Carolina Panthers have their “Keep Pounding” bass drum that measures 72″ in diameter. The University of Texas has “Big Bertha” which is a 96″ diameter bass drum. Purdue University claims to have the biggest bass drum that measures 120″ in diameter!
Q: Should I take lessons?
A: Depends on how serious you want to get. For anyone that is going to play percussion in school, I would recommend taking private lessons at the very least to get started because you want to avoid some common bad habits in technique or have someone personally answer some very common questions for beginners. If you’re just learning to have fun then you can easily get by with just internet videos! There are tons of great ones! Now, if you’re thinking about taking the next step in percussion (whatever that may mean for you) or you have some serious natural talent, then I would definitely recommend some advanced lessons that will help you focus your goals or talents and push you further forward very efficiently. But in the end, it’s a personal decision that’s totally your call, depending on what you want to put in and what you want to get out of drums.
Q: Who are your favorite drummers?
A: Too many to list, but I’ll give you the names of people that most percussionists aren’t super familiar with instead. My drum sets are inspired by Mike Portnoy whereas they can be connected into a big siamese drum set! My absolute favorite drummer is Virgil Donati. Other, maybe less popular, drummers that inspire and influence me are Troy Wright, Anika Nilles, Jay Postones, Martin Lopez, Travis Orbin, Johan Langell, Thomas Lang, Matt Goves, Marco Minnemann, Joe Sirois, Benny Greb, Josh Eppard, Jojo Mayer, John Hernandez, Adam Janzi, Matt Garstka, Ben Shanbrom, Steve Judd, George Daniel, and a huge shout out to Kayleigh Moyer. I’m sure I’ll add names to this list as I grow too, it will always be incomplete. Check out these names online though, they’re all amazing!
Q: Who invented drums?
A: Dale Doback in 2008
Got any new questions? Email me at Patrick@PatrickRFBlakley.com and I’ll include them in the next round of questions to answer! Most of these questions are answered all over the internet, so if you want to specifically as WHY something is done the way it is, or personally why I would do something a certain way let me know, those are usually the questions we learn the most from. Contact me!