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How to Choose What Drums to Purchase for Your Drumline

At Steve Weiss Music, we get asked all the time what drums customers should purchase for a specific number of players in a drumline. Jeff Phipps, our Educational Department Manager, wrote the following article. Please contact him via the Educational Department portion of our website if you need any personal assistance deciding on what to purchase, price quotes on Dynasty, Mapex, Pearl, Yamaha Drumlines or anything else percussion or if you need any additional information.

So you have the hard part down, you have eager students who want to be in the drumline. But now you need to evaluate their skills and determine who plays marching snare drum, tenors, bass drum, or cymbals. What should you look for?

The snare drum parts are typically those that require the most physical ability to play. The parts are usually relative to the main melody, yet may branch out to create their own “color” within the musical phrase. The snares, by virtue of their timbre, are also more exposed simply because they can usually be heard most easily. This tends to support the idea that your better players should be placed on snare drum.

In many cases the tenor parts are more related to the inner voices of your ensemble like the saxophones, or mellophones/french horns. But in a lot of cases with middle and high schools, they play the same parts as the snares, only spread over as many as 6 drums. This additional physical responsibility may require some of your top players to be on tenors. There is also an extra responsibility in reading the parts. This reading issue is the one to pay attention to. Some students just don’t have the ability to process the parts over multiple drums. Test them out by playing the same part on snare versus tenors and see how quickly or slowly they adapt to the multiple drums.

The bass drum parts, although split up over multiple players, generally do not require as much individual playing ability as the other two sections. However, these students should be strong in terms of pulse because many times it is the bass line that creates the foundation for the busier snare and tenor parts to sit on top of. If you have players that count well and feel things well but may not have the strongest chops or reading ability yet, these would be good bass drummers.

Crashes and other cymbal colors can be easily replicated using stationary suspended cymbals. That’s not to say that a marching line isn’t valuable. But, when faced with the decision as to how to build the marching percussion section and educate the players, it is worth considering putting them on drums if they intend to continue to be percussionists. If you have a well-rounded battery section established, additional less experienced players certainly should go on cymbals. Look for an awareness and command of their bodies. This is not always easily found in young performers.

In general, you’ll want to have all voices properly represented. Over the years I have seen groups with 4 snares and 4 basses and one single tenor player. The tenor voice will not speak in this set-up. Or, one snare, one tenor and 5 basses and 4 cymbals. This is usually the result of two strong experienced players and a large group of newer students. The balance is off in both of these situations. Be sure that when playing at the same dynamic levels that all sections of the ensemble can be heard contributing to the overall ensemble sound, with winds included. Also, be conscious of building for the future. Those new kids who are not ready for snare and tenors yet need to get ready somehow. Giving the glory to the two kids that can play by making them the sole snare and sole tenor player will not prepare the younger ones for next year and beyond. In most cases, putting an inexperienced player next to a much stronger one will bring them along much faster than if left on a less challenging instrument.

A quick guide:

6 players: 2 Snare Drums, 1 Tenor, 3 Bass Drums 9 players: 2 Snare Drums, 2 Tenors, 5 Bass Drums
7 players: 2 Snare Drums, 1 Tenor, 4 Bass Drums 10 players: 3 Snare Drums, 2 Tenors, 5 Bass Drums
8 players: 2 Snare Drums, 2 Tenors, 4 Bass Drums 11 players: 4 Snare Drums, 2 Tenors, 5 Bass Drums
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