Marching Band Drums and Percussion Beginner's Guide (2023)

If you’ve ever watched the movie, Drumline, you would have seen a top-quality marching band in action. While marching bands are most popular in the USA, you can find spots here and there around the world where marching bands perform.

In this article, we’re going to look at the percussion section in a marching band. It has multiple members, all playing different percussive instruments. Marching band drums are a bit different from standard drum sets, so we’ll look at how they’re different, how to play them, and see what sounds they make.


  • What is a Marching Band?
  • The Different Types of Marching Band Drums
  • Drum Kit Playing vs Marching Percussion
  • Marching Percussion vs Orchestral Percussion
  • Conclusion

Marching Band Drums and Percussion Beginner's Guide (1)

What is a Marching Band?

Before we get there, let’s first be clear on what a marching band is. A marching band has dozens of members that play music while marching. You can find them performing at parades and sports events. When the bands play at sports events, they typically do march routines that are a spectacle to watch.

A band will have up dozens of marching drummers with multiple members playing each marching band drum.

You get different-sized marching bands. Some are small while others can have hundreds of musicians playing in them.

The Different Types of Marching Band Drums

The percussion section in a marching band has several different types of drums. Typically, percussionists specialize in playing one of them as each of them has a bit of a different learning curve.

(Video) DPM - 1 - Beginning Snare Drum: Lessons (Grip and Basic Strokes)

Here is a list of the types of drums in marching bands:

Snare Drum

The marching snare is one of the most recognizable drumline instruments. They’re typically tuned a lot tighter than snare drums from acoustic drum sets. This gives them a distinct high-pitched sound.

They have harnesses that players will put over their shoulders. While the snare is hanging from their shoulders, it sits at a slight angle. Because of this, all marching snare drummers have to use traditional grip when playing. Some harnesses allow for matched grip, but you won’t often see snare drummers using that grip.

The snare drum parts in marching songs are always the most intense and challenging. Snare drummers need to have excellent command over rudimental playing, and their technique needs to be brilliant to keep up with the intensity.

Snare drummers are also often the ones that do all the stick tricks in a drum line. Musicians playing the other drums do some tricks as well, but never as many.

Marching Band Drums and Percussion Beginner's Guide (2)

Bass Drum

The bass drum is the next easily recognizable drum in a drumline. Bass drums in marching bands also have harnesses that position the drums at the player’s chest and stomach.

They’re a bit lighter than bass drums on an acoustic drum set, but they produce a very similar sound. The only difference is that the tones are slightly thinner as the drums rarely use muffling. Bass drummers also often play rim clicks by hitting the edges of the bass drums.

Most marching bands will have multiple players carrying different-sized bass drums to get some tonal variety. This is where the bass drums differ from marching snare drums as all marching snares in a band will be the same size most of the time.

A bass drum player will use mallets to strike the bass drum on both sides. People who play bass drums in marching bands need to be extra fit as they hold a heavy drum up for extended periods.

(Video) Atlanta Drum Academy Play Along Beginner Lesson #1

Marching Band Drums and Percussion Beginner's Guide (3)

Tenor Drums

The tenor drums may be the most unique drums to you if you’re used to playing acoustic drum sets. These marching band drums are also referred to as quad drums sometimes. A set of tenor drums will have 4 drums that vary in size along with a smaller drum that provides a high-pitched cutting sound.

Similar to marching snare drums, tenor drums are tuned very high so that the sounds pierce through the rest of the ensemble. The difference is that you get multiple tonal options with tenor drums. Drummers will also play them using matched grip.

Tenor drummers will often play patterns and do crossovers with their hands as it looks impressive from the crowd’s perspective. Marching bands put a heavy focus on visuals, so things like this are important when they play.

The four main drums are 10”, 12”, 13”, and 14”. The small effects drum closest to the player is usually around 6”. Marching drummers will often call that drum the gock.

Marching Band Drums and Percussion Beginner's Guide (4)


The last main type of percussion instrument that is a staple in a marching band is the cymbals. These cymbals have straps, and players will hold one on each hand and clash them together when the time comes to play them.

Players hold them in a way that keeps their hands flat and on around the bell. This is called the Garfield grip. It gives the players more control over the cymbals and allows them to do flashy movements.

Since the cymbals aren’t played as often as the previous percussion instruments, cymbal players are often the showmen of a marching band. They move the cymbals around in an impressive way to create a visually appealing performance.

Players will use varying sizes of cymbals to cover the sonic range, but the cymbals will typically always be between 18 and 20 inches in size. Anything too small won’t pierce through the sound of the band and anything too big will be difficult to march with.

(Video) How to Play Marching Snare Drum, Learn how to hold your sticks

Marching Band Drums and Percussion Beginner's Guide (5)

Mallet Percussion

Moving onto percussion instruments that aren’t always featured in marching bands, the first ones we have are mallet percussion instruments. This includes any melodic instrument that gets played with mallets such as xylophones, glockenspiels, or vibraphones.

These instruments all produce melodic notes that follow the musical scale. They’re labeled as percussive instruments because the players use sticks to play them. Just like with all the previous instruments, they’ll have harnesses that you can put over your shoulders that allow you to march with the instruments.

Mallet percussion instrument allows for melodies to be played from the percussion section. The players who play these don’t do tricks that are as flashy as the music parts are typically a bit more challenging to play.

Marching Band Drums and Percussion Beginner's Guide (6)

Auxiliary Percussion

While the standard instrumentation can be found across most marching bands, sometimes percussion sections will include players using instruments that aren’t too common in marching band environments. The best name for this would be auxiliary percussion.

This includes things such as cowbells, electronic pads, shakers, and anything percussive that doesn’t fit into the previous categories. When marching bands play modern music, auxiliary percussion parts are often quite vital.


Some marching bands even make use of timpani players. A few decades ago, timpani players used to march with the rest of the band. However, timpani players typically stay in one position nowadays. Timpanis are very large, so marching with them isn’t possible for extended periods.

A timpani player will have up to 5 large drums around them that can all be tuned to different notes. Advanced timpani players will change the tuning in the middle of songs to achieve a wider range of tones. This is done by adjusting the pedals below each timpani.

(Video) Snare Drum Technique: The Rudiments of Percussion (A MuseScore Community Tutorial)

These drums are played with mallets, and they provide the largest sound out of any percussion instrument in a marching band.

Drum Kit Playing vs Marching Percussion

Drummers play all the parts themselves. They can do this because a drum kit covers all the frequencies in the tonal spectrum. However, there’s usually only one drummer in a band.

The beauty of marching percussion is that there are dozens of players, leading the percussion parts to sound big and powerful. You’ll sometimes find a drum kit player in a marching band on special occasions, but drum kit playing is mostly reserved for small band ensembles.

Marching percussion is an entity on its own that has a whole culture behind it. This means that marching drummers may not be able to play on a drum kit, but they’ll be incredibly good at playing their chosen marching percussion instrument.

Marching Percussion vs Orchestral Percussion

You’ll find many of the same percussion instruments in an orchestra. However, orchestral percussionists don’t march around when playing. Many of them also play several different percussion instruments as they play through a composition.

They’ll also use orchestral snare drums instead of marching snare drums. The marching snare drum sound is very specific to marching bands.


If you’ve never watched a marching band drumline in action before, you should check out some of the popular videos on YouTube. It’s incredible what those musicians do on a field. They somehow manage to play amazing-sounding songs while pulling off wild tricks and movements.

Try to watch the percussion section and see if you can spot all the marching percussion instruments that we spoke about above. If you’re keen on playing in a marching band percussion section, you should choose which instrument you’d like to play and then take steps toward learning to play it.

Remember that you’re going to need to be fit as marching isn’t for the faint-hearted!

(Video) Bass Drum Basics


What are the 4 drums called in marching band? ›

The battery usually consists of snare drums, bass drums, tenor drums, and cymbals. In the past, marching timpani were common, as were marching keyboard percussion instruments such as glockenspiels and xylophones.

What should a beginner drummer practice? ›

An excellent first step is to learn to hold your drumsticks. Working with the drumsticks is what you need to do while drumming. You will learn to play basic beats, and it will prove rewarding since, after learning them, drumming will become easy for you.

What are the 5 pieces of a drum set? ›

The most common configuration for a drum kit used in rock and pop music is the five-piece drum set, the number five referring to the number of drums in the kit (snare drum, bass drum, two high toms, and a floor tom). Along with the five drums, there are usually two cymbals and a hi-hat stand.

What equipment does a beginner drummer need? ›

When you first start learning how to play drums, you don't need a drum set. You can start with a pair of sticks and a practice pad (or even sticks and a pillow). Once you're able to play rolls and rhythms with your hands, you can add your feet, at which point you probably want to get a drum kit.

What is the leader of a marching band called? ›

A drum major or field commander is the leader of a marching band, drum and bugle corps, or pipe band, usually positioned at the head of the band or corps.

What is a marching band member called? ›

Positions in a Marching Band include Director, Assitant Director, Drum Major(s), Band Captains, Section Leaders, Color Guard Captain, Band Secretary, Equipment Manager, Uniform Manager, Band Members, Color Guard, and Band Boosters.

Is drumming harder than guitar? ›

Yes, generally speaking, drums are harder than the guitar. Of course, to play at a professional level, both instruments require the same amount of work. But if your goal is to have fun with music as quickly as possible, the guitar is your best bet.

Can I learn drums on my own? ›

You can teach yourself drums if you have the dedication, discipline, and willingness to practice. This article goes through 7 great tips to get you started. There are many instructional videos and books that you can get your hands on. You can learn the basics of drums in the space of a few weeks.

Can I learn to play drums at 50? ›

At the end of the day, it is never too late to learn to play the drums. Taking drum classes in adulthood will be one of the best journeys you take in life. Whether you are 30, 50, or 70, you can learn to play the drums, and Music House would love to help you learn.

What is a drum seat called? ›

Drum stools, also known as drum thrones, are an essential for drummers. They help with posture, performance and support. Some drum stools even have a backrest for further comfort.

What is the top of a drum called? ›

A drumhead or drum skin is a membrane stretched over one or both of the open ends of a drum. The drumhead is struck with sticks, mallets, or hands, so that it vibrates and the sound resonates through the drum.

What is each drum called? ›

Though there is no original standard configuration for drum kits, drum kits have a five-piece set, including two tom-toms, a floor tom, a bass drum, and a snare drum. The floor tom is a tom-tom that has a stand or legs and sits on the floor.

Is drums harder than piano? ›

Piano is more difficult. I play both and the question doesn't have an easy answer. It's more difficult to become a great drummer than an average pianist, but if you consider the skills that each instrument requires and the time that it takes to develop them, I think that piano is more demanding.

How much is a beginner drum set? ›

Good beginner drumsets cost around $500, intermediate drumsets are between $700 to $1500 and professional kits start at about $1500. Price factors are the number of shells, shell quality, hardware inclusion, if it's custom-built or hand made. Used drums often are good quality for way cheaper.

Is it better to learn drums on an electronic kit? ›

Electronic kits aren't 'better', as such, but a good one will be more versatile, offering an onboard library of simulated drum tones that can nail the clatter of vintage Moon or the rifle-crack of modern Jordison.

What is the heaviest instrument in marching band? ›

What Are the Heaviest Marching Band Instruments? The three most commonly pointed as the heaviest are the euphonium, bass drums, and tubas.

What are marching band pants called? ›

Bibbers – Marching Band pants; part of the standard uniform; provided by the band.

Why do marching bands walk on their toes? ›

Glide step is a form of movement used by marching bands to minimize upper body movement, enabling musicians to play their instruments and march without air-stream interruptions. Standardizing the style of marching also serves to add to the visual effect of a marching band.

What are dots in marching band? ›

Dots/Dot book: A small notebook utilized by marching bands in order to aid the learning of formations on the field.

What does PT mean in marching band? ›

Marching Performer Physical Therapy - Drum Corps Physical Therapy.

What is the easiest song to play on drums? ›

Best Songs for Beginner Drummers
  1. “We Will Rock You” by Queen, with drummer Roger Taylor. ...
  2. “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes with drummer Meg White. ...
  3. “Hold On” by Alabama Shakes, with drummer Steve Johnson. ...
  4. “Come Together” by the Beatles, with drummer Ringo Starr.

Are drummers more intelligent? ›

A study from Stockholm's Karolinska Institutet showed that drummers who had better rhythm scored higher on an intelligence test and showed a correlation between using multiple limbs to keep a steady beat and a natural ability to problem solve.

What should I focus on when learning drums? ›

Achieving success in any endeavor requires focus and learning the drums is no different.
Going deep in each of these areas will really help beginners to consistently move forward and keep getting better.
  • Technique. ...
  • Independence. ...
  • Vocabulary. ...
  • Rhythmic Notation. ...
  • Groove.
29 Aug 2021

How much does a drum kit cost? ›

Generally, a drum set costs between $300 and $1,000 on average. Factors that determine price are often quality of shells, hardware inclusion, custom builds, if they are hand-made, different tiers of quality within the brand, and the number of shells. Used instruments often offer a great entry into the drumming world.

How fast can you learn drums? ›

The short answer is, it takes most beginners at least 4-6 months to get decent at playing drum basics. To become a good enough drummer, it usually takes at least 10 to 12 months, if not more, even for the quickest of learners. It depends on several factors, most notably the frequency of practice.

How many hours should a drummer practice? ›

A beginner drummer should practice at least 30 minutes a day, and an advanced drummer should practice at least one hour a day. If drummers practice these amounts of hours a day they will progress steadily and in time become proficient at their craft.

Do drummers read music? ›

Most studio drummers these days who play on records actually don't have to read a chart, however, though many players choose to write a simple chart for themselves as they learn the tune. It really all depends on what kind of music you want to play and who you want to play it with.

Is drumming good exercise? ›

Playing drums can burn as many or more calories as if you did an hour of running, aerobics, or lifting weights at the gym. You can burn up to 300 calories per hour while playing your drums. So now you can get an excellent workout, all without ever having to leave the comfort of your drum kit.

What is a tom in a drum kit? ›

Originally known as a tom-tom, the tom is a simple drum that doesn't require extra mechanisms such as a snare strainer (“throw-off”) or foot pedal. Most drum sets have a maximum of one snare drum and one bass drum (sometimes two), but there can be any number of toms of assorted sizes.

How do you read drum chords? ›

Like the English language, drum notation is read from left to right. The staff is made up of five lines and four spaces, but notes can be positioned above or below the staff as well. Notes are placed in the staff based on which part of the drum set should be played at any given time.

How tight should drum skins be? ›

What is Finger Tight? | Drum Tips & Tricks - YouTube

What animal skin is used for drums? ›

Animal skin drum heads are produced from the hides of goats, cows and other livestock. Some drums are produced with the imported skins of animals native to their origin, such as the goat skin on a Djembe, giving the drum an authentic look, feel and sound.

How do I tune my drums? ›

How to Tune Drums in 6 Steps
  1. Purchase a drum tuner. Drums aren't tuned to a specific pitch, so many experienced drummers tune their drums by ear. ...
  2. De-tension the drum head. ...
  3. Tighten the head. ...
  4. Check the pitch of the drum and re-adjust. ...
  5. Dampen your drums. ...
  6. Repeat.
7 Jun 2021

What are the 2 types of percussion instruments? ›

Percussion instruments are most commonly divided into two classes: pitched percussion instruments, which produce notes with an identifiable pitch, and unpitched percussion instruments, which produce notes or sounds in an indefinite pitch.

What is a small drum called? ›

3. Timbales: Timbales are small, metal-frame drums mounted on a stand. A traditional timbale player usually has two drums they play with beaters, plus cowbell and perhaps a woodblock. 4.

What is the easiest instrument to play? ›

If you're looking for an easy instrument to learn, any of these options fit the bill:
  • HARMONICA. One of the easiest instruments you can take up, which is also very popular in a variety of styles, is the harmonica. ...
  • GUITAR. ...
  • UKULELE. ...
  • KEYBOARD. ...
  • DRUMS.
19 Oct 2021

Is drumming tiring? ›

When drumming for extended periods, or even shorter periods, many drummers experience fatigue. According to Harmony Central3, most drummers feel this fatigue in their arms first. Often this is a feeling where the arms feel like rubber. This feeling may only be alleviated with rest.

Should I learn piano before drums? ›

The drums are an easier musical instrument for beginners to start with compared to the piano. That's because, after a few drum lessons, you'll be able to play some basic drum grooves.

What kind of drum should a beginner buy? ›

Select the best drum brand for your needs

Most all the major drum companies produce great beginner kits. It is generally recommended that you stick to the best known drum brands: Ludwig, Tama, Pearl, Slingerland, Sonor, DW/PDP, Gretsch and Mapex are all trusted brands.

Which brand of drums is best? ›

The 10 Best Drum Brands of 2022: The Only Guide and Reviews That You Need
  • 1 Tama. Drum Center of Portsmouth. ...
  • 2 DW. Drum Workshop, also known as DW or DW Drums, is an American drum and drum hardware manufacturing company based out of Oxnard, California. ...
  • 3 Yamaha. ...
  • 4 Sonor. ...
  • 5 Pearl. ...
  • 6 Ludwig. ...
  • 7 Gretsch. ...
  • 8 Canopus.

Should I get an electric drum set as a beginner? ›

Enter the electronic drum set — the perfect choice for beginning drummers. Not only are electronic drum sets quiet, but they also sound great; and beginner models are generally more affordable than even the least expensive acoustic kits when you factor in hardware and cymbals.

Do electronic drums sound like real drums? ›

Electric Drums

An electric drum kit is essentially a collection of sample pads set up in the same way as an acoustic drum kit. The pads themselves are designed to produce little acoustic sound, other than the dead sound of the wooden drum sticks hitting rubber.

Why are acoustic drums better? ›

Better for Learning Proper Dynamic Control

There's something else you'll gain from cutting your teeth on an acoustic drum set, and that's the dynamic control you learn from manipulating drum sounds with your hands and sticks. We mentioned that acoustic drums are loud, and that's no lie.

What is a group of drums called? ›

May 2022) A drum kit (also called a drum set, trap set, or simply drums) is a collection of drums, cymbals, and other auxiliary percussion instruments set up to be played by one person.

What are the sections in a marching band? ›

Marching Sections

There are four major sections to the band - the Winds, Percussion, Color Guard and Field Commanders.

Are tenor drums harder than snare? ›

Tenors are harder because you basically carrying 4 snares and you have an x and y axis to worry about and you have sweeps, cross overs, double stops, left hand shots, etc.

What is a tenor drum in marching band? ›

Tenor drums are used as a marching percussion instrument, commonly as mounted sets of 4-6 drums allowing one person to carry and play multiple drums simultaneously.

Is drumming good for your brain? ›

Boost Brain Power and Increase Academic Performance

This type of brain activity can improve an individual's IQ level. Learning drums can boost academic performance especially in math; after all, drummers have to count! Drumming can also help students learn fractions, frequencies and intervals.

What are the 4 main percussion instruments? ›

The most common percussion instruments in the orchestra include the timpani, xylophone, cymbals, triangle, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine, maracas, gongs, chimes, celesta, and piano.

What is the biggest drum called? ›

The Purdue Big Bass Drum is a percussion instrument played by the All-American Marching Band of Purdue University. At a height of over ten feet (three meters) when the carriage is included, it is branded by Purdue as the "World's Largest Drum".

What is the most important instrument in a marching band? ›

The Trumpet is one of the most iconic and easily recognizable instruments in a marching band. They have a strong, bright sound that can cut through the sound of other instruments, making them perfect for leading the band and playing the melody.

What is the hardest instrument to play in marching band? ›

Euphonium. Perhaps one of the heaviest instruments, that needs to be held entirely by the marcher's hands. Physically, the euphonium is generally pointed as one, if not, the most demanding instrument in a marching band.

What are marching band pants called? ›

Bibbers – Marching Band pants; part of the standard uniform; provided by the band.

What is the hardest Drumline instrument? ›

Bass - rhythmically basses are the hardest because in you might only play one 16th note in the entire measure. You are the beat of the drumline.

What is the hardest marching drum? ›

Baritones are by far the most difficult to hold with just two arms, but it also only takes a couple years of marching to build up the strength required to support it.

What is the hardest percussion instrument? ›

Crash Cymbals are also used often in performances, especially in marches. This instrument is harder than most other instruments. Unlike the triangle, which is difficult because there is a very particular way to play it, the crash cymbals are hard because it has many ways to play it.

What are the 3 types of marching tenor drums called? ›

Marching tenor drums are sometimes called "toms" and usually come in mounted sets of 4-6 drums. Often tenor drum sets are referred to by how many drums make up their configuration: "duos" (2 drums) "trios" (3 drums) "quads" (4 drums) "quints" (5 drums) and "sextets" (6 drums).

How many people are in a drumline? ›

In a very large school, it's not unusual for a marching band to be at least 200 members strong. Drumlines in these schools may have 25 members or more. In a small school, there might be as few as one drumline member per drumline instrument.

How heavy are marching quads? ›

Weights of Marching Band Drums
Drum TypeWeight Range
Marching Bass Drum from 14″ diameter to 32″ diameter13-26lbs
Tenor Drum Quads (some cuts are much shallower)12-26lbs
Snare Drum (some snares are not as deep hence the weight difference)10-18lbs
Cymbals (ranges from 14-18″)2.5-5lbs
4 more rows


1. Instrument Demonstration for Beginning Band
(The United States Army Field Band)
2. Drumming Warm-Up (Beginner) - Drum Lesson
3. Drum Leason"PCS Pipe Band Drumming Beginner Lesson"
(Visa Tutorial)
4. Choose Your Instrument! | Percussion
(The Cleveland Orchestra)
5. A beginner's guide to percussion
6. Beginner Snare Drum Patterns
(Stuart Donnachie)
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