Drumline: How Do I Teach That?

Drumline: How Do I Teach That?

Described as a “true musical talent,” Eric Willie has a varied career as a solo performer, chamber musician, orchestral player, arranger, and teacher. Eric currently serves as Director of Percussion Studies at UNC Greensboro, and has served on staff for the Phantom Regiment, Madison Scouts, and Spirit Drum and Bugle Corps.


If percussion is not your primary instrument, it may seem daunting to add a percussion ensemble to your program. However, having a group work environment for your percussionists can be a great asset. Here are some general outlines to help you start a drumline at the middle school level.

Size of The Drumline

The number of players in your wind section will determine the number of percussionists you will need on the field. Here is a list to guide you in selecting personnel for each of the instruments. As a general guideline, the drumline should be about 12% of the entire music ensemble.

S.D. 3
Tenor 2
Basses 3-4
Cymbals 2

S.D. 5
Tenor 3
Basses 4-5
Cymbals 3-4

S.D. 8-9
Tenor 4-5
Basses 4-5
Cymbals 4-6

Drum Recommendations

Snare Drums:

  • Size: 14″ x 12″ (e.g., Pearl Competitor Series CMSX-1412 or equivalent).
  • Carrier: A carrier that does not have too many different parts. Some carriers require the director to have two to four different types of tools to adjust the carriers. I suggest the Pearl MXS-1 MXT or equivalent.
  • Stands: Most manufacturers make stands to accompany their marching percussion instruments. I recommend the Pearl MSS-3000 SD Stand, as it can work with most marching percussion instruments.
  • Heads: Evans Hybrid Grey (or equivalent) 14″ (SB14MHG) for batter, and Evans MX5 (or equivalent) 14″ (SS14MX5) for resonant.
  • Sticks: Innovative Percussion FS-1 Marching SD Stick or equivalent.
Pearl M-80 Snare Drum 10x4 in. The Pearl M-80 snare drum makes an incredible alternate or side snare. This snare offers poplar wood construction and a compact 10 x 4″ size for explosive power and projection. The drum offers bright, biting tone and mounts to a standard percussion mount or rests on a snare stand.

Tenor Drums:

  • Sizes: 6″, 8″, 10″, 12″, 13″ (e.g., Pearl Championship Tenors PMTM68023/A for five drums or equivalent. If you only want four drums, Pearl Competitor Series CMT-8023CX or equivalent).
  • Carrier: I suggest the Pearl MXT4-1 MXT or equivalent.
  • Stands: Pearl MSS-3000 Marching Tom Stand.
  • Heads: Evans Marching EC2S or equivalent.
  • Sticks: Innovative Percussion FBX Series (1-5) or equivalent.

Bass Drums:

  • Sizes: For three players, 16″, 20″, 24″ (e.g., Pearl Competitor Series or equivalent); for four players, 16″, 20″, 24″, 28″; for five players, 16″, 20″, 24″, 26″, 28″. (Note: You may choose to get a 30″ drum for the largest instrument, but be aware that it will be difficult to physically carry for the majority of students in middle school or junior high.)
  • Carrier: Pearl MXB-1 MXT or equivalent.
  • Stands: Pearl MBS-3000 Bass Stand.
  • Heads: Evans MX2 or equivalent. This head has an internal dampening system, so you do not have the need to place patches or foam to the outside of the head.
Pearl Championship Series Carbonply Bass Drums Pearl Championship Series Carbonply Bass Drums utilize 6 ply Maple Shells with an inner and outer lamination of Carbon Fiber. The combination of Maple and these expansive air chambers provide the perfect environment for the responsive nature of Carbon Fiber.


You may choose to have all of the cymbals be the same size or have them be varied. I would recommend

purchasing 18″ if they are the same size, or in 2-inch increments if they are different (e.g., for three players, 16″, 18″, 20″; for four players, 16″, 18″, 18″, 20″).

Tips to Sound Great

Rehearsal Etiquette: If the marching percussion section has discipline, so will the rest of the ensemble. Establish rehearsal etiquette before playing.

Marking Time: The battery must be able to march well to play well. When practicing exercises or music, the battery must move their feet in time.

Warm-Up Routine: To develop uniform technique, dexterity, and hand strength, the battery must have a set routine that they follow each practice session. In addition, establish exercises that will easily transfer to other areas of percussion.

Defined System: For easier definition of dynamics from player to player, it is most logical to develop a stick height system that directly relates to given dynamics. Not only will this assist with balance, but will also help with attaining stick height uniformity. The following is a stick height/dynamic system example:

pp 1″ on edge
p 1″
mp 3″
mf 6″
f 9″
ff 12″
fff 15″ w/arm


Photo via L, CC

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