CrownBariDad

What to watch/listen for in percussion?

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Percussionists: Please help an old brass player out.

I'm normally a trombone/baritone instrumentalist and have played a lot of trumpet, also. I've had a little experience playing drums. I was a Junior in college and they needed 1 more snare (had 9, rank was for 10). I played one football season on snare and barely survived. The next 2 seasons I played bass drum -- really, a lot more fun. This was the old afterbeats/Sousa march style percussion, definitely not Drum Corps.

So -- when I listen to a Corps' brass, I'm in familiar territory and think I could assess their ability fairly well. But, listening to today's Drum Corps style percussion, particularly the battery, all I hear is ratatatatatatatatatat (repeat as desired) flam Flam FLam FLAm FLAM FLAM FLAM FLAM ..... BOOM!

Yet, here on DCP, there are folks who (allegedly) can pick out subtle difference between Corps X's and Corps Y's drum lines. I know I won't be that good, but I'd like to learn more.

What do I listen for? What makes Corps X's battery better than Corp Y's? For those of you who play percussion and have heard the judges' tapes, what do they say pro and con?

Inquiring minds want to know. Many thanks!

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What a great answer. I just learned a whole lot. Thanks, garfield.

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Where can I get a copy of the English version instead of your Greek version G?

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I'm not surprised that your question has laid unanswered since last night but I'll take a stab at a few things. I've been a "battery"-guy my entire life and it's even more fun for me today that the_Kid has developed a great set of chops, and I'm learning more from him these days than he is from me (although I'll take credit [or blame - ask his Mom] for first showing him how to hold sticks).

The old rules still apply, of course. Dynamics, layering and balance between the sections and with the brass are all still important, but today's drum books are much more complex than the Sousa-type off-beat stuff written in, say, Madison's 1975 show or even BD's 1976 killer book.

Density - if you could find a battery score you'd be shocked at how l-o-n-g each measure is, regardless of time sig. That's because there are simply more notes stuffed into each one. It's not uncommon to see 32nd and, even, "diddled" (double-tap) 32nd notes filling entire measures. Drummers have all kinds of verbal descriptions of the sound that's written (paddaflahflah, for example) but, in each case, it's simply about cramming more notes into each measure then treating individual beats (the 1, 2, 3, 4 of a 4/4 time) as individual phrases. More notes per measure give more opportunities to phrase each beat. Carolina Crown was accused of having a "simple" book two years ago because (supposedly) their kids' hands were just not up to the task of playing the density of the other top lines (I disagree but I won't digress on the point).

Dynamics - With so many individual phrases inside each measure there are lots of opportunities to add dynamic complexity to support the horns, or to simply show off talent in the line. BITD we wrote dynamic progression (pp-p-mf-f-ff-f-mf-p-pp) inside measures. Today, they do the same inside each beat of each measure.

Snare Splits - this one is really cool, IMO. Basses and tenors have been "splitting" beats for decades because they have multiple drums. You can tell a great bass line by how deeply they split each beat (1, 2, 3, and 4) and make it sound like one player playing multiple drums. Tenor's speed in splits across drums is the same thing except there you have 4 or 5 tenors to "clean". Today's snares have gotten in on the act. For description, imagine 8 snares in a line playing 16th notes in 4/4 (for simplicity), where the odd-numbered players the "one" and the "and" of each set of 16ths, and the even-numbered players play the "e" and the "ah" of each four 16ths. Now imagine 32nd or even 64th notes where each member of the snare line is responsible for playing just one stroke of each grouping of notes. Then run it up and down the line at full tempo and make it sound like the entire line is playing all of the notes together. (This is not actually new, per se, as these splits were done many years ago when it was a real challenge to play 8th note splits really well. Watch Phantom play Carnival (I think it was) - I can still hear those 8th note splits across 8 drums for two measures and thought they were drum GODS for pulling it off (crudely by today's standards).

Bead control - Cadets got props for "high rolls" two years ago (Jeff Prosperie about crapped his pants judging them at finals). The entire snare line played a unison "open" roll, up to tempo, with the beads of their sticks going almost exactly vertical between each double-stroke of the roll, and (especially) marching at the same time, and doing it for (OMG) something like 4 measures at something like 80 bpm on the met. The effect was a very exposed passage where you could hear each single tap on the snare head and, besides sounding like a single player (clean), was visual candy because of its simplicity and simultaneous extreme exposure. Not only is it difficult to play well individually, had any single player been even slightly out of sync it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. And, AND, they did it close to the end of the show when the chops were at their weakest.

Stick, hand, and arm style - Again, BITD, the style was very rigid because stroke timing is so mathematically important to stroke control. It was not unusual to hear horns playing a beautifully-melodic song and see the drummers playing like robots, trying to exact the timing. Today, you'll see the battery's hand and arm and bead style change several times throughout the show. To describe, raise the arm, then the wrist, then the hand, then the butt of the stick, then the bead to create the upstroke, then reverse it to play the down-stroke and hit the drum head. In the old days, the arm stayed rigid and only the wrist and bead moved up and down. The difference is like a "chop-chop" motion versus a "flowing" motion. It's visually pleasing while actually produces a more legato stroke that "lifts" the sound out of the head instead of driving it rigidly into it.

Writing and arranging, teaching and cleaning, and player talent level can all come together to create a drum book that is obviously different between corps, but when it comes together between players, between sections (snare, basses, tenors, cymbals) and between lines (battery and pit) it creates a magical mood, definition, and quality that compliments the musicality of the horns while not over-powering them while still leaving room to "show off" the drums. I have horn-line friends who say drummers just bang on things but, today, there's as much finesse, control, and musicality in the drum line as there is in the blow-hard horn line ( :tounge2: ). For those who are really interested I suggest you watch some lot vids or, better yet, go to the show and skip the horns arc in favor of the drumlins warmups. Stand still while the lines move past you, and pay attention to the arms, hands, stroke style, and approach to the battery heads to see the subtle but clear differences between writing, teaching, and playing styles and you'll begin to notice the difference between corps.

This is, I'm sure, only a cursory overview answer to your question and I'm sure others will add more detail with better answers. And, although it sounds like I'm favoring the snare line, the stuff I describe above applies to every line in both the battery and pit.

Exactly what I was looking for! Thanks!

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Well said!

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Where can I get a copy of the English version instead of your Greek version G?

Sorry, G, this IS the English version!

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Something else that is really great about the current state of DCI percussion (pit and battery): Not only is the technical and musical exposure and demand equal to or greater than the brass, but the quality of instruction allows the kids to translate phrasing, control...all the other musical elements, to the other genre they are playing during the school year. Also, by the way, the sheer number of notes is only one aspect of difficulty.....playing the snare part of a Sousa march (and doing it well) is its own art form.

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Also, by the way, the sheer number of notes is only one aspect of difficulty.....playing the snare part of a Sousa march (and doing it well) is its own art form.

Which is why I switched to bass drum. When playing 16ths, the line would paradiddle and I would single stroke. Oh, well.

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Which is why I switched to bass drum. When playing 16ths, the line would paradiddle and I would single stroke. Oh, well.

For the challenge of musically executing Sousa, something like this is self-explanatory:

https://youtu.be/ku6EJslQqak?list=PLUSRfoOcUe4Znb1W5FzMGMQ5KFoEI-Cpw

Edited by brichtimp

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