When I was in high school, I was on the dance team and during football season, we worked with the band for the halftime show. I remember there was a running joke about the drum line, the upshot of which was that if you did not get out of their way, they would run you over, and you would have no one to blame but yourself. In the world of show bands and football halftime entertainment, the members of the drum line are the bad asses, the bad boys, the ones with the attitudes. Heck, drum line performers have such a reputation, there was even a movie made about them. “Drumline,” made in 2002, presented a band director who recruited a Harlem street drummer to play at a Southern university-Harlem. Think about it. If you saw a bunch of drum-toting, regimented-looking people coming toward you like a freight train, wouldn’t you move?
Drum lines play a crucial role in halftime show performances. They are, after all, the percussion, the beat by which the entire band measures its music. Show bands can be big, sometimes as many as 500 people. In order to control that many musicians, the performers of the drum line have to be strong artists. The drum line can actually be divided into two sections: the battery, which moves around the field, and the pit, which is stationary at the front of the field. Because the battery is the portion that most people associate with the words “drum line,” that is portion I will deal with in this article.
Drum lines are generally comprised of three different types of drum: the snare drum, the tenor drum, and the bass drum. The number of each instrument depends simply on the size of the band and the sensibilities of the director. The first instrument, the snare, provides the center rhythm of the rum line. These drums are typically played in unison, possess high tension heads, and form center of tempo for the battery. Next on the list is the tenor drum, which actually comes in mounted sets of four to six. Thanks to their varied sizes and tuning, tenor drums add pitch variety to a drum line. Number three, the bass drum, differs from its smaller cousins in that rather than being played in unison, each instrument is assigned a unique part. These drums produce the deepest sounds in the battery and are the largest on the field.
There is one more instrument usually found in the drum line, and this is they cymbals. Although not a drum, it is perhaps the most dramatic member of the battery. Cymbals are typically pairs of crash cymbals and can be played in a variety of ways, in unison, as split parts, or like hi-hats. In addition to being played, they are sometimes spun and twirled for visual effect.
The next time you watch a halftime show, take a moment to pay attention to how you hear the music. If you find yourself with a sudden urge to bob your head and march in time to the rhythm, you can thank the drum line.