The drum line is an essential part of a marching band of any style. Marching bands with drum lines may be corp bands, show bands, or drum and bugle corps. Aside from contributing to the sound of show pieces, the drum line also enhances the overall look of the marching ensemble. The types and number of drums in the drum line can be altered depending on what style is wanted for a particular show.
A marching band--and thus the drum line--has undergone several different evolutionary stages, such as the integration of women into its ranks. Developments such as the boom of drum and bugle corps in the 1970's have brought about the age of marching drum lines that only include easily carried instruments, rather than the cumbersome marching keyboard instruments of the past.
The drum line, also called the battery, typically consists of marching snare drums, tenor drums (which are often called quads, quints, or quad/quint toms), bass drums, and sometimes cymbals, depending on the preference of the director.
The size of the drum line depends on the size of the marching ensemble as a whole. A high school band with only forty players may only have a drum line of five, whereas a university band of four hundred players may have a drum line with fifty or more members. The number of each instrument on the field is the prerogative of the director, although there are generally more snares and cymbals than quads and bass drums.
Each piece of the drum line in a marching band serves to add color to the sound of the ensemble. Each piece also aids in the maintenance of a steady tempo, especially on the part of the snare drums. A snare player may also "tap off" for a measure to give the beginning tempo for a performance piece.
The benefits of including different types of drums in a marching show are many. Since each different drum has its own distinctive sound, each instrumentalist is able to add much to enrich the music on the field. Also, since each drum can easily be heard over the rest of the band, other members of the ensemble are able to listen for certain drum parts to cue them for certain movements in the show.
Before the front ensemble (commonly called the "pit") was developed, timpani and keyboard instruments--such as the glockenspiel and xylophone--were often used in marching ensembles. In recent years, these instruments have been confined to the pit along with a wide range of other instruments that can be used for unique effects when shows require them.
Sarah Clinton is a graduate student at the University of Missouri, where she holds a graduate assistant position at the University of Missouri News Bureau. She will obtain her Master of Education in sport psychology in May of 2015. She completed her Bachelor of Arts at Vanderbilt University.