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Percussion Supplies For Fall Marching Band Season

Aug 12, 2013

By Jeff Smitkahl, Director of Bands - Olathe East High School

A successful marching season requires a tremendous amount of preparation in order for each group to perform at their highest possible level. While it is tempting in an era of budget cuts to find ways to re-use marching band supplies in order to save money, this can have an extremely negative impact on the performance quality of the percussion section. Just like a clarinetist shouldn't use a reed that is in poor shape, percussionists shouldn't use sticks or mallets that are chipped or frayed. They should also play on heads that still have good resonance and tone in them. In this article I have outlined my philosophy on percussion supplies for the fall.

By their design some drumheads stand up to use better than others. In my opinion, tenor (or quad/quints) should have all of their heads replaced every year (or more if your budget allows). Even if you don't replace any of the other heads in the drumline, those heads lose their resonance much quicker and should be changed yearly. I personally start the year with the heads from the end of last season and then in mid-September, a few weeks before contest season, I change them out. I have found that Evans MX Frost have the combination of durability and dark tone that I prefer. The next most important drumline head to replace is the bass drum head. In some ways it is even more important than the tenors because bass drums are the biggest drums and their sound carries the most on the field. When I change all of my heads at the same time during a season it is always the bass drum heads that judges tend to notice the most and give the most compliments about. For bass drum heads I prefer the Evans MX 1 for their balanced sound and durability.  Snare head selection is a little trickier because some of it depends on how much snare response you prefer; I prefer a "wet" sound that has more snare response. This hides errors and also separates the sound of the snares from the tenors when playing unison battery parts. To achieve this sound I use Evans Hybrid Grey heads as the top or batter head and the Evans Hybrid Series Snare Side Head. I like this head because it is close to a single-ply Mylar head, but has just enough of a weave to give the head more durability.

Choosing drumsticks are another important part of achieving a great sounding drumline. My students are required to supply a pair of performance sticks that they only use for performances during the season, and a pair of rehearsal sticks that take the daily abuse of rehearsal. Most snare and tenor players go through 2 or 3 pair of rehearsal sticks during a typical season (bass drums usually have one pair of rehearsal sticks for the whole season). For snare sticks I prefer the Innovative Percussion Paul Rennick Model FS-PR.  They are a great balance of size and weight. Not too heavy and not too big, to help keep the snare line from over-powering the rest of the drumline. For tenors I prefer the Innovative Percussion TS-1 which is a multi-tom stick. I prefer tenor sticks over tenor mallets because the heads last longer with sticks and they balance the ensemble better. For bass drum I like the Innovative Percussion FB series that have a unique "fulcrum notch" that keeps kids from moving their hands too far up the mallet shaft.

When it comes to choosing mallets for the front ensemble a lot of that changes every year based on the type of music we are playing, the amount of amplification, and the number of students in the ensemble. The key is that, once again, those frayed mallets they bought in 6th grade will not make a quality sound on the instrument, especially outside. Overall we use a mix of the Innovative Percussion James Ancona and Jim Casella series for our marimbas and vibes. Often times we change mallets for the ballad to give the instruments a wider range of tone options.