Friday, March 23, 2018


Marching band parading in the streets of Vienn...
A marching band parading in the streets of Vienna, Austria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Marching bands have been around for hundreds of years, and in the UK they were usually connected to the Military. Troops would be led into battle by drummers, buglers or pipers, and these instruments were used to give signals for retreating, etc. Indeed, even during WWII platoons of fighting troops were led off the landing craft and up the beaches of France by a piper. Military bands still have an important role in today's armed forces, but mainly for ceremonial purposes, as often seen on Beating Retreat, Trooping the Colour or the Edinburgh Tattoo.

Various styles of marching bands are now in existence. In the UK we tend to have traditional marching bands, consisting of snare drums (with either bottom snares or both top and bottom snares such as the Premier 1049-S), bass drum, tenor drums, cymbals and then tuned instruments such as bell lyres, bugles, valve trumpets and other brass and woodwind. Such bands are often used by organizations including the scouts, air training corps, sea cadet corps etc and are a familiar sight at parades and festivals in British towns.

Another big part of marching music comes from Pipebands, which of course originated in Scotland but are now popular all over the world with many top bands coming from Canada and the USA. Whilst the melodies are played by bagpipes, the drum corps has a very important role to play, often with 6 or more snare drummers playing extremely complex rudimental phrases on High Tension snare drums (such as the Pearl FFXP or Premier HTS800). These drums have kevlar drumheads tuned up to an incredibly high pitch, so the drums have to be extremely strong to withstand the huge forces put upon them.These drums also have snare wires under both the top and bottom heads, giving a very crisp and clean tone which will pick up even the softest of grace notes. A bass drum of around 28" is used to keep the pulse of the band, whilst tenor drums add intricate mid-range tones, often using 3 or more tenor drums of different sizes and pitches. Some tenor players such as Tyler Fry have taken tenor drumming to a whole new level.

A huge growth area in the world marching scene comes from the American style Drum Corps or showbands.The drum corps usually have not only snare drums and a selection of various sized bass drums, but also multi - tenors/quads, cymbals, and a pit at the front featuring a range of tuned percussion such as marimbas, xylophones, bells etc. The rest of the band is made up of brass players. These bands tend to play some extremely complex musical arrangements and are a big part of the music education system in the USA.

Marching snare drums have changed dramatically over the last 100 years or so, from crude drums with rope tuned calf heads to today's high tension models made from the finest birch, maple, or even carbon fiber, with kevlar or mylar drumheads and hardware manufactured from lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum.

The British Military Bands of HM Forces still have huge popularity both at home and abroad. Tourists in London will often see the bearskins and red tunics of the bands of the Guards divisions on duty around Buckingham Palace, whilst the Drummers of the Royal Marines continue to wow audiences worldwide with their incredible skills and drumming displays. The musicians of Her Majestys bands tend to be extremely talented and versatile players capable of performing many different styles of music... indeed as an example, a member of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force may find themselves performing with a full military band one day, a fanfare team the next day, and swinging with the RAF Squadronaires dance band in the evening! Despite their musical skills, however, these men and women are soldiers first and undergo the same military training as everyone else.

For drummers looking to start playing with a marching band, there are a few avenues... Youths can apply to their local Air Cadets, Army Cadets, Boys brigade or Sea Cadet band who will provide an instrument and tuition, with the possibility of performing too many varied audiences. For adults, most towns have either a pipe band or drum corps, and they will always welcome new members. Most Bands have a website, and these can be found under headings such as British Youth Band Association (BYBA) and Traditional Youth Marching Band Association (TYMBA) or for pipe bands the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA).

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