Marching percussion is one of the most demanding categories of instruments in terms of equipment wear and tear. Because they are primarily used outdoors, well-tuned drums are necessary to allow the maximum projection of sound. In addition, a conscientious schedule of regular maintenance and tuning will extend the life of each instrument. The pitches recommended in this article serve as a reference for achieving superior projection and tone quality.
Find the right pitch for your drum and keep it there. Don’t get into the habit of tightening the drumhead every time you play it, and remember: It needs to be tuned, not necessarily tightened. Even though new heads require a short break-in period, modern materials are extremely resilient and tend to hold pitch longer if they are always returned to the desired pitch at every session. Stay consistent and check the drum pitch often, especially when the head is new. Far better to check the head daily and make small adjustments than to wait a week and make a large adjustment in tensioning.
Finally, change heads when the tone has gone “dead,” not just when you break them!
A Kevlar or a plastic, dotted batter (top) head is recommended, along with a plastic bottom head. Make sure to check often for loose tension rods especially on the bottom side; gravity guards can be used to prevent neglected tension rods from falling out. Tune each individual snare strand to a uniform pitch using a “plucked string” method:
Pinstripe heads without dots are recommended. Marching toms in a set are usually tuned a minor third apart to give a feeling of melodic movement between drums. These instruments tend to attract more dirt since they have no bottom heads, so keep marching tom guards on the bottom edges of all drums to protect them.
Smooth white heads are recommended for bass drums, as they produce the most desirable fundamental tone and are visually effective in drill patterns. Bass drums in a set are usually tuned a minor third to a perfect fifth apart to give a feeling of melodic movement between drums. If you need to eliminate unwanted overtones and ring, apply a length of Yamaha Sound Impact Strips™ around the perimeter of the bass drum head.
There are limitless combinations of pitches and tuning variations for marching drums, with endless ways to muffle and dampen them. All depend on the style of the ensemble and personal preference, but carefully planned tuning and dampening are critical to the development of your percussion section and can help increase the musical effectiveness of the entire marching ensemble.
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