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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, October 26, 2009


The PMC Quick Note is a service provided to all area directors. It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest. The Quick Note contains helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


Looking for help on a particular topic? Be sure to check out our Quick Note Catalog of back issues!

Martin Gardiner of Brown University tracked the criminal records of Rhode Island residents from birth through age 30, and he concluded the more a resident was involved in music, the lower the person’s arrest record.

-- Music Linked to Reduced Criminality, MuSICA Research Notes, Winter 2000

Making the Transition from
Marching Snare to Concert Snare
by Brett Jones
Article reprinted with the permission of SBO Magazine. Click to view the article in its original format.

Late every fall, many high school percussionists have to make a transition from playing rudimental snare drum in a marching band to playing concert snare drum in a symphonic setting.  For some players there can be confusion about the differences involved in the rudimental approach versus the concert approach.  This article will explain the main similarities and differences in the two styles of playing and will offer practical suggestions to playing in both styles.

First, it should be clear that although they are both generally called snare drums, a marching snare drum and concert snare drum are constructed differently. This in turn affects the technique involved in playing these instruments. A marching snare drum has a much deeper shell than a concert drum, and is usually topped with a Kevlar head. This produces a very articulate sound and the head has very little ‘give’ to it. The top head of a concert snare drum is usually made of Mylar or calfskin, which are not as rigid as a Kevlar head. Due to these differences, not to mention the material of the drums themselves, the sound produced on these instruments is decidedly different.

Most often, in a concert setting, only one snare drummer plays the snare drum part. However, in the context of a marching band, several snare drummers play in unison. Therefore, in the marching setting visual uniformity must be attained throughout the snare line, which can affect many aspects of technique including stance, setup, grip, and stroke. It can also affect the snare drummer’s approach to sticking and musical style.

The snare drummer’s stance may differ between marching and concert snare drum playing. It is typical for the members of a drumline to stand with their feet together to match the rest of the marching band. However, when they are not marking time or marching, the drumline members may choose to stand with their feet shoulder-width apart for comfort and stability. In concert playing, because there is no need to be visually conformed, it is best to stand with the feet shoulder-width apart for comfort and balance.

There are also differences in drum setup. Typically, students grow accustomed to being too close to the snare drum in marching band since it is attached to a carrier only a few inches away from their body. In concert playing, since the drum is not attached to the player, the player can stand a comfortable distance from the drum. To test the distance for concert playing, have students stand with their hands comfortably by their sides holding the sticks. Then have them raise their hands to a comfortable playing height (slightly under parallel), and step up to the drum so that the stick tips are in the chosen playing area of the head. This will place the body the appropriate distance from the drum. The player should stand with the shoulders comfortably relaxed. An over-elevated positioning of the drum can cause tension in the shoulders and arms, while not allowing the player to use gravity to assist an arm-based stroke. The elbows should neither be held too far from the body, nor be touching the player’s side, but rather held comfortably a couple of inches from the sides.

In setting up the concert drum, the snare release mechanism should be placed directly in front of the player. This will line up the snare bed so that the player will always be playing above it for maximum snare response whether he or she is playing near the center of the head, or closer to the edge for softer passages.

Snare drum grips fall into two categories: matched and traditional. Either grip can be used for marching or concert playing, even though many drum corps play with traditional grip and many orchestral players play with matched grip. Matched grip is easier to teach because both hands hold the sticks in the same manner, thus the hands use the same technique. Matched grip also transfers to a greater number of other percussion instruments. With traditional grip, the left hand approach differs from the right hand, and thus is more difficult to master because of the divergent techniques. Therefore, the traditional grip should only be taught by a teacher who fully understands the mechanical intricacies of the technique.

In both situations the grip should be relaxed and the fingers should not pin the stick against the palm of the hand. Rather, the fingers should move with the stick away from the palm on the preparatory motion and back toward it during the down-stroke, all the while keeping in contact with the stick. This will help assure that the fingers are not tense and do not dampen the resonance of the drum. Furthermore, it is unhealthy to play with tension in the hands, as doing so may result in tendonitis.

The worst grip habit caused by playing a marching snare drum attached to a carrier results from having the drum too close to one’s body. This generally causes a student to hold the sticks with the butts sticking out from the side of the hands which causes a rotation of the wrist and forearm when playing. The sticks should be thought of as an extension of the arm, and be held in the hand basically parallel to the arm so a natural up-and-down wrist motion can be utilized.

Before discussing the differences in stroke, we must first understand that any stroke on the snare drum utilizes at least one of the following three pivots: the elbow, the wrist, or the fingers. In a drumline setting, many snare drummers will employ a stroke which uses almost all wrist, with some fingers and very little or no elbow pivot. This approach makes it easy for all of the players to be visually synchronized, but can cause tension in the grip while placing undue stress on the wrist. Recently, some drum corps have begun to use the Moeller stroke, which utilizes all three pivots and in general is a more relaxed way to play. This motion incorporates the use of the elbow pivot in conjunction with the wrist and fingers for accents which are performed with a slight ‘whipping’ motion.

In concert playing, which usually features only one snare drummer, all three pivots may be used. Use of the elbow pivot makes it easier to achieve accents by incorporating the weight of the arm. This Moeller approach also allows one to be more relaxed since it uses energy from all three pivots.

In rudimental snare drumming, most stickings are based on the right hand lead system, or “natural sticking.” In this system, the right hand plays on the strong parts of the beat while the left hand plays on the weak parts of the beat, regardless of the rhythm (Ex. 1). One benefit of this sticking system is that the right hand, or dominant hand, which naturally plays stronger than the weak hand, plays the strong parts of the beat, giving the music a natural flow. This sticking system also allows a line of snare drummers to easily play in a unified way while improving the timing of their sixteenth notes.

Natural sticking is also used in concert playing, but is generally more flexible. For example, since in concert playing consistency is important, a series of quarter notes may be played all with the right hand instead of alternating. The player may also choose to stick an accent pattern so that all of the accents happen with the same hand (Ex. 2). Or the player might play every flam or drag in a piece with the same hand (Ex. 3).

One of the major interpretive differences between marching and concert snare drumming is the way rolls are approached. In marching snare drumming, the player will almost always play rudimental/double stroke rolls. These can be achieved by either a controlled double stroke, or by bouncing the tip of the stick on the head (Ex. 4). The rudimental roll allows only two “hits” of the head per hand motion or stick. There is always a metered subdivision of the roll, generally based on the 16th note, or in 6/8 time on the 8th note or 16th note depending on the tempo. This roll can also be called the open roll, military roll, or marching roll. In certain instances, a multiple bounce roll (more than two “hits” per hand) will be called for in marching music, notated by a “Z” through the stem of the note.

Concert snare drum playing almost always requires multiple bounce rolls. The multiple bounce roll is achieved by each hand bouncing the tip of the stick on the head in an alternating fashion. Although not clearly defined, the multiple bounce roll must have three or more hits per hand. The bounces which occur after the initial attack are dynamically more consistent if the player uses mainly the arm and not the wrist. This softens the initial attack of each stick so the following bounces are closer in volume to the attack. The concert roll is not metered, but must fill in the sound evenly, regardless of the tempo. Different intensities may be achieved by playing with a faster or slower subdivision or pulsing of the roll. It should be noted that most young players, press the stick tip too much into the head when playing these rolls, and nearly cut off as much sound as they create.

Drags are also approached differently from marching to rudimental  snare drumming. Although they are related to rolls in approach, drags are unique. Rudimental drags are always open and based on either a 16th note, or triplet subdivision (just like the rudimental roll). Concert drags, however (notated with two grace notes, see Ex. 5) should be played without a specific subdivision, but should land close to the following note. The concert drag may be a double or multiple bounce, but should not be too open in sound.

In concert snare drumming, a drag consisting of more than two notated grace notes must be played with each grace note sounding. Generally, four-stroke drags can be played with alternating single strokes, with a single stroke followed by a double then another single stroke, or with a double stroke followed by two single strokes (Ex. 6). An open double stroke roll may be used for drags consisting of four or more grace notes (Ex. 7). It therefore follows that the exact number of notes must be reflected in the drag. In all drags, concert or rudimental, the final or terminating note of the drag must land on the downbeat, and is generally played louder than the notes of the drag that precede it.

When students are made aware of the general differences in approach between rudimental and concert snare drumming, and are taught to make slight alterations in their stance, set-up, grip, and stroke approach while making stylistic adjustments in their choice of stickings and approach to rolls and drags, the transition from the field to the concert hall can be a smooth one.          

A native of South Dakota, Brett Jones is currently the assistant professor of Percussion at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Jones holds a bachelors degree in music education from the University of Colorado and masters and doctorate degrees in percussion performance from Texas Tech University. He has previously held faculty positions at Blinn College and Texas Tech University. Jones endorses Encore mallets, Silverfox Percussion drumsticks, Grover Pro Percussion products, and Planet Marimba mallet instruments.

Online Oklahoma State Band Audition Recordings

Last week, we posted a link for the Missouri State Band audition recordings. We wanted to follow up this week with a link for Oklahoma students. The Oklahoma City University Music Department features online recordings of the OMEA audition material on their website. Use the image link below for quick access.

Click to go directly to the UMKC website for state band audition recordings

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Contact Your Local Palen Music Center Representative


Can we assist you with anything?  Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.


Springfield Bob Hopkins, Mike Brown, Jeromy Pope, and Paul Bowen (417) 882-7000
Columbia Robert Pitts and Stephenie Algya (573) 256-5555
Liberty Ken Crisp and Dick Murdock (816) 792-8301
Joplin Wayne Blades, Scott Frederickson, and Chelsea Samuel (417) 781-3100
Broken Arrow Mark VanVranken and Tiffany Dempsey (918) 770-6827


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