Best Beat

Setting the Rhythm for Your Music

Tenor Drums in Marching Bands

Tenor Drums in Marching Bands

The tenor drum is one of the many drums used by American marching bands. Although now most commonly found in parades and on football fields during halftime shows, this instrument has been used since the mid-19th century by a variety of composers. It is a lower-pitched variant of the snare drum, another marching band staple. On the field, the tenor drum is easily recognized, as it is carried in mounted sets of three to six drums. This setup allows the musician to pay multiple drums simultaneously, adding to the richness of the percussion.

Tenor drums are played with a wide variety of implements, all of them a form of mallet or drumstick. The heads of these beaters may be made of a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, nylon, felt, rubber or fleece. The drumheads of tenor drums are usually as taut as possible, creating a relatively high-pitched sound that is very effective in outdoor situations.

As mentioned, tenor drums are carried and played in sets. The name of a set usually refers to the number of drums it has; a “quad,” for example, is composed of four drums. Each drum in a set is of a different diameter and thus produces a different pitch of sound. Both the loudness and the variety of the tenor drum make it a valuable addition to marching bands. A band may have as many as six tenor drum players, each of whom can carry as many as six drums for a grand total of thirty-six instruments. Tenor drums are usually used to accent snare drums, but they also add melodic percussion.

A set of four tenor drums will typically be arranged so that the lowest drum is on the player’s far left, the second lowest is on his far right, the second highest is on his middle left and the highest is on his middle right. When a tenor drum is played, it is struck near the edge of the head. Such a technique allows the drum to project optimum resonance and tone. As for the technique that governs switching from one drum to the next, there are two primary systems. The more common involves allowing the drumsticks to move across the drums in a straight line. This style reduces the amount of space the player must travel through, thereby quickening his execution. The other system dictates that the player follows an “arc” from one drum to the next. The arc system was more common in the earlier days of the tenor drum and is rarely used now.

The use of tenor drums in marching bands may probably be attributed to their traditional use in military drum corps. In these situations, the instruments re used for timekeeping as well as musical purposes. In a military drum corps, three types of tenor drum are used: the flourishing tenor, which is characterized by the player’s dramatic drumstick movements; the alto tenor, which is played in tandem with the bass drum; and the rhythm tenor, which is used to accent the snare drum part.