In order to create a great experience for students and fully develop a school's overall music program, there are several factors to consider when building a drum line. One of the first priorities is setting the overall structure of the drum line by determining the quantity of products and demands of the program. A well-balanced drum line is also an important factor in manufacturing a sound that will increase the performance quality of your entire ensemble. When determining the size of your drum line, considerations should include the ratio of winds to battery percussion (drum line), size of the percussion section and their skill level, and total budget.

Suggested numbers of drum line players to balance larger wind sections:

  • Snare drums (drum size: 14"x12"): 4-8 players
  • Tenors (drum sizes: 6", 10", 12", 13" and 14"): 2-4 players.

    Note: this number should depend on the amount of players on snare drum. For proper balance, an approximate 2:1 ratio between snares and tenors (e.g., 4 snares, 2 tenors or 6 snares, 3 tenors)

  • Bass drums: 5 players with drum sizes of 6", 10", 12", 13" and 14". These sizes could also be adjusted for the typical physical size of the student carrying these drums (e.g., drum sizes of 16", 18", 20" 22" and 26" would be an adequate substitute).

Suggested numbers of drum line players for smaller wind sections:

  • Snare drums: 2-3 players minimum
  • Tenors: 1-2 players minimum
  • Bass drums: 4 players minimum with suggested sizes of 16", 18", 22", 26" or 18", 20", 24", 28", again, depending on the physical size of the players that typically perform these instruments. However, the 5 player combinations mentioned above is ideal, even for a smaller ensemble.

In order to support the structure of your drum line, selecting a brand of instruments that will benefit your long-term goals is important. It is possible to find a successful brand to fit most budgets. For smaller budgets, the Yamaha Power-Lite Series will produce a great sound and provide supportive hardware. If you have a larger budget, invest in a higher-end product such as the Yamaha SFZ Series, Pearl CarbonCore Series or the Mapex Quantum Series. These can be paired with Randall May or Pearl AIRFRAME carriers, and Pearl or Yamaha Stadium stands.

When selecting heads it is important to find depth in the top and bottom while maintaining durability. For snares, Evans Hybrid Grey on top and MX5 on bottom are a great blend as well as Remoís White or Black Max for the top and Falams on the bottom. For tenors, Remo Pinstripes, Emperors, or the Evans EC2 offer great sound. For bass drums, Evans MXLís and Remo Powermax offer great range and tone.

Once you have invested in the best products for your program needs, managing the care of your drums becomes very important. Wear and tear on drums will drastically affect the quality of your product and sound. Purchasing drum covers and cases are vital to the well-being and longevity of your instruments and hardware.

Sticks and mallets are also variables that contribute to the sound quality of your drum line. Vic Firth has well-balanced sticks across the board. For snares, Ralph Hardimon, MS1s or Colin McNutt Signature Sticks are great for accommodating a wide range of experience. For tenors, MT1A mallets are great for sound and dexterity, and Ralph Hardimon Tenor Sticks or MTS1 Tenor Sticks are great for a bright sound and clarity, especially when performing shots. For bass drums the Corps Master mallets are great in any size.

Purchasing quality equipment and implements is important, but proper attention to tuning should be a definite priority. Although it can be time consuming, itís important to keep a balanced sound on every lug casing and setting the head with even tension. Find a sound and range that works best for you and match accordingly, keeping every lug in the same pitch and gradually increasing the pitch to avoid tearing and stretching out the head too soon. Bass drums should be tuned to a harmonic series, based on the size of the drums (C# fundamental for the 18", 20", 22", 24", 28" size combination and D fundamental for 16", 18", 20", 22", 26"). Use white lithium grease on lugs to avoid rust. Attention to detail with care and maintenance will help protect your investment for William Leather is a graduate of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and is currently in his ninth year as the Assistant Band Director (Director of Jazz and Percussion) at Penn High School in Mishawaka, IN. At Penn, he oversees all aspects of the percussion and jazz programs and assists with the Freshmen Concert Band and Symphonic Band.