A drumline cadence is a musical arrangement for percussionists that is usually played to maintain the correct rhythm in a drum corps or marching band. The tempo of the drumline cadence provides all performers the speed at which they should be stepping in unison when this type of marching ensemble is moving in formation. Different marching groups typically have their own unique cadence that is sometimes specifically written for their percussion section. Both parade and field show performances are often preceded by the ensemble marching to the drumline cadence before beginning to play their selected pieces.
The origins of the modern drumline cadence are usually traced to similar drum beats used in military marching. These cadences are intended to help recruits keep in step when either marching or even running in formation. Military cadences are either played on a percussion instrument or chanted vocally during basic training exercises. The types of drumline cadences used for marching music ensembles are sometimes more rhytmically intricate, depending on the group. Various versions of the same basic cadence can also be adapted for drum corps, pipe bands, or indoor percussion ensembles.
Marching percussion sections usually use a drumline cadence to practice the fundamentals of drum technique, as well as to keep the rest of the ensemble in time. The typical cadence is written with combinations of each of the four specific strokes used to strike the drum surface and produce the desired notes. Each of these strokes are designated the up stroke, the down stroke, the full stroke, and the tap. Combining at least two of these strokes in succession will produce rhythms with changing accents on different notes. The more varied the drum stroke combinations, the more complex the resulting cadence generally sounds to the listener.
Since different marching ensembles often compete with one another in field show performances and parades, the percussion section of each one often wants an intricate drumline cadence to stand out from the rest. Professional musicians often compose drumline cadences, although some percussion instructors or even experienced performers can write signature cadences as well. The process of writing a marching percussion cadence typically requires a good working knowledge of rhythm, tempo, and drum stoke technique. Musicians with experience in writing cadences often recommend starting with a basic structure of quarter notes and then adding more complicated variations as the drum section masters the basics of a new cadence.