A drumline competition is a music competition featuring up to 50 musicians focusing on percussion playing, specifically the playing of marching percussion instruments. These competitions are very similar to marching band competitions. The difference is that they feature only the drumline, or percussion section, of an ensemble, or an ensemble that normally only employs percussionists. Normally participants are in high school or college and enter the combination as part of the academic institution's musical arts program.
In general, musicians play four different instruments in the battery, the section of a drumline that marches, in drumline competitions. These include snare drums, bass drums, tenor drums and cymbals. Some drumlines still use marching versions of glockenspiels and xylophones, but this is less common. Musicians also may include other stationary instruments in the pit or front ensemble, the section of the drumline that does not march. Examples of front ensemble instruments include chimes, timpani and xylophone.
A drumline competition is a musical event, but judges do not judge based on musicality alone. Much of a drumline competition focuses on showmanship. Participants usually organize their performance according to a theme, and they choreograph every step and stick movement to create specific effects. If audience members like what they see and hear the drumline do, they commonly whistle, clap and cheer to show encouragement. Drumline competitions usually have at least five judges, including a head, music, visual, general effects and tabulation judge, to look at the different aspects of the show in depth.
During a drumline competition, participants must adhere to the strict rules governing the event, with general guidelines set by the American Drum Line Association. These regulations cover everything from getting on and off the performance area to the use of peripheral audio or visual equipment. Failure to comply with drumline competition rules usually results in the judges assigning one or more penalties to the performing group. Groups pay close attention to regulations, particularly at the state and national levels, to prevent technicalities that result in a lower score or disqualification.
In adherence with the ADLA standards, drumlines usually perform between four to eight minutes, having a total of nine minutes to set up, play and leave the performance area. During this time, groups may perform many different types of music, but because the groups have such a short time to let the judges see what they can do, show themes and individual music selections often are designed to provide as many "wow" moments as possible. Tempos of the songs usually are moderate to fast to accommodate a natural physical step of the performers.
Drumlines usually perform at a drumline competition for the bragging rights of being "the best" and because the participants truly love the combination of music, artistry, sportsmanship and occasionally, ongoing rivalry. Some drumline competitions do provide prizes, however. These prizes sometimes are small to mid-level scholarships, grants the winning group can use to purchase new instruments or music or the right to be featured at certain events. Some drumline competition boards award medals or certificates of participation.