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What Is a High School Drumline?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A high school drumline is a musical group of marching percussion players who are in grades nine through 12. Members of a high school drumline usually perform as part of a larger marching band, but they may perform as an independent group for showcases and competitions. They usually serve as the metronome, keeping the other musicians in tempo, when part of a bigger ensemble, but some members of a high school drumline perform on melodic instruments such as the glockenspiel.

High school drumline musicians play snare drums, base drums, toms or quads and cymbals most commonly when actually marching, and together these instruments make up what is called the battery, or marching section, of the drumline. Some members of high school drum lines do not march, however. They are part of the "front ensemble" or "pit," which is so named because the front ensemble members are positioned close to the audience and in front of the other performers during a show. These players perform on instruments such as traditional xylophones and timpani that cannot be moved readily across a performance area. There is no front ensemble when a drumline is performing in a parade, as every member of the drumline must march in that case.

Snare drums may be featured in a high school drumline.
Snare drums may be featured in a high school drumline.

High school drumlines vary in size depending on the size of the high school that supports it. In a very large school, it's not unusual for a marching band to be at least 200 members strong. Drumlines in these schools may have 25 members or more. In a small school, there might be as few as one drumline member per drumline instrument. Regardless of size, perhaps the most important drumline member is the principal snare player, as drum majors communicate with the principal snare player to set tempo and cue specific pieces or cadences.

A key element of a high school or any other drumline is uniformity. Out of all the members of a marching band, members of the drumline are the most visible to the audience in that they often must make larger physical movements in order to play their instruments. Cymbal players, for example, might open their arms fairly wide to prepare for cymbal crash. Members of a high school drumline thus pay a lot of attention to whether their mallet grips and sequences are identical. When their hard work pays off, the audience notices this uniformity and the fact that the members of the drumline seem to "click."

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Discussion Comments


Drumlines have become much more popular in the last 10 years. There are now a number of schools even at an elementary level that have their own drumlines.

This has been good for drumlines in general but it also has revealed how much difference there is between a good one and a bad one. And trust me, there are lots of both.

A good drumline takes skilled performers, quality equipment and a visionary leader. It is not just a bunch of people that are good at drums. They have to blend flash with technique, rhythm with solo. It takes a special group of people to really make it magical.


My high school has a drumline that is actually pretty famous within the region. They perform at lots of school functions but they also appear at parades and other community events.

The funny thing is that our football team is terrible but they draw a huge crowd for every game. This is because the drumline performs at halftime. At least half the people in the stands are there just for the music.

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    • Snare drums may be featured in a high school drumline.
      By: abf
      Snare drums may be featured in a high school drumline.