How to Read Marching Drum Music

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Drum music has a sheet setup different from other music, emphasizing beats you need to play. Read and translate drum sheet music with help from a professional drummer in this free video.

Part of the Video Series: Drums
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Video Transcript

Hey, this is Nate Morton, and I play drums with Cher. I currently reside in Los Angeles, California and this is how to read marching drum music. Now when I was younger and I was in high school, I wanted to join my high school drumline so this is kind of something that sort of helped me take a step in that direction. Typically when you're playing drum set you're talking about beats, you're talking about beats, you're talking about this and that but there's a lot of play in it typically and there's a lot of room for variation. Whereas, something that's very characteristic of marching drum music is the fact that it is very specific, it's very specific in every way in the sense that you know, you're in a drumline, so you're going to probably be playing snare drum music with minimally one other person and depending on the size of the drumline you might be playing with five other snare drums or seven or ten even and that being the case, you can't have ten guys all interpreting something ten different ways because then it will just sound like a wreck. And the whole idea is that those ten guys have to interpret it the same way and all play it with precision the same way. As a result, more than your typical drum set stuff, marching music is very precisely written, typically down to every accent, grace note, sticking pattern, etc. So when I was in high school and I went to my drum instructor, Grant Menefee, and I said Grant I want to try out for my snare drum line for the marching band at my high school, he said oh, okay I've got a piece for you to work on and he pulled out this piece. Now, this is not exactly a marching piece per say but it is very similar to marching music in its precision or in the precision of the writing of it. So as you see, you've got five stroke rolls. You've got ruffs, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, a little further down the page you've got six stroke rolls and you've got rolls that are sort of written out but then you've also got rolls that are written as an eighth note with two slashes for a five stroke roll. You have accents as well. In fact the only thing this piece doesn't have is sort of dynamic markings which that would be, you know, typical as well to have. In this piece you don't have dynamic markings but basically looking at it from the very beginning it's written in 2/4 and it starts with that five stroke roll into the downbeat and as you can see, literally, every single stroke of every single rhythm, the sticking is written. There's no room for variation, there's no room to, you know, make any changes whatsoever. So, we're going to look at this very slowly. So here we go, so we've got a five stroke roll into eighth with a rough two sixteenths, two sixteenths with a ruff in the middle five stroke roll and so on and so forth. So we'll play that first line nice and slow. It goes a little something like this, one, two, one, two. Okay, that's the first line. We're going to continue on. We'll see how far we get down the page. We'll play it nice and medium about like that. It goes a little something like this, one, two, one, two. That was better. I give myself a B on that one. So now, it's going to go much faster than that. I think that when we did it, we did it about here. So for now, this is Nate Morton and that's how to read marching drum music.

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