Concepts and  Terminology

Foundations of this Program

Music Over Matter

While it’s true that drumline has become something of a serious athletic sport, the art of music is what drives the philosophy of the Heights Percussion Department. So, while we do require players to have a lot of chops, they need to be true musicians and entertainers, not just technical players.

Sometimes our musical education focuses on the academia and technical chores of becoming proficient on our instrument. These are important aspects to develop, but we must remember to stay in touch with why we’re doing it all in the first place. This is why listening to a wide range and variety of music is so important. Listen, listen, listen! The more diverse your musical palette, the more intuitive you will be when playing music with the ensemble. Spend as much time listening to music as much as you practice your instrument. They are mutually beneficial.


This is a percussion program – timing is a very important aspect of what we do. Timing is important for our role within the musical ensemble and for maintaining the integrity of the rhythms we play. Remember: Rudiments are rhythms! Know your rudiments and know them well but be sure you are playing them CORRECTLY – meaning pay attention to how certain sticking patterns affect your rhythmic tendencies. Don’t practice difficult parts at tempi that are faster than what your hands can handle, or you’ll end up practicing bad habits. Learn at slower tempi and pace your learning to game tempo. Warm up before anything. Practice basics and build up to the more technical material. Trust the process!

Practice with a metronome to focus on good timing and rhythmic accuracy. It is perfect to practice with a metronome but be sure to be ready to perform without a metronome. You will need to develop a sense of internal pulse. To make it more enjoyable and realistic, play your various exercises along with music you like to listen to. It’s generally the same thing as using a metronome, but it gives you a musical context on which to base your playing. This is the foundation of ensemble playing. Groove along with it and enjoy it!


This is a top-notch drumline. You must have chops to get by. Your chops (technical strength and proficiency) are one of the basic building blocks of your contribution to the ensemble. This doesn’t mean showing up to the audition with every hybrid rudiment and stick trick ever invented ready to be whipped out at the first chance. That stuff is a lot of fun and we don’t mind seeing it, but it’s not the basis for making music.

We’re more interested in making sure you have a strong foundation of all standard rudiments and techniques at a variety of tempos. This includes very slow tempi! As mentioned above, practice physically demanding parts correctly and do so for extended periods of time. Chops aren’t something you’re going to build in a week. It’s a progressive and continuous process. Once you are proficient at one thing, don’t stop practicing it! Maintain it and build up. Every technique, skill, and understanding we build will transfers to the next.


Everyone’s performance must be authentic! At the levels we strive for, you can’t fake it. It is important that you play with a high degree of confidence and authority so you can be in charge of what you are doing. This doesn’t mean putting on the “mean face” and acting tough. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Confident players play with a level of calmness and relaxation that should “feel good” to both the player and the listener. True confidence is a powerful thing and will help you fit into the line.

Section Terminology


The image and responsibility of percussionist in the musical world has evolved far beyond it's beginnings of just “beaters on a drum”. Since then it has transformed into something of its own musical and visual art form. A percussionist is a musician that plays ALL percussion instruments. Here at Heights High School we strive to build the “Complete Percussionist.” This class of percussive performer is not only well versed in battery percussion but also pitched percussion, and vice versa. While it is cool to have super technical battery skills or super fluid mallet technique, it is important that we all venture into the areas we aren’t as strong or comfortable at to create a balance. This balance will lead to each player being able to pick up any percussion part and be able to function and hold their own in any musical setting. That includes college programs if students wish to continue.

Battery (Marching Battery):

Battery is the section of percussionist that marches on the field while performing music. They are also the percussionists that play in the stand. Being a part of this section takes strong rhythmic accuracy, tempo control, visual awareness, and most importantly physical ability. It is not a requirement to be perfect at these aspects from the start, but it is necessary once the spots have been placed and the season has started for these students to grow towards that perfection.


This section includes sub-sections of snare drum, Bass drum, Multi-Tenors/Quads, and sometimes Marching Cymbals. 

Front Ensemble (Pit):

Front Ensemble is the section of percussionists that performs music along the sidelines (the “Pit) during the marching show. While the front ensemble doesn’t require the same amount of physical demand of the battery percussion, the front ensemble replaces it with musicality, musical knowledge, visual awareness, and most importantly musical awareness.


The Percussion section (Drumline) is the combination of both Battery and Front Ensemble that make up the Heights Percussion Department. While the drumline is a part of the band program, the drumline can perform without wind player assistance and still provide a great amount of musicality.

Hierarchy of Sound:

This system is the structure of awareness and understanding a musician must have to properly function within an ensemble. The lower on the pyramid the more important the awareness needs to be. The Higher on the pyramid, the more advanced/complex the concept is for the musicians awareness and musical maturity, yet more tuned into the bigger picture of the whatever is being played

Technique and Posture:

This is by default the most important concept of being a musician. How you stand or sit affects your approach to and sounding of your instrument. If one lacks proper technique to produce a sufficient, necessary, required, or desired sound they can’t properly contribute a quality sound to the ensemble. As a cake baking metaphor, this is the Cake Pan.

Tempo, Pulse, and Rhythm:

This is the second and arguably most important tier of this system as a percussionist. Essentially this tier has everything that has to do with musical timing. Be it planned or improvised. Good timing in both rests and sounds is require to play anything correctly. Your rhythms, tempo, timing, and pulse all come first to anything you do musically. This is the Cake batter.

Notes and Intonation:

The third tier begins the concepts of pitches and creating good, quality, characteristic sounds from your instrument. This comes from not settling for “just within range” or “kind of in tune.” Every pitch must be in tune without question of its pitch name or instrument name. This can be described as the flavor of the cake batter.

The Stuff”:

The top tier is the most advanced of the concepts. This is where the musician must begin to think outside of his/her own performance and start to listen to others within the ensemble to properly balance and blend within the ensemble. This is the icing on the cake.