Section Terminology

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. This year we are looking to have 3 snares, 4-5 Basses, 2 Quads, and possibly 4 cymbals for in the stands (All numbers subject to change).

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.

This year we are looking to have 1-2 marimbas, 1-2 vibraphones, 1 xylophone/bells, 1 Chimes, 1 synthesizer, 2-3 Rack Percussionists, Concert Bass/Gong, and possibly 1 Timpanist. Let it be known that front ensemble is not a Battery reject section.


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.

Basic Percussion Terminology

  • 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, 4’s: the number indicates the number of strokes to a given beat duration. Basic examples:

o a “1” over a single eighth note is playing 1 eight note.

o “2’s” over a single eighth note is playing 2 sixteenth notes.

o “3’s“ over a single eighth note is playing 3 Sextuplets.

o “4’s” over a single eighth note is playing 4 thirty-second notes.

  • 12 Major Key/Scales: A scale that consists of step pattern of whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. Major scales general are described as happy sounding scales. Examples of major scales are C, F, B flat, E flat, A flat, D flat, G flat, B, E, A, D, G Major scales.

  • Auxiliary Percussion: Any small percussion instrument that provides color and effect through its unique timbre. Examples- Woodblock, triangle, splash cymbal, tom-toms, gong, crash cymbals.

  • Accent: A note articulation described to have more energy (louder) than its usually articulation. Marked by the symbol “>”. Does not mean over play or play out of context.

  • Beat: the regular or irregular duration of time within music.

  • Beats Per Minute (BPM): Identifies the Tempo of a piece/song. Determined by how many beats occur within 60 seconds (1 minute).

  • Chops: Your technical strength and proficiency or technical/rhythmic vocabulary.

  • Crescendo: Gradually get louder. A good crescendo is controlled within balance and executed at the proper time.

  • Decrescendo: Gradually get softer. A good crescendo is controlled within balance and executed at the proper time.

  • Double Lateral: two mallet strikes in a single In-Out or Out-In motion between 2 mallets of the same hand while holding 4 mallets.

  • Double Stop: 2 notes (Both hands/ sticks/ mallets) making contact to the instrument at the same time

  • Downbeat: The “main” pulse of a measure. Usually counted in numbers.

  • Drag: Rudiment consisting of 2 consecutive grace notes. Part of the 40 Essential Rudiments.

  • Drum Break: A pause in a piece where the percussion section is showcased. This concept is transferrable from marching, concert, and jazz band.

  • Dynamics: How soft or loud a part is played.

  • Flam: Rudiment that consists of a single, soft grace note followed by fundamental note. Part of the 40 Essential Rudiments. You want to sound like the name “Chet” rather than “Norman.”

  • Float: Gracefully moving to the next note/beat taking as much time and sometimes airtime as possible.

  • Ghost note: A silent or very soft note used for audible and or visual effect.

  • Grace note: A ghost note that is played right before a fundamental note.

  • Groove: The continuous feel of music/beats. The feel of the beat is present with or without a steady meter.

  • Half Step: a half step (better known as a semitone) is the smallest musical interval of western tonal music. Defined as the interval between 2 adjacent notes in a 12 tone scale.

  • Mallet Percussion: Any Pitched percussion instrument that is typically played with mallets. Examples are Marimbas, Vibraphones, Xylophones, and Bells.

  • Meter: The collection of beats in relation to groupings of 2 or 3 (duple or triple).

  • Individual Practice Time (IPT): Scheduled rehearsal time where you are to productively practice on your own.

  • Internal Pulse: The internalized sense of timing where a steady beat can be maintained without a metronome or external indication of the beat.

  • Permutations: Another word for pattern. In the mallet world this is the rhythmic order you play mallets 1-2-3-4. There are infinite potential mallet permutations of numerical patterns and rhythmic patterns. This is similar to the concept of rudiments while drumming.

  • Pitched Percussion: Percussion instruments that are capable of playing multiple pitches within the 12 tone scale. Examples are Marimbas, Vibraphones, Xylophones, Bells, timpani, and chimes.

  • Pulse: The Regular or Irregular placement of beats.

  • Rack: A collection of instruments that are usually attached to a rack, cart, or collection of stands. Usually consists of cymbals, small drums, and other small percussion instruments.

  • Rudiments: Rhythms with a specific sticking pattern.

  • Sectionals: The Percussion section splits into Battery and Front Ensemble.

  • Single Alternating: individual, separate strokes between 2 mallets of the same hand while holding 4 mallets.

  • Split: One part divided between multiple players.

  • Sticking: The placement/pattern of the right and left hand moving between each other.

  • Stock: Basic. As written.

  • Sub-Sectionals (Subs): Where the section breaks up into smaller, more individualized groups. Example- Battery Percussion splits into snares, quads, and basses and work individually.

  • Tempo: The temporal frequency of beats.

  • Timbre: Character or quality of a musical sound or voice. Each timbre is unique given its pitch and intensity.

  • Toys: Another word for Auxiliary percussion.

  • Triple Lateral: three mallet strikes with one fluid In-Out- In or Out-In-Out motion between 2 mallets of the same hand while holding 4 mallets.

  • Upbeats: Any beat other that the down beat. For duple this is “e-&-a” and triple this is “la-le” (pl-et).

  • Whole Step: musical interval that consists of 2 half steps.

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 “kinda 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 of 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.