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Drum Major

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Drum Major

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The term drum major describes several similar appointments in marching bands, drum and bugle corps, and pipe bands. In common to all these forms of marching arts is that the drum major is responsible for providing commands (verbally or through hand gestures, or alternatively with a staff or mace) to the ensemble regarding where to march, what to play, and what time to keep.



The position of drum major originated in the British Army with the Corps of Drums in 1650. Military groups performed mostly duty calls and battle signals during that period, and a fife and drum corps, directed by the drum major, would use short pieces to communicate to field units. With the arrival of military brass band and pipe bands around the 18th century, the position of the drum major was adapted to those ensembles.

Traditionally, a military drum major was responsible for:

  • Military discipline of all band members
  • The band's overall standards of dress and deportment
  • Band administrative work
  • Maintain the band's standard of military drill and choreograph marching movements

The musical performance of the ensemble was and may still be delegated to the senior or ranking drummer in the group.

With the advent of the radio militaries no longer needed bands or drum corps as signaling units. Today, military music ensembles and their drum majors operate in a detached fashion from the rest of the military, to varying degrees.

Military position

A drum major position in the armed forces is usually an appointment and not a military rank. The modern military drum major continues to direct and instruct, as well as serving as a figurehead for the ensemble.

In the British Armed Forces, a Drum Major is always a senior non-commissioned officer who holds the rank of Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (or equivalent), or Warrant Officer. He is, however, always referred to and addressed as "Drum Major" and not by his rank. The insignia of appointment is four point-up chevrons worn on the wrist, usually surmounted by a drum and frequently by a crown or other badge dependant on rank, corps, regiment and/or service. Traditionally, a Drum Major is always a drummer (or bugler in the Royal Marines, where drums and bugles are always played by the same musicians), and a drummer would normally be required to have passed a number of courses in music, military skills, and leadership throughout his military career before his regiment would consider appointing him as a Drum Major.

In the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Forces, the drum major is not required to be a drummer, the appointment being held by any suitably qualified musician.

A High School Drum Major takes the podium for a half time performance. A High School Drum Major takes the podium for a half time performance.

Marching arts

In the marching performance arts, including pipe bands, marching bands, and drum and bugle corps, the drum major position is one of leadership, instruction, and group representation, but usually not administrative duties. A band director or corps director assumes administrative responsibility.

Drum majors are mostly responsible for knowing the music of the ensemble and conducting it appropriately. What is "appropriate" conducting has evolved over the decades. During the 1970s and prior it was not uncommon for a stationary drum major to stamp his feet on the podium for an audible tempo; with the arrival of increasingly higher drum major platforms and thus greater visibility this has become both dangerous and unnecessary. In addition to memorizing the music (between six and nine minutes of music is typical for high school marching bands, college bands and drum corps may have that much or more, up to more than eleven minutes of music) a drum major usually memorizes dynamics as well as tempo.

To see one to three drum majors in most ensembles is typical. More usually indicates a group of prodigious size; conversely, no drum major may indicate a small band conducted by its director or a group lead by a horn sergeant or drumline captain. In some ensembles, drum majors switch positions during the show to allow all individuals a chance to conduct from the central podium, occasionally they may serve in other capacities such as performing a solo.

As marching bands have started to focus more directly on halftime shows and less on parades, the stereotypical staff or mace has vanished in preference of hand movements, occasionally with the use of a conductor's baton. Drum majors have also become more elevated over the years, having moved off of the field over the course of the 1970s and 1980s and onto small podiums, which in recent years have often become some eight feet in height or larger. There may be supplemental podiums for additional drum majors, usually smaller in stature.

A marching band or drum corps drum major (field conductor) is in charge of holding the band together, and directing the entire band during shows and competitions. This drum major is rarely a percussionist. They are chosen on their musical abilities, leadership qualities, attitude, and passion for the sport. They head the band, often with woodwind, brass, guard, and percussion captains directly underneath.

External links and references

Home | Up | Drum Major | Drum and bugle corps (classic) | Drum and bugle corps (modern) | Drum and lyre corps | Front ensemble

Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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