This weekend starts marching band judging season for me. As I have done this for awhile I have noticed that a lot of the same things continually recur. To that end several years ago I put together this handout I use at clinics.
Top 15 Judges Comments on the Percussion Tape
1) Bass drums are overbalancing the winds. This is very commonly a result of too much unison writing in the parts. This can also be technique related. Could also be caused by the drums being tuned too low, all to nearly the same pitch, or not muffled enough.
2) Lack of clarity within accent and tap passages. This is most commonly the result of the accent and tap notes being performed at the same stick height. Go for either 6” and 3” or 8” and 3” for better clarity.
3) Pit is playing ahead of the band. Most commonly this is a result of the pit watching the drum major (A BIG NO NO!) rather than listening to the winds and drums behind them.
4) Inconsistent approach to the double stroke. Most drumming boils down to single and double strokes and combinations in between (with occasional triple strokes). A regular part of every lines warm-up must be a double stroke exercise, including a roll exercise. Listen for EVERY stroke lining up exactly between players.
5) Problems with attacks. The drum line needs to have some sort of verbal timing element (e.g. the syllable dut) to make sure they attack together).
6) Small percussion section not really being effectively used. This one can be controversial, but if you only have a few students I would rather see them in the front ensemble playing keyboards, timpani, drumset, adding impacts etc. than as a battery (I would NOT score you down for this!). I feel it is sounder educationally this way, and they can make a better contribution to the overall product. Don’t just ground them in the pit area while still playing battery parts either.
7) Book having problems fitting with the music. This can be a result of the percussion playing an incorrect style (i.e. not swinging swing, too rock-like in Latin etc.), the percussion parts being too busy (rests are a GOOD thing, but also be sure there are not too many notes for the tempo being performed), lack of dynamic contrast, and occasionally too easy (percussion should NOT play the exact same thing the entire show).
8) Too much emphasis on visuals. Visuals can be used to enhance the overall show, as well as for timing purposes but they should not be there just for their own sake. The music MUST come first.
9) Problems with balance within the percussion section. Most often the instruments that are lost are the tenors (too much bass and snare) and the front ensemble (especially mallets and timpani). This needs to be corrected from a distance. Most rehearsal or drum major podiums are too close to get a clear sense of balance. Another cause is often a player over (or under)playing their sound in relation to the rest of their segment.
10) Lack of impact from the percussion in the musical book. No, we don’t want the percussion to overpower the winds at impact points. But, good and effective use of cymbals and concert bass drum can add more punch and actually make the winds sound louder.
11) Drill causing hearing/timing issues. Avoid forms with no back to them (i.e. V is bad, ^ is good). Often this is also a result of the players’ feet being out of tempo with their hands. Have them mark time when performing their book and exercises to get used to feet and hands moving together.
12) Inconsistent sticking in battery. The battery players MUST use the same sticking within each segment. These should be written into their music and the accurate learning of these must be a prime issue.
13) Lack of definition between flams and double stops. Flams must have two defined heights between the grace note and accent note. Double stops will be even heights.
14) Pit needs to make more contribution to the musical ensemble. Often the front ensemble is just doubling the wind parts. This can help
strengthen the ensemble sound at times, but more often they need to play more of a counter role to add interest and to avoid tuning issues.
15) Battery not listening back when up front. If it is not a drum solo and the battery is in the front of the field they should be listening back to the winds for tempo.