Tenor and Bass.com



Technique Tips


Below I have explained some tips that have proved helpful in my teaching experience, as well as answers to some frequently asked questions. Scroll down for tips on drum maintenance, tying on the strings, string length, catching, and proper technique for the four basic flourishes and three piano beatings commonly used in the Eastern U.S. If you do not find the answer to your question here, or if you would like to suggest another topic to be included, feel free to email me.




DRUM MAINTENANCE: Once a year (typically about a month prior to the start of competition season) I recommend taking apart your tenor or bass drum for maintenance. Remove all the lugs and take both heads off. Feel if the inside of the shell is smooth. If the wood has any roughness to it, use extremely fine sandpaper or even a dry kitchen scrubber (often they are on one side of a kitchen sponge) and lightly sand the entire inside of the shell until it is smooth. After sanding, take a slightly damp rag and wipe out the drum well. To dampen the drum (if you are using heads that are not pre-dampened), use a strip of 1”x1” air conditioner foam. Hot glue it to the edge of the inside of the shell, so that it sticks up about one quarter inch. That way, when you put the head on the shell, the foam will contact the head lightly and muffle it, reducing the resonance. Most drums require four strips about one to three inches long, opposite each other (at 12 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock), under each head; experimentation is needed, though, because every drum is different. Some drums need more foam than this (sometimes even all the way around), and some need less. If you are using pre-dampened heads, do not apply foam to the shell. (Pre-dampened heads have a felt ring attached to the underside of the head on or near the edge.) After dampening the drum, again wipe the edge of the shell and the edge of the foam which will contact the head. Make sure there are no blobs of dried hot glue which will contact the head. Then wipe the inside of the head. Place the head back on the shell. Wipe the outside of the head and wipe the hoop, then place the hoop on the head. Before inserting the lugs, put a dab of lubricant at the top of each threaded hole. (White lithium grease from the hardware store is ideal, but Vaseline works too.) This will keep the lugs from getting tight in the threads and difficult to loosen or tighten. Replace the lugs and make each one finger tight. Then proceed in a pattern tightening opposite lugs evenly a half-turn at a time. (If you tighten one side while the other side is loose, the head can end up crooked on the shell, which will affect the sound.) For Pearl drums, after finger tightening, it should only take about two half-turns on each lug to get close to the proper tone for the drum. This may vary with other makes; I am most familiar with Pearls. (If the heads are new, it will take more turns than that, as the heads will stretch.) Tighten the head to raise the pitch; loosen the head to lower the pitch. Be sure to tighten/loosen evenly. Every lug should always be at the same tension. Follow the same process for the other head, and make sure that you tune the second head to match the tone of the first.

At any time during the season, should your drum lose the quality of its note and begin to sound dull, I recommend taking it apart and thoroughly cleaning all surfaces as described above. A small amount of dust or dirt down in the crack between the head and the hoop can make a huge difference in the sound of the drum. If a cleaning does not improve the quality of the note, it may be time to replace the heads. Over time the heads stretch, and eventually they stretch to the point that they no longer produce a pleasing note.

The note at which to tune your drum is a very subjective topic. There are many combinations of notes which can sound good in a midsection corps depending on the pipe tunes being played. In my band, I tune the bass to B flat to match the drones, then I tune the tenors to B flat (highest tone), F (middle tone) and D (lowest tone). B flat on a tuner matches the A of the pipes, so these tones equate to A, C and E on the pipes. Please note that it is important to calibrate to the pipe drones once they are tuned on a contest day. Sometimes due to excessive heat, the pipes may be tuning at a higher pitch. The drums need to be adjusted to match. Excessive heat can lower the pitch of the tenors and bass drum as the heat stretches the heads, so significant adjustment may be needed to bring the drums up to a pitch that matches the pipes. I use an inexpensive Korg CA-30 tuner. Once the pipes are tuned, I hold it over a tenor drone and push the calibrate button until the needle is centered. The note indicated on the tuner will be B flat. I then tune the midsection drums, making sure the bass and the highest tenor match the drones.

THE FOLLOWING ARE SOME TIPS FOR ACHIEVING PROPER TECHNIQUE IN FLOURISHING. THESE ARE NOT INTENDED AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR FACE-TO-FACE INSTRUCTION, BUT MERELY AS A LEARNING AIDE. PLEASE ALSO NOTE THAT THERE ARE VERY FEW RULES IN FLOURISHING. I AM NOT ASSERTING THAT MY WAY IS THE ONLY CORRECT METHOD. I AM SIMPLY SHARING WHAT I HAVE FOUND TO WORK BEST IN MY EXPERIENCE.

TYING ON THE STRINGS: The method I prefer for tying the strings onto the sticks is with a clove hitch knot. With most types of strings, this knot is secure and will actually get tighter with flourishing, rather than looser, as with some knots. To tie on the string, make a loop in the string. Hold it secure with your left thumb and forefinger. Now with the other hand make another loop next to the first one. Place the second loop behind the first loop. Place the stick through the two loops. Pull the ends of the string to tighten, and it should look like the drawing below. If your strings are flat rather than rounded, it is best to loosen the knot a bit and get any twists out of the string, then pull the knot tight.

To secure the other end, I prefer a knot that takes both ends around and through, so that the extra sticks out horizontally past the pinky finger. That way the knot and the extra ends of the laces are out of the way.

STRING LENGTH: Lace on your strings as you would to flourish, and then with your stick on your hand, extend your hand as if you were going to shake someone’s hand, fingers together, with the stick dangling on the back side of your hand. The stick should lift up from the back of the hand slightly, at about a 45 degree angle. If the stick hangs straight down, you have too much slack and will have difficulty catching your flourishes. If the stick stands out at a 90 degree angle parallel to the floor, you have not enough slack and will have trouble executing certain flourishes.

PUTTING THE STRINGS ON YOUR HANDS: I recommend (at least for practice purposes) no twists between the fingers. Loop the string on the pinky finger, then both of the laces go over the ring and middle fingers and then under the index finger. Securing the strings with twists between the fingers is in my opinion a detriment to learning proper control. Of course, when performing or competing, if you feel it necessary to twist the strings for security, by all means, do. But in practice, if you can learn to control the sticks laced on the way I describe, then you will be forced to learn excellent control. Twisting between the fingers will require more string length, so if you choose to play this way in performance, you will need separate sticks for practice so that each pair can have the proper length strings.

CATCHING THE STICKS: To catch, it is important that your strings are the correct length (see above). While flourishing, spread your fingers; this should make the bead end of the stick pop into the palm side of your hand at the base of the index finger, so that you can grasp it with your thumb and index finger. Once you accomplish this, work toward making the catch subtle, so that it is difficult to discern when you are actually catching.

TWISTING OF STRINGS: It is normal for your laces to twist up when you are learning. This indicates that your technique is not yet correct. Usually you are pushing too hard. When you achieve the proper technique and are able to relax and let the flourish flow, the twisting will stop. It is frustrating because you have to keep stopping and untwisting in order to practice, but just know that everyone deals with this.

There are four basic flourish swings which are the basis for most flourishes commonly used in the Eastern United States. They are: reverse spin, reverse figure-8, forward spin, and forward figure-8.

REVERSE SPIN: The index finger should be bent at a 90 degree angle to keep the string from slipping off. The rest of the fingers and the thumb should be relaxed, not completely straight but not curled into a fist. The flourish should be sustained primarily with wrist motion, not a pumping of the arm or an opening and closing of the fingers. The wrist motion should be similar to quickly jiggling a door knob or shaking a cup of dice.

REVERSE FIGURE-8: The hand position should be the same as extending a hand for a handshake. All the fingers can remain straight, since the string will not slip out during this motion. The thumb should point upward and should not tuck into the palm. (If the thumb is tucked, it will be in the way when performing more complex flourishes based on this swing.) The palm should remain vertical and never tip over toward the floor. The stick should travel up from the drum toward the face, then revolve once on the inside of the arm; then the stick should switch to the outside of the arm and revolve once, then back to the inside, etc. The key to good technique with the reverse figure-8 is pushing with the index finger. When the stick is finishing its outside revolution, the index finger should push it to the inside. This pushing of the index finger is all that is needed to sustain this flourish.

FORWARD SPIN: The forward spin is half of a cartwheel. It is typically easier to learn two-handed. There are two commonly accepted hand positions for the cartwheel: palms down or palms out. In a palms-down cartwheel, the palms face the floor. In a palms-out cartwheel, the palms face away from the face. Focus on the beads of the sticks and imagine that they are on opposite sides of a circle about an inch in diameter. The index fingers should be bent at a 90 degree angle to keep the strings from slipping out. All the other fingers and the thumb should be relaxed, not straight and not curled into fists. Be sure to keep the sticks on the same plane, so that they create one complete circle, not two circles side by side. The wrists should remain straight. The motion should be sustained by tightly bicycling the index finger knuckles over each other in a very small circle.

FORWARD FIGURE-8: This flourish travels down toward the drum, so the easiest starting point for learning purposes is the shoulder. From the shoulder, the stick should travel inside the arm for one revolution, then switch to the outside of the arm and revolve once, then back to the inside, etc. The index finger should be bent at a 90 degree angle so that the string does not slip. The thumb should point up toward the ceiling. All the other fingers should open straight when the stick is on the outside of the arm, then curve toward the palm when the stick is on the inside of the arm. This should create a motion similar to a fish’s tail as it swims.

There are three basic piano beatings which are commonly used in the Eastern United States. They are: traditional piano, regimental four-beat piano and regimental three-beat piano.

TRADITIONAL PIANO: Start with both sticks on the shoulders.
Bring down the right stick and strike the drum, then bring the stick out to the right side at about waist height.
Bring down the left stick and strike the drum, then bring the stick out to the left side at about waist height.
Bring the right stick back in and strike the drum, then return it to the right shoulder.
Bring the left stick back in and strike the drum, then return it to the left shoulder.
Begin again: right strike and out, left strike and out, right strike and up, left strike and up.
Continue.
Bear in mind that once you have the flow of this movement, you will not always bring the sticks all the way up to the shoulders. Whether there is enough time to bring the sticks to the shoulders and return to strike the drum on time depends on the tempo of the tune. But the shoulders are a good starting point from which to learn the movement.
Also keep in mind that the first right hand strike coming down of each set of four beats is typically the strong beat, and the other strikes of the drum are typically much softer. Striking every one of these beats at the same volume would not be complimentary to the music.

REGIMENTAL FOUR-BEAT PIANO: Start with both sticks on the shoulders.
Bring down the right stick and strike the drum.
Switch: bring down the left stick and strike the drum, while the right stick returns to the right shoulder.
Tuck the left stick along the waist, so that the fur end is below the right elbow. Cross the right arm over the tucked arm and strike the drum.
Bring the right stick back to the right shoulder as you untuck the left stick and strike the drum.
Then begin again by switching: bring the left stick to the left shoulder and bring the right stick down and strike the drum.
Switch: left strike and right up to shoulder.
Tuck.
Untuck.
Switch, switch, tuck, untuck.
Continue.
Bear in mind that once you have the flow of this movement, you will not always bring the sticks all the way up to the shoulders. Whether there is enough time to bring the sticks to the shoulders and return to strike the drum on time depends on the tempo of the tune. But the shoulders are a good starting point from which to learn the movement.
Also keep in mind that the first right hand strike coming down of each set of four beats is typically the strong beat, and the other strikes of the drum are typically much softer. Striking every one of these beats at the same volume would not be complimentary to the music.

REGIMENTAL THREE-BEAT PIANO: Start with both sticks on the shoulders.
Bring down the right stick and strike the drum.
Switch: bring down the left stick and strike the drum, while the right stick returns to the right shoulder.
Tuck the left stick along the waist, so that the fur end is below the right elbow. Cross the right arm over the tucked arm and strike the drum.
Bring the right stick back to the right shoulder as you untuck the left stick and strike the drum.
Switch: bring the left stick to the left shoulder and bring the right stick down and strike the drum.
Tuck the right stick along the waist, so that the fur end is below the left elbow. Cross the left arm over the tucked arm and strike the drum.
Begin again by untucking the right stick and striking the drum as you bring the left stick to the left shoulder.
Switch: right stick on shoulder and left stick strikes drum.
Left stick tucks and right stick crosses over and strikes.
Right stick on shoulder and left stick untucks and strikes.
Switch: left stick on shoulder and right stick strikes drum.
Right stick tucks and left stick crosses over and strikes.
Continue.
Bear in mind that once you have the flow of this movement, you will not always bring the sticks all the way up to the shoulders. Whether there is enough time to bring the sticks to the shoulders and return to strike the drum on time depends on the tempo of the tune. But the shoulders are a good starting point from which to learn the movement.
Also keep in mind that the first right hand strike coming down and then every subsequent strike after untucking (every third beat) are typically the strong beats, and the other strikes of the drum are typically much softer. Striking every one of these beats at the same volume would not be complimentary to the music.