the Front Line Percussion Ensemble
Reprinted with permission from Percussive Notes, vol. 30, no. 3
Marching bands of today are utilizing a wider variety of concert percussion instruments than ever before. This recent growth has increased the emphasis of percussion in the school music program and helped to give more students experience with tuned and accessory percussion instruments. When these instruments are grounded off the marching field and played in the area in front of the band, they are commonly referred to as the Front Line Percussion Ensemble or Pit section. This section has not only developed into a more integrated voice with the wind texture, but has become a more prominent element of the percussion ensemble itself.
can I get my 'Pit' section to project their sound to the press box and
audiences without damaging the instruments?"
Rattan or fiberglass shafts on the keyboard mallets seem to last longer and help the player to transmit more weight into the bar than do the birch handles. Most fiberglass and rattan shafts offer a bit more rebound off the keyboard instrument as well. For projection of a more characteristic timpani sound, the "general" weight mallets should be the softest mallets used outdoors. As with keyboard mallets, large-headed timpani mallets will tend to help in projection of tone.
"How do I effectively arrange music for this section?"
Scoring is another consideration for proper use of outdoor concert instruments. For example, if the brass section is playing a tutti passage at mezzo forte or above, a marimba player who is doubling the first trombone part will probably not be heard. Therefore, the marimba scoring should be edited instead of having the marimba player simply overplay the instrument. When scoring for the Pit section, one must look at the occasions when simple doubling of wind parts is ineffective and consider alternatives such as:
These suggestions should offer inspiration for melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas that may give the piece a new character, while adding a fresh interpretation as well.
"What techniques should I teach to my students in order to achieve a good quality of sound and a uniform style that will enhance their performance?"
must be made aware that in order to project a body of sound they should
not 'pound' on the instruments. They must play with a style indicative
of the music they are performing and approach the instrument with maturity.
In order to attain the qualities needed to enhance the music, as well
as the musician, the teacher must always remind the student of these
Quite often, beginners start their training with the "down stroke". In this stroke, the player lifts the wrist and then hammers the instrument leaving the wrist in a flat position until the next lift. This style tends to limit much of the instrument's tone and projection, (although the player may seem to be playing harder). Practice the piston stroke at a slower tempo to help achieve a more relaxed motion while increasing the amount of tone and projection from the instrument.
As the musical demands on the Front Line Percussion Ensemble player continue to grow, so must the knowledge of arranging the music and teaching the students. Proper orchestration, teaching of style and technique and good quality equipment must be provided in order to achieve maximum contribution from the Pit section. Most of all, a new emphasis in pedagogy and the performance practices of these students will help to further their abilities and musical experiences as young percussionists.