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Ask the Experts - Marching Tips

Hey Mr. Kuhn,

My school is currently using the yamaha sFz marching snare drums. Since we do not carry the yamaha MTS like most corps in drum corps do, I was wondering how our snares can sound crisp and tight like the Cavaliers. If there is a way to do this, please specify the method and what kinds of heads we should use to get our snares sounding AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!  Thanx alot.

Your fellow percussionst, John D.Leal

John, thanks for your question and the compliment concerning our snare sound. We tune the heads to specific pitch and try to keep them in tune all the time. We use the White Max on the top head and we tune it to an A, this may be too high for the high school caliber player so you may want to find a pitch that is lower and will be less rigid for their hands. You may want to try an F#, I have used that with my high school group. On the bottom head we use a clear plastic and we tune that to a D. We like the plastic bottom because we feel it breathes better. When you strike the drum the air column moves through the drum and activates the bottom head producing the snare response. We also tune our snare guts. If you turn the snares off and put a pencil or dowel rod under the guts it will get them off the head. Tighten the guts so they produce a pitch like a guitar. Then take a guitar pick or a coin and start in the center strumming the individual guts, tightening or loosening with a screw driver on the other end until all the guts are the same pitch. Then remove the pencil and put the snares on. Turn the drum over and tap it at a mp dynamic level while loosening the guts. The snares will gradually become more responsive. Stop when you are happy with the sound. The sFz's are great and you will be able to get them sounding that way. Remember sound is a combination of stick, tuning and touch. Make sure you address all three.   Good luck and thanks again for your question.

Bret Kuhn

This question is for Bret Kuhn.  My name is Adrian Rios.  I am currently in college and running a high school line.  I have to start from scratch with a bit of talent.  What would you recommend to getting started right, and build a successful program.  Your reply would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you and please continue to inspire us percussionsts with your music and hands. 


Adrian, this is such a wide open question with so many possibilities. First you need to establish good repoire with the Director and make sure you share the same thoughts regarding the philosophy of education and how that relates to the program. It is so important to have his full support so the kids see and understand that you are working as a team. Then as far as the technique program is concerned make sure that you focus on the fundamentals and let the kids know that these 4 or 5 exercises that they do are the backbone of their success. ( 8's/ Dbl. Beat/ Accent Tap/Drag and Roll/Singles) You will need to explain over and over again your concepts on technique and make sure they really understand how you want them to approach the instrument. Always ask a lot of questions when teaching to make sure they know the answers concerning the details of the technique. Let them know that the best groups are usually the smartest groups. When it comes to the music book make sure you write for the music first. Sometimes this means not playing or playing very simply. Explore color and the use of space and voice leading. I see a lot of over writing note-wise in so many groups and it just takes away from the music. Remember your goal as a percussion section should be to make the band better when you show up for rehearsal. It's not about the number of notes it's about MUSIC!!!! I hope this helps and remember be positive and let the students know that all competition in life is with yourself.

Musically yours,
Bret Kuhn

QUESTION:  This question is for Bret Kuhn.  Hello. I have a basic marching question. I am in my middle school band and this year we marched for our first time. We also played with the high school band too. That was very fun as you know! The first time we rehearsed with the h.s. I noticed that they had different heads than the middle school (me). They said that they had "teflon" heads. We have plastic heads and I think teflon/kevlar heads sound soooo much better. So, a few days ago I asked my band director if we could get teflon heads. He said that he's not going to spend that much money on heads. Next I did some research and learned that they were around $50. Our school is a pretty high collar school so I am dissapointed he said that. Now I am looking for reasons why we should by teflon heads. That leads up to my 2 questions:  What are some reasons we should be able to have teflon heads? Do you need a batter head or a batter and a resonant head (bottom)?  I though I heard somewhere that marching bands with teflon heads use just the batter heads to project the sound instead of having the resonant head cut down the ring. Help is very greatly appreciated.  Thanks Bret!

Ivanna, your questions are valid. However you must understand that with the Kevlar heads you need to have free-floating snares. Those are the ones with the metal suspension rings. This is to be able to handle the stress. Wooden shells can be greatly affected by the Kevlar heads. I prefer the White Max or the Black Max. They have more give and I think the sound is warmer. Don't tune them too high or you won't get a good snare sound. They cost more than plastic but there life span is much longer. As far as Mylar or plastic heads go you may want to look at the Powerstroke. All of these are great choices. No matter what type of top head you use, you will always need a bottom head on the drum. I hope this helps. Good luck. Bret.

QUESTION:  This question is for Bret Kuhn.
I think that the concert bass drum sound of the Cavaliers is the best of any I have ever heard. I just love it! What size drums, head type and tuning scheme do you employ to get that fantastic sound? Also what tuning schemes do you employ in the battery? Do you tune to specific pitches or just relative intervals?

Thank You

Hey Matt,
Thanks for asking about the tuning scheme for the concert bass drums and the battery. We do have specific pitches for tuning all of the membrane instruments. The concert bass drums are 40" and are tuned to a C#, the batter head is a Fiberskyn III and the resonant side is white plastic. Often times people tune the concert basses too low and they don't resonate properly. As far as the battery goes, here is the tuning scheme for this past year. The snare tops are white max and tuned to an A and the bottoms are the 3-mil thin plastic/clear (SA-0314-TD) and they were tuned to a D#. With the tenors we used Suede Emperor Crimplock on everything except the shots and there we used the clear Emperors. The pitches are as follows- 14"-B, 13"-D#, 12"-F#, 10"-A, and for the two 6" shots the low was a B and the high was a D#. The bass drums used Ambassadors (BR-12XX-MP) for heads and were tune in perfect 4th's. 32"-D#, 28"-G#, 24"-C#, 20"-F#, 16#-B. We really strive to create a sonority with all of the battery voices and tuning changes from year to year depending on the musical needs of the group. I hope this helps and gets you thinking about what you want to hear from your drums.

Take care,

Bret Kuhn
Percussion Arranger Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps.

QUESTION:  Dear Bret,
In reading your artist setup for the Cavaliers, I noticed for the bottom head on your snares it said, High Tension, Low Collar..  I was wondering what "Low Collar" means?  I can't seem to figure out what you are talking about if it has to do with the head or the drum?  Thanks. Chris

Hello Chris,
Please allow me to answer on Bret's behalf.  Bret's referring to the marching version of the Clear Ambassador Snare Side, "SA-0314-TD".  The "-TD" version (rather than a "-00") denotes that this head is the recommended one for Marching use.  In this version, we've taken the collar step out of the head, giving you another 1/2" or so of "crankability" before bottoming out on the bottom tension lugs.  The film comes flat out of the flesh hoop.  
Standard Snare Side - SA-0114-00                    Marching Snare Side - SA-0314-TD
       /                   Drum Head Film
     /    Collar                                                        ___________
!  /  !                                                             !  /  !                    Drum Head Film
!___!   Flesh Hoop                                            !___! Flesh Hoop
My apologies for its crudeness, but I'm trying to describe a cross section of the two versions.  Remember to bring a snare side to pitch slowly, allowing the film to stretch.  If you ever have any questions that you favorite music store or drum shop just can't seem to answer, please don't hesitate to contact us.  A big thank you for using Remo.  Best of luck and continued success.
Thanks again,

Roger Johnson
Marching Percussion Manager
Remo, Inc.

My name is Logan and I was wondering why and how the Cavaliers 'dut' or 'dup'. I noticed the battery doesn’t listen to a snare drummer tap but rather the whole line 'dups'. Please explain why you do this and what sound you’re making and at what pitch you're doing it. Also, why did the Cavaliers use WhiteMax™ in 2000 but they used BlackMax™ in 2001. What different sounds does each head give and how do you make a decision on which to use? Last, are the Cavaliers getting or have gotten new frums for 2002? If so, what color? Thanks for your time.

Logan, you had some very good questions so let's get them answered. Why do we dut instead of tap off exercises? We want to do everything the same way we perform and since we use the dut's in the show we use them all the time. It also give's us a chance to really see and hear where everyone is in terms of there pulse center. You really have to stay on the guys about not getting too loud. You don't want to hear them in the stands.

Why did we use WhiteMax™ in 2000 and BlackMax™ in 2001? Well for me it is always about the sound I want to hear. In 2000 I wanted a higher more articulate sound for the music we were playing, the WhiteMax™ is a brighter sound with a little more bite. However in 2001 I wanted to get more of a drumset snare sound to compliment the hi-hats we used. The BlackMax™ has a warmer more open sound, and I thought musically it would fit the best. Both heads are great sounds but definitely different. Remember always base your equipment needs on SOUND!!

Do we have a new drum color? Yes Logan, we will be using a black finish with different flecks of various colors. It should be a great look. It is always exciting to see how the color choice turns out since you really don't know until you see them under the lights.

Thanks for your questions and your interest in the Cavaliers.

Bret Kuhn - Battery Arranger, Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps.

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