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Structuring a Marching Percussion Warm-up Package

by Josh Gottry

A band director friend of mine once mentioned that he considered buying heavy overcoats for his drumline each year because it seemed they always needed to warm-up. It’s true that most drumlines could manage an entire rehearsal just warming-up and I’ve seen early season drumline festivals where a group spends as much time playing their on-field warm-up as they do on their performance music. Warm-ups are a critical element to developing a healthy and successfully drumline, but they can be done in an efficient and effective manner if the goals for warm-ups are made a priority.

Section Needs

Within each drumline, there are typically two major sections and as many as four segments within one of those sections. The two sections are the batterie or marching percussion unit, and the pit, or sideline percussion. Within the batterie are the snares, the tenors (quads, quints, etc.), the bass drums (typically 3-5 tonal drums), and the cymbals. Each of these sections and segments has specific objectives that must be accomplished during every warm-up period. The director or percussion instructor simply needs to be sensitive to those objectives, both in selecting warm-ups and using the warm-up time.

The Pit

Because of logistics, the pit will most likely need to develop an independent warm-up routine from the batterie. This allows each unit to warm-up separately as needed and to focus on areas that are most beneficial. Pit warm-ups will be primarily keyboard percussion based but may incorporate timpani and/or non-pitched percussion instruments if used extensively within the performance music.

The keyboard percussion parts should include the following focus areas:

  • Scale passages in all keys, including straight scales and scale based patterns (ascending or descending thirds, arpeggios, etc.)
  • Strength exercises in octaves. Since mallet players will often be expected to play both hands one octave apart in performance music for projection purposes, playing simple scale patterns (i.e. four notes on each pitch ascending and descending on the scale) in octaves is very helpful in building endurance and octave muscle memory.
  • Spatial exercises with both hands. One hand remains on a given pitch while the other ascends an octave or more by step, allowing the hands to develop comfort with various interval skips.
  • Four-mallet exercises (as appropriate). These should include all major 4-mallet stroke types” double vertical, single independent, single alternating, double lateral” or at least those included in the performance music.

During the pit warm-up period, the director or percussion instructor can select one or more exercises from each of the above focus areas depending on the music to be rehearsed that day. If a limited amount of warm-up time is available, strength and endurance exercises should be prioritized as well as a few scale exercises to refocus the students on the bar spacing and feel of the instrument.

The Batterie

The batterie warm-up routine should ideally include both hand and footwork (marking time or specific small drill work patterns) to strengthen and refine all four limbs. The snares, tenors, and basses should have warm-up music that include the following focus areas:

  • One hand legato strokes: This is typically an exercise like Eight on a Hand that allows students to focus on a smooth repeated stroke with one hand at a time. Students should be comparing stroke and stick heights to other members of the section and from hand to hand.
  • One handed accent strokes: Typically an exercise likeBucks that focuses students on accented and non-accented strokes. This requires an understanding and application of stroke types (down strokes, up strokes, full strokes, etc.) to accurately perform each note and prepare for the next one.
  • Double and triple strokes: This can be done as a one-handed exercise using various syncopated rhythms, or a two-handed exercise using paradiddles and other sticking patterns. This might also be an opportunity to incorporate several flam rudiments, since a few of the more common ones (flam taps, flam accents) do inherently include double or triple strokes.
  • Rolls: This can be something as simple as Digga-Digga-Burr which works on 9-stroke and 17-stroke rolls, or a more complicated diddle exercise including one-handed diddles, tap-drags, and various length rolls. The exercise selected should take into account the type of rolls (double stroke or buzz rolls) and roll lengths within the performance music.
  • Timing: An exercise incorporating various eighth note, sixteenth note, and potentially triplet or sixteenth note triple based rhythms appropriate to the show music is extremely beneficial in addressing sticking and ensemble timing.

In addition to these focus areas, the tenor exercises should include single drum elements, as well as those that work movement between drums. Bass drum exercises should include unison and tonal portions. Cymbal exercises should be written to include various crashes and special effects (chicks, tings, scrapes, fusion crashes, etc.) and potentially even visual elements. Rests and space are truly a beneficial aspect of cymbal warm-ups because they are also a significant portion of the performance music. Instructors should also consider having cymbals sit out of the first warm-up or two to stretch-out their upper bodies before beginning to play.

Getting Started

Ideally, a custom warm-up package for your drumline should be created each year that considers both the players and the music to be performed. In the meantime, warm-ups are available from local university programs, state percussive arts society chapters members, or percussion publishers. You can also print warm-ups from my website at If you collect from enough sources, you can pick and choose those that work best for your group or use them as a template for creating your own custom package. Good luck, wear earplugs, and stay warm!

Josh Gottry is an active percussion instructor, performer, and composer in Gilbert, Arizona. He serves as an instructor for several local percussion ensembles and private percussion students, and performs regularly as both a soloist and ensemble member. As a composer, Mr. Gottry is a four-time ASCAP grant recipient with eighteen works published for percussion. Josh Gottry is a clinician for Mike Balter Mallets, Pro-Mark Sticks, and Yamaha Percussion. To contact Josh Gottry, e-mail josh [at]