Setting Up a Drumline

 About the Author:

Untitled Job-0010-FULL-RESCampbell is the Founding Director of the D²Drumline, and the Drumline Association of Australia. He Lead Instructor of the National Drumline Camp and a specialist Drumline Teacher at Scotch College, Melbourne. As a performer, Campbell has toured the UK, China, New Zealand and Europe including a 2015 tour with the Blue Devils International and a 2008 Tour as Lead Snare of the Australian Hub in the Beijing Olympic Orchestra. He is a frequent clinician at both Secondary and Tertiary levels and has assisted a number of schools around Australia establish successful new Drumline programs. Campbell is a proud artist for Pearl Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Evans Drumheads, Promark Stick.  


Part 1: Leadership, Expectations, Instrumentation and Goal Setting

Setting up a new drumline is a hugely rewarding and exciting experience. It is also a big job so you want to make sure you do everything you can to start off on the right foot with a clear organisational structure and considered placement of all of your musicians. Taking time to get this right in the first place will ensure that you can get the most out of your members in the shortest possible time and set up your drumline to successfully navigate future growth and change.

In this article we will discuss a few important considerations when setting up your new drumline or re-organising your existing group such as leadership roles, expectations and instrumentation. In future articles we will explore rehearsal technique, warm-ups and musician placement and much more.

As always, if you have any questions or want some specific advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!


The most important aspect of any drumline’s organization is the leadership structure. Each section of the drumline (cymbals, snares, tenors, basses) needs a section leader.

“It is important to remember that your section leader does not necessarily have to be the most experienced or musically adept member of the section… above all they should have the respect of their peers”

As a general rule, your lead snare should be seen as an assistant to your Technical/Musical Director and will also lead the drumline with any tap offs and commands. Having section leaders is important for a few key reasons:

  • It gives section leaders a sense of responsibility and drives motivated members of the group to go above and beyond;
  • It will give some younger or less experienced members of the drumline a goal to work towards and help fulfill their aspiration for recognition and future opportunities;
  • It allows your members to run rehearsals or sectionals by themselves with a clear leader and decision maker to whom other members of the section will refer;
  • It can assist in taking some of the organizational burden of your Technical/Musical Director and allows some trivial or less important issues to be addressed by experienced section leaders;
  • It will assist all of your members to develop or enhance important life skills relating to team work and leadership.

It is important to remember that your section leader does not necessarily have to be the most experienced or musically adept member of the section. Musicality is important in allowing them to run sectionals and being experienced enough to be able to help newer members is also a key role for section leaders, but above all they should have the respect of their peers. They need to be confident in their own abilities and be able to make decisions as required whilst keeping in mind the various concerns of their section. They should also show initiative and be willing to speak up to ensure that any concerns or issues relating to their section can be addressed.


“Once your group has exceeded one set of expectations, raise your expectations and set this as the new minimum standard… let you musicians know that you are aware of and proud of the new levels they have reached”

You must set clear expectations for your drumline. Every drumline will have a different set of expectations so make sure you set a clear and achievable set of goals for your group regardless of their age or experience. These should cover basic things like punctuality, rehearsal technique, communication, and learning music and should included process to address any shortcoming of individual members or the line as a whole. Clearly set out expectations will allow every member of the line to work together to meet these minimum standards and will raise the overall efficiency and standard of the line.

Never lower your standard to accommodate new members, but demand that the existing members help the new guys reach their level as quickly as possible. In groups with large cyclical turnover (such as schools who lose senior students every year) you may need to slightly relax these standards at the start of your season, but never drop them or allow regular under-achievement. Push younger members of the line to step up and fill the void left by the loss of the seniors – they are the new leaders! Remind them of the help they received when they first joined the line. In these sorts of groups it can also be beneficial to get your incoming members to start practicing with the ensemble before you lose senior members, as this will allow incoming musicians to see what is expected of them and to begin working towards this.

Once your group has exceeded one set of expectations, raise your expectations and set this as the new minimum standard. You should constantly raise the bar and encourage your group to do better. This will allow vast improvement in your line and let you musicians know that you are aware of and proud of the new levels they have reached. If they have done it before, what is stopping them from doing it every time?!


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It is important to consider the balance of instruments within your line. As a general rule, you should have a similar number of basses and snares, and half that number for tenors; i.e. 6 Snares, 5 Basses, 3 Tenors. If you have an uneven number of snares to basses the greater number should be with the snares; i.e. 6 Snares, 4 Basses, 3 Tenors. This will allow for the desired balance of volume and tones across these sections.

Whilst the number of cymbal players is less governed by the size of other sections, its duties are most effectively executed being a similar size to the snare section. You may wish to “split” cymbal parts (allocate portions of a phrase to small divisions within the section or to individuals) rather than have them constantly playing “tutti” (together). This will assist with volume control as well as creating musical and visual variation. A large part of your cymbals section’s job is to add interest to the line not just musically but also with visual flips and tricks.

“Never lower your standard to accommodate new members, but demand that the existing members help the new guys reach their level as quickly as possible.”

Goal Setting

As with many large projects, effective setting of both short, medium and long term goals is key to your ongoing success. Sharing these short-term goals with your drumline members can help with their focus and give them a sense of purpose, whilst building their confidence in your abilities as a leader and musical director.

1. Short Term Goals:

Remember - Always set SMART Goals
Remember – Always set SMART Goals

Short term goals should be clear, achievable, and quantifiable. You want to be able to literally tick these off your list as you go and should be no more than 1 year in scope (ideally months). They should be regularly revisited and adjusted as required. An example of some practical short term goals may be:

  • Develop new website;
  • Shoot new promotional clip;
  • Expand repertoire to

2. Long Term Goals

Long term goals should focus on “the big picture” and tie in with they key goals/mission statement for you group. These will often not be at the forefront of your planning and thoughts but will set the tone for your overall approach and are the basis upon which you should set your Medium Term goals.

Your Long term goals should generally be between 5-8years – a longer term focus than this will often be impractical to implement due to the number of variables which can pop up over the development of your group. If you have a vision for the line past this timeframe, you should consider making them part of your mission statement and use you Long Term goals to help you get there over a far longer period.

At D² we recently came to the realisation that we had achieved a number of our Long Term goals without even realising it (in a much shorter timeframe than expected too!). The simple process of coming up with these goals early on meant that our entire approach to what we were doing on a day to day basis was working towards achieving them without us being cognisant of doing so. Win!

3. Medium Term Goals

Medium Term goals are often the hardest to set. They are the conduit between your Short and Long Term goals and must be carefully considered and frequently reviewed. The key is to make sure they are both attainable and practical, while helping work towards the big picture/Long Term goals (which of seem far less attainable!). They should represent the culmination of the successful achievement of your Short Term goals.

Pursue Excellence

The ideas discussed above are the result of many hard lessons learnt over the years with D² and are a big part of the reason the Drumline has been so successful to date. We are constantly re-evaluating how well we are sticking to these principles and trying to find ways to do things better. Where small changes are necessary to help keep your line’s development on track, do not be afraid to make them, but be careful to ensure that you provide a stable environment for your members so that they can continue to develop on a personal level.

At the end of the day, it is up to your leadership (and you) to ensure that they lead by example to create a culture of excellence within your group and help them become the best they can be. Never settle for less and always push for that next little step on the path to perfection. Oh yeah… don’t forget to  have fun while you’re at it!


Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for future articles in this series, and please do not hesitate to request information about any specific topics or issues you may be facing within your line.



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