Getting Vertical: 2001 Drum Corps Season with the Boston Crusaders

Getting Vertical: 2001 Drum Corps Season with the Boston Crusaders 

 by Rich Viano

I just finished the 2001 drum corps season with the Boston Crusaders.  As usual, my experience with the percussion section was as much a learning situation as it was a teaching one. I think that’s why I love teaching so much, I am constantly learning.    



“Getting vertical” is a slang term for playing together as an ensemble.  It means making sure that all angles of your group have been addressed, side-to-side and front to back.  I have learned a few new techniques to speed up the process this summer.  I thought it would make for a very productive article.   


First, I had the extreme pleasure and honor to work with one of, if not the greatest marching percussion expert: D.C.I. hall of fame member Thom Hannum. He taught me some great tips.    


When you are in the tower or at the top of the stadium working out ensemble timing issues, be sure to listen to your ensemble without cymbals and impact drums playing.  Those long decays and bright sounds of cymbals have a bad habit of hiding timing problems.  It’s very easy to move past a problem because you didn’t REALLY hear it.  More to the point: be honest with yourself.   



Just because you have a metronome on doesn’t mean it’s working.  Keep the metronome located in the back of the performing ensemble.  The sound of the beat needs to travel in the same direction as the sound of the instruments.  When the winds and battery are playing, the “pit” kids are using the forward moving sound as their timing crutch.  It only makes sense to have the metronome work the same way. 


Use various tempo settings on the metronome.  At Boston, we will run a segment a few times with the metronome at full value.  Then we will cut the tempo in half.  We still play the segment at full value but the metronome is now playing beats one and three.  For most groups, one and three is the left foot.  It forces the musicians to be accountable for at least two beats of every bar.  When we feel the time is getting satisfactory, we cut the beat in half again.  This forces the kids to use their own timing skills for three beats of a bar (using 4/4 time in this example.)  


Finally, we run the segment without the metronome.  Keep in mind; a lot of what we teach involves muscle memory.  Repetition is our friend.  


Ultimately, you are using the metronome to DEVELOP good time keeping skills. When you use the metronome at full value all the time, the kids have a tendency to rely on it instead of focusing on their own time keeping skills.



When you discover a section of your show that has a timing problem, use the information I suggested up top to fix it.  When you feel like you have made progress, make sure you add the phrase before the problem and after.  A lot of time tempo issues are created during transition from one phrase to another.  Don’t assume that the problem is fixed because you attacked the “problem”.  I tell my students constantly; mistakes that we clearly hear are usually a byproduct of mistakes we don’t hear.


In conclusion, develop your own order or system to isolate and attack timing issues.  A great byproduct of a system is the breeding of consistency.  When students know what to expect on a consistent basis, they become more aware of how to fix their own problems.  When you have an ensemble that is aware of problem solving skills or process, it only increases the success rate of your group. 


As always, good luck and I hope your season is a success.,

Rich Viano

Rich Viano is the Manager of the Express Music Publishing Percussion Division. He is also the leader of the Village Beatniks at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom and the Percussion Designer/Writer for the Boston Crusaders Drum & Bugle Corps.

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