One of the very earliest skills a marching percussionist needs to master is his or her feet.
It’s impossible to be successful if your feet are not able to consistently stay in time. Without this skill you really cannot internalize the pulse and tempo, and you are going to struggle to play in time and to play clean with the percussionists around you.
Besides that—it’s a dead giveaway. Regardless of whether or not Aunt Sue or Uncle Jim can tell if your drumline is playing clean, they can definitely tell when you are out of step!
Amp the Beat
Hopefully your drumline practices regularly— especially during the early months of the season—with an amplified metronome. Don’t just view the metronome as a tool for playing in time. See it as a tool to keep your feet moving with the beat.
If you struggle, put more energy into focusing on how your feet align with the click of the metronome. It’s literally an open book test—the answer to where your feet should fall is pulsing through that metronome.
Practice ‘Til It Clicks
The interesting thing about keeping your feet in time is that it is a skill that students tend to either “get” or “not get.” Sometimes it takes students a week of their freshmen year. Other times it takes four seasons. Everyone’s ability to naturally feel pulse and align their feet is different.
If you put energy and focus into mastering your foot movement, there will come a day where suddenly it clicks. Yes, you can always improve at it, but unlike your drumming chops that may slowly develop over a decade, the ability to move your feet can suddenly click one day and never leave you. So it is worth the upfront investment to get it right.
Download More Exercises
Good at marking time to 8-on-a-hand and need some exercises to build your feet skills? I recommend downloading the 4-2-1 sixteenth note grid.
About the Author
Lane Armey is the battery percussion coordinator for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. During the past 10 years, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University and the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.