Drum Corps and Winter Drumline Audition Tips

Welcome back to the Chops blog! A couple of weeks ago Jeff wrote a great guide to the WGI independent drumlines in the area. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out here. Today I’d like to continue on the subject of drumlines by providing a few tips for auditioning.

In my younger days I spent lots of years marching with several drum corps and winter drumlines. Having successfully, and unsuccessfully auditioned for a number of groups, I’d like to offer the following advice:

1. Have reasonable expectations.

It’s critical that you enter an audition with reasonable expectations. While the world class corps and drumlines are the most impressive, only the best and most experienced candidates will make the cut. In other words, audition for a group that you have a reasonable chance of joining.

If you’re still young, and have a limited amount of experience, you should consider auditioning for an “open”, or “A” class group. Membership in these groups is typically not as competitive, and will help a young student develop crucial skills and gain experience. Many members of the best marching organizations have many years of experience, including seasons spent with scholastic, “A”, and “open” class groups.

The first group I auditioned for as a high school student was a “Division I” (now known as “World” class) drum corps. When I didn’t make the cut, I successfully auditioned for a “Division III” (now known as “Open” class) corps. After marching for two seasons with this smaller, younger corps, I was ready to march in a “Division I” corps and “World” class winter drumline.

2. Have a plan.

After you decided on a group, start planning your audition. Obtain the audition materials, figure out your schedule, and make arrangements to attend the audition. The more time you give yourself to prepare, the better chance you have of making the cut.

3. Be prepared.

This is as simple as knowing the audition material perfectly, from memory. The better prepared you are, the better chance you have of making the cut.

In addition to learning the audition material, be sure to study the group and their playing style. Watch video of their latest performances to study the details of how, and what they’re playing.

4. Be flexible.

Be prepared for the audition to include some kind of surprise. It might include learning a new exercise or show music, or a different way of playing the material you already prepared. The staff will throw you some sort of curveball to see how you handle stress, adapt to stress, and how quickly you can learn.

5. Be friendly.

In addition to your playing and marching ability, you will also be evaluated on your social skills. Drum corps and winter drumline seasons are long, and can be stressful, so your ability to get along with others is crucial. Don’t let the competitive nature of an audition affect you negatively: be friendly to everyone, including the other audition candidates.

6. Don’t miss a learning opportunity.

Regardless of whether you make the cut or not, don’t miss the opportunity to learn. Keep your eyes and ears open. The staff and veteran members are experts at marching music, and great examples of what you should emulate.

Many world class groups also offer the ability to attend and participate in auditions without being considered for membership. If you’re young and inexperienced, this is a great way to learn and prepare yourself to audition in the future.

7. Take any opportunity you’re offered.

While it’s disappointing when you’re not offered a spot or membership with your instrument of choice, don’t decline the opportunity to join the group in another role. For instance, if you are offered a spot in the pit even though you auditioned for snare drum, take it! Don’t decline an opportunity to perform and gain experience just because you’re disappointed. The experience and skills you gain will still benefit you, and prepare you to audition for snare in the future.

With this advice in mind, you should be ready to audition for a winter drumline or drum corps. Remember, there’s no shame in failing! Prepare well, be confident, and chances are you will eventually make that group you admire.

Get to work, auditions are rapidly approaching!

When Will I Need to Replace or Retune Bars on My Synthetic Bar Instruments? – FAQs


Welcome back to the Chops blog. Occasionally when a school is faced with needing to replace their synthetic bars, or have them retuned, the question pops up of how long they normally last before needing replaced or retuned. There are many factors that go into answering this question, so I contacted our friends at Pearl/Adams, Yamaha and Majestic to get some input on the topic. There’s no “absolute time scale” for when bars will lose their resonance, or need retuned or replaced, but here are some things to think about to help answer the question.

Environment – Is the instrument used only indoors in a concert setting, or is it exposed to the outside elements for marching band? Damp conditions aren’t good for any instrument, and “baking” in lots of sunlight can cause bars to lose resonance. Be sure to cover the instruments during summer rehearsals when not in use.

Frequency Of Use – Is the instrument used primarily in concert band classes through the year, or is it used more frequently (band class, after school marching band rehearsals, indoor drumline, Saturday rehearsals, summer rehearsals, etc.)? Obviously, the more you play it, the quicker the bars might need retuned or replaced. The warm-ups alone that are played during marching band will exceed the wear an instrument typically gets in concert band during the course of a day.

Mallet Choice – If being used for indoor concert band, be sure to use appropriate mallets that are not too heavy or too hard. These will shorten the life of the bars. It is fairly common to use heavier, and possibly harder, mallets for marching band and indoor drumline. While allowing you to get better projection from your mallet instruments, you could also be sacrificing the life of the bars.

Technique – Are the players using a relaxed, musical approach to the instrument and allowing the bars to vibrate and resonate freely, or are they too aggressive and “pounding” the bars?

Here’s an unofficial guide to how long an instrument could last before needing bars retuned or replaced. Again, this is not an official timeline. Remember, these are percussion instruments and you are hitting them. Many factors can have an affect on the lifespan of the bars, as described above.

Light Use – In the perfect situation of light indoor concert use with appropriate mallets and technique, you might not have any issues for 10 or more years. You might even be lucky enough to get 15-20 years out of your marimba bars before needing any retune/replacements. Xylo bars could wear quicker, and tend to be affected even more by mallet choice and technique.

Moderate Use – In a situation of minimal exposure to the outdoor elements, with appropriate mallets and technique, you could get 5 or more years of use before needing any retune/replacements.

Heavy Use – In heavy use with frequent exposure to outdoor elements, you could possibly require retuning or replacements within 3-5 years.

Remember also, mallet weight and hardness will also play a role in how long your bars will last. A program using their mallet instruments constantly, year-round for summer rehearsals, marching band, indoor drumline and concert band will need to replace or retune bars with much more frequency, especially if using heavy and hard mallets for projection and/or durability.

Thank you to the following for their input on this topic:
Chris Hankes, KHS Majestic/Mapex
Chris Dolson, Yamaha
Pat Saunders, Pearl/Adams

2015 WGI Independent Percussion Auditions

Welcome back to the Chops blog.  Audition season for indoor percussion is upon us and many of you may be considering marching in an Independent percussion ensemble this winter.  Indoor percussion, although a relatively young activity, has become very popular, both locally and nationally, over the past 10-15 years.  Over this time, many “Independent” ensembles have been started to give percussionists the opportunity to continue performing after they graduate from high school.  It also gives those whose high schools do not have a performing ensemble, an opportunity to join and experience the thrill of performing in an indoor percussion ensemble.  For those of you not familiar with this, there are “Scholastic” and “Independent” classifications in indoor percussion.   Here is the class description from the WGI website:
Scholastic – units whose membership comes from the SAME High School or a school that feeds to that particular High School.
Independent – units whose members are not necessarily associated with a particular school.
Scholastic and Independent units are then further divided into classes:

  • A Class – Beginning programs and performers.
  • Open Class – The intermediate developmental level of performers.
  • World Class – The most advanced programs and performers.

Here also is a link to the WGI 2016 Eligibility Rules: https://www.wgi.org/files/2016PercRules.pdf

For performers in and around Indiana, there are a couple ensembles based out of Indiana that you might want to check out, with Legacy Indoor Percussion from Indianapolis, in Independent World Class, and INov8 Percussion from southern Indiana, in Independent Open Class.  But, there are many other ensembles within driving distance that may have spots available for the upcoming season.  It’s best to keep your options open and don’t limit yourself to just one group you’d like to march with.  If you marched in high school, and miss the rush of performing, get out there and audition for some of these groups and find your place to perform again.  You won’t regret it!

Here’s our list of recommended ensembles, with a distance guide to help you find one, two or three places to audition.  We’ve listed them with their home distance from Indianapolis, with approximate mileage and time of travel.  If you’re in northern or southern Indiana, look up some of the ensembles from surrounding states. You might be a lot closer to one than you think!

Recommended Percussion Independent World Ensembles:
Legacy Indoor Percussion (PIW), Indianapolis, IN
Capital City Percussion (PIW), Columbus, OH – 175mi/~2.75hr
Cavaliers Indoor Percussion (PIW), Rosemont, IL – 200mi/~3hr
Tates Creek Indoor (PIW), Lexington, KY – 193mi/~3hr
Gateway Indoor (PIW), St. Louis, MO – 240mi/~3.5hr
Redline (PIW), Canton, MI – 274mi/~4hr
Music City Mystique (PIW), Nashville, TN – 288mi/~4.25hr
Matrix (PIW), Akron, OH – 300mi/~4.5hr
Northcoast Academy (PIW), Saginaw, MI – 328mi/~4.75hr

Recommended Percussion Independent Open Ensembles:
INov8 Percussion (PIO), Floyds Knobs, IN – 115mi/~1.75hr
Matrix Open Percussion (PIO), Columbus, OH – 175mi/~2.75hr
Pioneer Indoor (PIO), Romeoville, IL – 195mi/~3hr
Legends (PIO), Kalamazoo, MI – 244mi/~3.5hr
Freedom Percussion (PIO), St. Louis, MO – 240mi/~3.5hr
Motor City Percussion (PIO), Livonia, MI – 287mi/~4hr
Eastside Fury (PIO), Harrison Township, MI – 310mi/~4.75hr

Percussion Independent A Ensembles:
Shockwave (PIA), Findlay, OH – 200mi/~3hr
Modulation Z (PIA), O Fallon, MO – 240mi/~3.75hr
Lake Effect Percussion (PIA), Gibraltar, MI – 266mi/~4hr
Ferndale Independent Percussion (PIA), Ferndale, MI –297mi/~4.5hr

For more information on ensembles, audition dates, schedues and more visit the WGI website.

If you go to an audition, let us know on our Facebook page! If you wear a Chops Percussion shirt, be sure to post a pic to our Facebook or Twitter page!

What Mallets Does My Student Need? Beginners – FAQs

Welcome back to the Chops blog series on mallet FAQs (frequently asked questions). Today we’re going to answer one of the most common questions we receive: what mallets does my beginning band student need?

When your student enrolls in band as a percussionist, their director will have a requirement for the sticks and mallets they will need. These requirements normally include synthetic mallets for bells and xylophone, drum sticks and a stick bag. They may also include yarn mallets for marimba and vibraphone.

Mallets for bells (also known as glockenspiel) have a birch or rattan shaft and a synthetic head, usually made of plastic or rubber. For beginners, birch shaft mallets would be recommended. Many brands and models are available, but we recommend the following choices. These are also the standard mallets available in beginner stick/mallet prepacks.

Plastic and Rubber Models for Bells and Xylophone:
• Vic Firth M14 (plastic), M5 (rubber)
• Innovative Percussion F12 (plastic), F8 (rubber)
• Mike Balter BB11 (plastic), BB8 (rubber)
• Pro-Mark DFP640 (plastic), DFP230 (rubber)


Mallets for marimba and vibraphone have a birch or rattan shaft and a yarn or cord head. In addition to the marimba and vibraphone, these mallets can be used on other instruments such as suspended cymbals. Again, many brands and models are available, but we recommend the following yarn models for beginners.

Yarn Models for Marimba and Vibes:
• Vic Firth M2, M3
• Innovative Percussion F1.5, F2
• Mike Balter BB2, BB22
• Pro-Mark DFP730


In addition to mallets, your student’s director will require a set of drum sticks. Our most popular choices for beginners include:

• Innovative Percussion Lalo Davilla
• Vic Firth SD1
• Pro-Mark SD1

Those models are pictured here.


Mallet and stick choices are a matter of personal choice, and every director will have a different brand and model preference. Always check with them first before making a purchase. Please contact us for our recommendations or assistance finding mallets.

As your student progresses from a beginner to an intermediate and advanced percussionist their mallet collection should grow as well. Stay tuned, next time we’ll be discussing the mallets an intermediate percussionist should have.

September News at Chops

If you aren’t signed up for our Chops Transmission emails, you may be missing out on the most update happenings around the store.  Below is the September edition of the transmission.  If you don’t receive our emails, you can sign up here!

Demo Gear/Clearance Items – September Updates

Demo Gear at Chops Percusssion

September brings a couple of new items to the list, as well as a couple of items with lower prices. There are some fantastic deals on this list. Make sure you check it out ASAP. First-come, first-served!

View the entire list on our website.

Marching Season Is Here

ISSMA State Marching Finals


Fall is here and it’s already week 2 of marching season! Head on over to indianamarching.com to see results from last week and to pick out which show you’re going to see this week!


College Marching Band Preview

College Marching Preview

If you are a fan of the marching arts, it’s hard to beat Indiana. Between drum corps during the summer, marching band in the fall, and winter guard and percussion during the winter and spring, there’s rarely a break between marching seasons. However, it’s easy to forget that there are many great college marching bands in the state. Read more >>

Read the entire article on our blog.

Kenny Aronoff In Indy at the JCC

Kenny Aronoff in Indy

There will be 2 opportunities to see a legend at the Jewish Community Center here in Indy. On Wednesday , October 28th, Kenny Aronoff will be performing a master class from 4-5pm and appearing that evening as a speaker in a session about his career at 7:30pm.

Head on over to the JCC website for more information.