How to Read Pit Music for a Marching Band

Reading pit music for a marching band requires an understanding of music notation as it pertains to percussionists. While note values, tempo indications, and articulations will remain the same, there is a specialized notation to indicate drum music. The percussionists in a marching band are extremely important because they serve to reinforce the tempo given by the conductor. Learning the special symbols that distinguish marching band pit music from normal music notation will give you the tools needed to succeed.

Step 1

Learn about the music staff. The musical staff consists of 5 lines and 4 spaces. In percussion music, this same system of lines and spaces exists in pit music with the exception of bass drum music and other specific instruments that call for a single-line staff. In regular music, a bass or treble clef indicates pitch. Since the majority of pit music does not rely on the pitch, a rectangular block placed at the beginning of the score indicates that there is no definable pitch.

Step 2

Study rhythmic values. Percussionists rely heavily upon rhythmic values to perform their music. A percussionist must know what a whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth and thirty-second note looks and sound like. Each flag on the end of the stem doubles the speed at which an item plays. Since an eighth note has one flag and a sixteenth note has two, the sixteenth note plays twice as fast as the eighth note.

Step 3

Learn about dynamics that musicians use to indicate the level of loudness and softness of a section. Dynamics placed in the music at specific points indicate that a section sounds at a certain dynamic level. The dynamics are ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff. These markings indicate volume from the quietest to the loudest dynamic marking.

Step 4

Learn about instrument placement on the score. The higher the general pitch of the instrument, the higher its placement on the staff. A cymbal is usually the highest-placed instrument followed by high-hats, ride cymbals, toms, snares and kick drum or bass drum. Instead of note-heads, cymbal and hi-hat parts are usually indicated with an X.

Step 5

Learn about specific indications that tell you how to perform a part. In marching band music an "L" or an "R" in the music indicates that you should play that part with a left or right mallet or drumstick. Another commonly used technique is the use of a symbol that looks like an X with a circle around it. When you see this, it indicates a method called cross-sticking that involves playing 2 percussion instruments while the hand cross.


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