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How to Learn Quads (Marching Tenor Drums)

Learn Quads/Marching Tenor Drums #1: Playing Zones.
So you want to learn to play quads, huh? Marching tenor drums are a SUPER fun instrument, but they’re hard for beginners to learn. We’ve got you covered.

We could never teach you everything about playing quads in a single blog post, but we’ve tried to make this article as helpful as possible.

The real answer to “how can I learn to play marching tenors?” is:

Practice with a good metronome for drumline music.

But, practice what? — Here are some answers.


1. Move laterally (left to right), not front-back

As a tenor player, a central part of your job will be to move around the drums.

When you do that, make sure your arms only move left-to-right (as much as possible). Aim to have zero front-to-back motion.

Learn Quads/Marching Tenor Drums #1: Playing Zones.
Image courtesy of Randall May

This fact surprises many new quad drummers. Many think that, because the drums are arced in a semicircle, their motion should be, too.

It shouldn’t.

Keep your motion lateral, not vertical.


2. Learn to recognize patterns in written music (drum 2-4, and 1-3)

Quad music can be intimidating to first-time readers. Scan your marching percussion music and look for patterns like these:

  • Drum 1 & 2
  • Drum 2 & 4
  • Drum 1 & 3

You’ll see those patterns a lot. If you can recognize them almost by shape, rather than notehead on a staff, it will make your reading faster.


3. Keep your palms down, and the flat back of your hands skyward.

Hands should be parallel to the ground as much as possible. This is known as German Grip.

Rotate your wrist so your palms face towards the floor and use your wrist and forearm to generate the stick action.


4. The beads of your sticks or mallets should strike the drum head about 2-3 inches from the rim.

DO NOT strike the head in the dead center. This is known as a “snenor” note, and it’s only used for an effect.

To get the best possible sound quality out of your tenors/quads, make sure you strike halfway between the rim and the center of the head.


5. Be careful not to overplay.

Marching quad players wear their drums so low on their bodies that they often tend to let their heads lift too high off the drums, which causes them to play too loud, too slow, or both.


6. Attack straight down

The attack of each note (the downward motion to strike the drum) should be straight downward—even when moving between drums.

Moving left-to-right between drums to play “around patterns” should happen on the rebound of each note: strike downward, rebound upward and at an angle toward a new drum, then strike straight downward again.

The motion resembles the shape of a capital letter N.