Role and Responsibilities of the Drum Major: by Rick Wilson

The drum major is the leader of the marching band during rehearsals and in performance. His/her job is to carry-out the instructions of the band director and other instructional staff regarding what needs to be done with the band.

Some examples of what the drum major does include:

•Getting the band out to the rehearsal area, into the proper formation and ready to begin rehearsal.
• Taking the band through warm-up exercises
• Leading the band through practice runs
• Helping rehearsals run smoothly and productively
• Leading the band in performance
• Adding to the overall showmanship of the band during performance with their own performance as the drum major
• Setting the standard for discipline, bearing, and conduct for the members of the band to follow
• Assisting in teaching marching to other members of the band
• Acting as the band’s representative at award ceremonies and special functions

Role and Responsibilities of the Assistant Drum Major:

The assistant drum major is the next-in-command behind the drum major. He/she assumes the drum major role whenever the drum major is not present or is unable to perform. He/she must be able to march as a regular member of the band, as well as step into the drum major’s job at a moment’s notice. He/she may also be asked to help during rehearsals.

Characteristics of a Successful Drum Major

Effective drum majors have a number of things in common:

• They have a good understanding of music
• They are skilled as a field conductor
• They have developed a high level of skill with a drum major baton or mace
• They have exceptional marching technique
• Their vocal commands are loud and easily understood
• They are highly responsible and reliable
• They are dedicated to having the band succeed
• They work well with both the band director and the membership of the band
• They know how to teach and assist other members of the band
• They have the ability to inspire the band in performance

Typical Term of Office

Both the drum major and assistant drum major are selected for one year. They must tryout and earn their positions each year.


If the director feels that any drum major is not performing their job at the level required for the best interests of the band, they may be pulled from the job and replaced by the assistant drum major. A new assistant is then selected.

Selecting the Drum Major

Any member of the band may tryout to become the drum major for the following year. Try-outs are held on a pre-announced date and all drum major candidates are evaluated by a qualified panel selected by the band director.

The panel may select one person to be the drum major for all performances, or may select one drum major for parade performances and another for field performances.

There are four sections in the tryout (with an optional 5th section). Each section is designed to show how well a student can perform the different roles of the drum major.

1. The Parade Section

The purpose of this section is to see how well a student can perform in a band review or parade situation. This trial is held in an area 250 – 300 feet long. It place of the full band, a recording is used.

At least two-weeks prior to the tryout, the director will give all drum major candidates a cassette recording of a march. Each student then creates their own routine.

Each candidate starts on the “Competition Begins” line. They call the band to attention. Next, they perform an introductory routine and, following that, give the command to start the band. The march is then played and the student steps-off down the route.

About 150 feet later is the “Salute Line” where candidates salute as part of their routine. At the end of the competition area, the student gives a mark-time/halt command. They then dismiss the band.

Drum major candidates are evaluated on their posture, bearing, twirling ability, clarity of beat, confidence, originality and ability to stay in step with the music.

2. The Field Section

The purpose of this section is to see how well a student can conduct a band in a field show situation. This section is held in a open area with a drum major’s podium. If the full band isn’t available during the tryout, a recording is used.

At least two weeks prior to the tryout, the director will give all drum major candidates a cassette recording of the music that has been selected for the tryout. Each student then creates his/her own routine.

Each candidate can start on the field or on the podium. He/she calls the band to attention, then executes a series of commands to get the band ready for performance.

As the music plays, the drum major candidate conducts as if they had a full band in front of them. They should make their performance as realistic as possible. After the music ends, the candidate turns and does an acknowledgement salute to the audience.

Candidates are evaluated on their musicality, clarity of beat, confidence, command presence and the loudness of their commands.

3. The Teaching Section

The purpose of this section is to see how well a candidate can teach and work with other members of the band. A group of at least six student volunteers are needed to act as a small band for the candidates to teach.

During this section the other candidates are kept isolated until they too have completed the teaching section of the tryout. Part of this tryout section is to see how well each person “thinks on their feet.” If candidates are allowed to watch other students teach before them, they have the advantage of “learning from other’s mistakes.”

This section is done in an open area. The director selects a simple command or sequence of commands for the candidates to teach the group. All candidates should be given the same command or series of commands to teach. Each person then instructs the group to the best of their ability.
Students are evaluated on their confidence, clarity of instruction and ability to work with the group.

4. The Interview

The purpose of the interview is to determine the skills, expertise and attitudes each contestant has for performing as the band’s leader.

The interview is done privately with each student and the selection committee. The same questions are asked of all the drum major candidates to assure that they are all being evaluated using the same criteria.

Candidates are evaluated on their leadership potential, their ability to handle the pressures of the job and their ability to work with both the instructional staff and the band.

5. Advisory Band Vote (optional)

To provide the selection committee with feedback on the student’s preferences, a vote can be taken. Students are asked to list their first choice for drum major first, their second choice second, etc. This indicates how the students feel the drum major candidates should be ranked.

This vote is strictly advisory. Since the selection committee often has to decide based on criteria that the full band may not know (for example, what was said in the private interview), the result of the vote is for the information of the committee only.