Getting Your Drum Corps on the Same Page... Literally!

In my early years writing drum scores I used loose leaf paper, a pencil and (most importantly) a good eraser. There were virtually no music notation programs available and those that did exist could not handle pipe band drumming notation. Scores were distributed by making photocopies (as long as you knew someone that had access to a copier) and changes to scores required whiteout and a pen. Thankfully things have changed over the last few decades and music notation software is readily available. The power of these programs allows composers access to features that make the composition and distribution of drum scores much easier.

The software I use to compose and transcribe drum scores is called "Sibelius". Sibelius, and it's main competitor "Finale" are the two most powerful score writing programs on the market today. As with many big feature-rich programs, the learning curve for Sibelius was very steep and it took me three years of using the program to learn its most important feature: I could finally get my entire drum corps on the same page--literally! Because Sibelius is a traditional notation program used for orchestral and wind ensemble scoring, it has the ability to display multiple staves (lines of music) on the same page. This feature allows me to compose snare, tenor and bass parts simultaneously (as in the example below) and then print out separate parts for each section of the corps later on. 

In any musical score, instruments with the highest note ranges are assigned to the top of the score and those with the lowest ranges are assigned to the bottom. For a multi-stave pipe band drum score put your snare on top, tenor in the middle and bass on the bottom. Because snare and bass drums always play the same note it is only necessary to use a single line staff (that will also save room on your page). Tenors must be assigned a full staff, however, because they play several different pitches.

Another advantage of using multi-staff notation programs concerns tenor voicing. As part of my own process I begin the year composing for tenors unvoiced as in the example below. Each tenor drummer is responsible for learning the rhythm of the entire tenor part before notes are given out. Because the tenor drummers play both rhythm and melody, it is important to first figure out if their parts complement the snare scores and rhythm of the pipe tune. When snare, tenor and bass parts are on the same score it is very easy to see how they go together rhythmically.

Once I'm convinced that the tenor scores mesh well with the snares and pipes I begin the task of assigning specific notes to support the pipe melody. At that point, because the notes are already entered into Sibelius, it is a simple case of moving them up and down on the staff to complete the voicing process. Once the voicing is determined it literally takes me less than a minute per line to change it. Here's the result:

There are many software platforms designed specifically for pipe band snare drummers--some are even available for free. I encourage you to investigate and do your own research as to which program works best for you and your drum corps. When looking for a program that suits you best, always follow these guidelines:
  1. Download and work with the free trial first
  2. Read the help files and feature sets to discover the program's benefits and limitations
  3. If you like the software please purchase it to support the creators, or if the program is free, consider a donation

Here's a short list of some of the more well-known software programs* designed specifically for pipe band drumming notation. Be aware that some of these programs may not support multi-stave scoring.
In addition, many traditional software notation programs* exist that can be adapted to notate pipe band drum scores. These programs also include multi-staff capability allowing you to include all three sections of your corps on one score. Here's a couple of free ones to try.
* does not officially endorse any music notation software.

As always, if you have any questions or something to add please let me know by commenting below or sending me an email at I'd be very interested to know which programs work for you or if there are any others out there that I may have missed. Happy drumming!



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