Underrated and Underappreciated Part II: Choosing Notes for the Mid-Section

As discussed in last week's post "The Importance of the Mid-Section", tenor and bass drums are the vital bridge between the melody of the pipe section and the rhythm of the snare section.  It is of utmost importance that note choices for tenors make musical sense in order to provide the most effective harmonic support to the pipes.  So, where do you start?  What notes do you choose?  How many notes should you choose?  Will the chosen notes work with the drums you have??  There are SO many questions!  To make things easier, let's just start with the first question: "What notes should you choose for your tenor drums?" Before answering this question it is important to know two things:
  • How many tenor drums do you have?
  • What are the sizes of each drum? (measurements should be taken across the diameter of the drum from one inside edge of the rim to the other)
Once you know the number of drums at your disposal and the size of each one you are ready to start figuring out your notes.  The most common sizes for tenor drums are 14", 16", 18" and 20".  Of these, the 16" tenor is the most popular due to its versatility and projection (its ability to be heard within the band).  Most bands that own tenor drums are guaranteed to have at least one 16" drum in their inventory.

In the chart below, note the diameter of each drum and the pitches that lie within its effective tuning range.  Effective tuning range is a complicated way of saying "notes that sound good on the drum".  Most drums are purported to have an effective tuning range between the musical intervals of a third and a fourth but in reality every drum is slightly different. Aside from the diameter of the drum, there are several other factors that influence the range of a tenor including shell depth, shell material (the type of wood used) and the thickness of the drum heads. In my experience, however, this chart works very well as a starting point.




Now that you know what pitches are available to be played on your drums you must decide which of those notes to choose.  In the chart below you will find note choice suggestions for up to five tenors.  These note choices are common sense choices and will provide you with the greatest number of opportunities to provide the correct harmonic support to the pipes.




Next week in part three we'll learn about the different tonalities of pipe tunes and how the tenor notes you've chosen can be used most effectively within a band setting.  Until then, happy tenor drumming!

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