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Marching Competition Survival Guide: Your Drumline First Aid Kit

September 6th, 2017 by Kyle Giauque

We’ve all been there before: It’s contest day, you’re in the lot warming up, and disaster strikes! Were you prepared, or did you just have to suffer for the rest of the day?

After having some of these mishaps myself and conversing with a few of my co-workers, I’ve come up with a list of things you and your drumline might want to bring the next time you "take the field for competition."

Heads, sticks, mallets, and a (high-tension) drum key are usually the first things we think to take. That's all great stuff, but a lot of times, you'll probably wish you brought more.

Along with all of that, here's some other stuff you'll want in your bag of tricks.

For the Battery

Tension Rods

Some may call them lugs, but that’s a whole other argument topic. Most rods are pretty universal, but some manufacturers use different thread sizing and lengths for snare, tenor, and bass drums. Plus, most 30” & 32” drums (If you’re carrying one of these bad boys, props to you) usually have slightly longer rods than the rest of the basses. These things snap or strip all the time—it's important to have a few backups for each type of drum.

Lug Casings

Especially for tenor drums and snare drums. Since lug casings for tenors and snares have to hold a much higher tension than most bass drums, they're usually the ones that'll go out on you first, but it never hurts to have a casing or two for the bass drums as well.

Rim Clickers

Not only will these protect your bass hoops from your click-happy bass players, but they can also help you in a pinch with a cracked hoop. Simply attach the clicker over the split of the hoop, and you should be good to go for the rest of the day. I’d much prefer carrying a couple of these over trying to find a place on the bus for a bunch of bass hoops.


If you end up having to replace a lug casing or attach a rim clicker, you might need some tool(s) other than a drum key. There are a few different multi-tools on the market that have a variety of different equipment built in to get the job done, but if you don't have one, I try to at least have a flat head screw driver, a #2 Philips head screw driver, and a set of allen wrenches on hand.

Carrier Parts

There are a lot of parts that make up carriers these days. Most of their biggest issues happen somewhere near where the drum(s) meet the carrier. Whether the carriers have a J-Bar style or a clip/lock-in style of attachment will dictate what parts you might want to bring. If it’s feasible to have both the carrier and drum-side attachments on hand, that’s the most ideal situation, but if not, the carrier-side attachment pieces will usually give you the biggest issues (i.e. J-Bar, J-Bar receiver complete with tightening screw). So if nothing else, I’d at least try to have 1 or 2 of those pieces on hand.

Side-note: Most J-Bars differ from drum type to drum type, but the receiver assemblies are usually the same across-the-board.

Cymbal Straps & Pads

Whether you’re lucky enough to have a cymbal line as part of your battery or you have a pair of cymbals in the front for big impacts, don’t forget to throw in some extra cymbal straps and pads just in case something rips or slips or goes wrong.

For the Front Ensemble

Bar Cord

It will break eventually, so make sure you’re not having to remove your shoelaces on competition day. You might want to keep a pack or two on hand to cover your biggest board. That should cover any issue with your marimba, vibe, or xylophone cord. As a quick fix, you may just want to grab a spool of parachute cord from the military surplus store down the road. This can help out if your gong cord decides to snap on you as well.

Keyboard Springs

This basically goes along with the item above, but I thought I’d make it a separate item as a reminder. Springs that attach to the bar cord to keep it taut are pretty universal, so make sure to have some on-hand to help you get by if you need a replacement.

Cymbal Accessories

Make sure to have extra felts, wing nuts, and sleeves handy. Also check out some quick-release toppers to replace those pesky wingnuts. These always seem to run off somehow. Make sure you know what size wingnut and sleeve you need. Most stands nowadays are 8mm, but you may have some 6mm cymbal arms that have made their way onto your keyboards.

Drum Set Accessories

If you’re cool enough to have a drum set in your front ensemble, you’re going to want to make sure you have some spare parts available. This is especially true for pedal parts like springs and chain assemblies. An extra bass drum beater might not be a bad idea as well. There are also some bass drum head repair kits out there in case you blow out your bass head during the last run-through in the lot.

Air Pump

A lot of companies are starting to use “No-Flat” casters, but there are still a lot of pneumatic casters out there. If you happen to have some of these in your pit, make sure to bring some type of air pump with you.

On-Field Electronics & Sound Re-Enforcement


A lot of cables have a lifetime warranty on them, but one of your cables just got destroyed during unloading, so what good does that do you right now? Try to have a replacement for each cable type (mic and instrument cables, MIDI, USB, FireWire, etc) that you’re using.

Cable Management

You may already have this totally figured out, but sometimes things don’t work the way you had planned. It's a good idea to have some gaff tape and zip ties in case you need to run any cables on-the-fly, especially if it's in a way that is different than you originally configured.


Whether you’re making your own or borrowing, make sure you have some. If you’re running a generator, make sure to bring plenty of gas, and it might not be a bad idea to bring some motor oil as well (though it’s best to just check that regularly). If you’re going to try to find a plug-in at the stadium or gym (whether you planned to or not), make sure you have an extension cable that's long enough. Having a 100 ft. cable should cover you for most scenarios, emergency or otherwise.

Power Supplies

It's good to make sure you have all of the necessary power adapters you need. Laptops and tablets don’t necessarily have to be plugged in to work, but they can run out of juice at the most inconvenient moments, so don’t forget the chargers!

Sampler Backup

You spent weeks, MONTHS, finding the perfect sounds for that 2nd movement, and that's not to mention syncing the entire show to your electronics. Take a moment to back all of that up on an external drive, just in case.

And if all else fails, you'd better pull out the duct tape!

I hope that, if nothing else, this article has reminded you that disaster will strike, and usually it happens at the worst possible moment. Consider yourself warned... and be prepared!

As you approach competition season, be sure to also check out our guide on How to Make a Good First Impression With Your Drumline. Be sure to send us an email or give us a call if you need any help with finding an item for your first aid kit. If you have any other “don't forgets” or quick fixes that have come in handy for you, let us know in the comments below. Maybe it’ll help someone out one day!

Kyle started working here in 2009. He's a Cavaliers quadline alumnus and graduated with a Percussion Performance degree from OU. Nowadays, he gigs around Dallas as a drummer, vocalist, and guitarist.

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