Drum major (military)

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A drum major is the individual who leads a military band or a field unit (corps of drums, fanfare band, pipe band or drum and bugle corps). It is an appointment, not a military rank.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the British Army and Royal Marines Band Service, a drum major holds the rank of sergeant, staff sergeant/colour sergeant, or warrant officer class 2. The Corps Drum Major RM and the Senior Drum Major Army hold the rank of warrant officer class 1. Royal Marines drum majors are now always drawn from the buglers branch and always started their careers as a side drummer (titled "bugler" in the Royal Marines, as RM drummers are taught to play the bugle and herald trumpets as well as the drums) and are required to have passed a number of courses in music, military skills, and leadership throughout their military careers before being considered for an appointment as a drum major. Drum majors in Army regimental corps of drums are always drummers, but drum majors in the Corps of Army Music are not required to be, the appointment being held by any suitably qualified musician (including a drummer). Royal Air Force drum majors hold the rank of sergeant, chief technician, or flight sergeant (with the Senior Drum Major RAF being a warrant officer), and are not required to be drummers.

The insignia of appointment is four point-up chevrons worn on a wrist-strap whilst in shirt-sleeve order, or four large point-up chevrons worn on the uniform sleeve, surmounted by a drum. In the British Army, staff sergeants/colour sergeants have a small crown above the drum, whilst warrant officers class 2 have a larger crown and warrant officers class 1 wear the royal arms as usual. Since the drum major is part of the battalion staff, he wears a crimson sash instead of scarlet, and dresses as a warrant officer regardless of his rank. He is always referred to and addressed as "Drum Major" or "Sir" and not by his rank. In the RAF, a chief technician wears a four-bladed propeller above the drum, a flight sergeant wears a crown, and a warrant officer wears the royal arms.[1] Royal Marines drum majors do not wear any additional badges to indicate specific rank.[2]

Other countries[edit]

The Australian Army traditionally styles the appointments along the same lines as the British Army. The drum major is usually an experienced member of the Australian Army Band Corps, although drum majors in regimental pipes and drums are typically members of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps. Drum majors generally have the rank of a senior NCO. However, capability is the main qualification for appointment: the most senior or highest-ranked member of the unit is not always the drum major.

The United States Armed Forces and Canadian Forces also do not require the drum major to be a drummer.

In the Russian Armed Forces, drum majors are commissioned officers, since they also serve as band leaders and conductors. They are not required to be drummers, but must have long experience as a military bandsman.


The position of drum major originated in England with the corps of drums in 1650.[citation needed] Military groups performed mostly duty calls and battle signals during that period, and a fife and drum corps, directed by the drum major, would execute short pieces to communicate to field units. With the arrival of military concert bands and pipe bands around the 18th century, the position of the drum major was adapted to those ensembles.

Traditionally, a military drum major was responsible for:

  • Defending the drummers and bandsmen (The drums and bugles were communication devices)
  • Military discipline of all corps of drums members
  • Overall standards of dress and deportment of the corps of drums
  • Corps of drums administrative work
  • Maintain the corps of drums' standard of military drill, and choreograph marching movements

The drum major was also given duties in the battalion at several points in history, which included the administering of military justice (lashing)[citation needed], to any member of the battalion, and collecting the battalion's post.

In addition to the duties above, The British Army also included a royal appointment of Drum Major General, whose duties included inspecting all other field music as well as (per The Drummer's Handbook) granting drummers licences, without which one would not be recognised as a drummer. This position was discontinued in the 18th century.


United Kingdom
Drum Major and Band of the Royal Marines 
Drum Major and Band, Guards Division 
Drum Major, Guards Division (in State Livery) 
Line Infantry Drum Major, Corps of Drums and Band (Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment) 
Drum Major and Band, Royal Regiment of Scotland 
Drum Major, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (Minden Band of the Queen's Division
Drum Major, Royal Air Force