Indoor percussion ensemble

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An indoor percussion ensemble or indoor drumline consists of the marching percussion (or battery) and front ensemble (pit or frontline) sections of a marching band or drum corps. The only exceptions are in concert divisions (e.g. Percussion Scholastic Concert Open) where the marching line is absent and the ensemble consists entirely of a pit. Indoor percussion marries elements of music performance, marching, and theater; thus, the activity is often referred to as percussion theater. Although most indoor percussion ensembles are affiliated with high schools, there are also many independent groups that draw participants from a large area. Independent groups typically start rehearsing in October, while high school groups typically start after their fall marching band season ends. Because of this, the activity is often called winter percussion or winterline.


Indoor percussion (drumline) began in 1969 at the Dassel-Cokato High School in Cokato, Minnesota, United States, pioneered by the school's band instructor Steve Johnson. Their show At the Dawn of War attracted many national as well as international musicians, specifically percussion experts. The athletic arts were looking for a new intriguing sport that could challenge and excite skilled musicians, so they started creating their own styles all over the world. Since then, marching percussion has advanced and moved into auditoriums and gymnasiums as percussion ensembles looked for ways to maintain their skills during the winter months when performing outdoors on football fields was not practical. Following in the footsteps of indoor guard ensembles, indoor percussion ensembles arrange music and motion appropriate for a more intimate setting. The activity is enjoyed throughout the United States and Japan, as Winter Guard International (WGI) provides many regional and national opportunities to compete. Percussion ensembles first appeared in WGI shows in 1993, and the theatrics, sets, and music selection has advanced throughout the activity's history. There are many organizations unaffiliated with WGI that hold smaller regional shows.

Competitive groups are held to specific times and judged on criteria that change every season as technology and creativity blossom. These ensembles compete, but traditionally, the musical sport is treated as a place to grow together as a community, learn new techniques, and enjoy the work done by peers from across the country and locally.

Competition became international when Color Guard Netherlands (CGN) introduced indoor percussion in Europe. In 2008 CGN hosted the first WGI Regional for percussion outside of North America.


Music is arranged based on original works, as well as recreations of movie themes, popular music, classical music, and more. Instrumentation is anything that would or could be used under the percussion category of any musical group, including: snare drums, tenors, bass drums, cymbals, xylophones, marimbas, vibraphones, tambourines, chimes, timpani, drum kits, and other similar instruments. Electronic instruments such as guitars, bass guitars, theremins, and synthesizers are also allowed. Prerecorded music may sometimes be played such as a short jingle over and over or a cappella singing which is accompanied by the front ensemble. Spoken word via microphone or a recording on a sampler is used on occasion as well. Unconventional instruments such as trash cans, barrels, pipes, brooms, and other things that make percussive sounds are sometimes used.


A notable difference with marching in indoor percussion is the use of toe-down marching instead of roll stepping. Marching within indoor percussion is much more fluid in contrast with corps style marching. Due to the fact that the activity is being performed in a gymnasium means the performers are closer to the audience and requires a more fluid approach to convey the type of energy needed for a more personal performer-crowd interaction. Since each group has their own tarp with a specific design, called a floor, most groups use some type of grid to set their positions, or dots. The marcher is also required to 'dress' to the others, meaning to use the other marchers as a reference point and keep with formation using peripheral vision. Indoor ensembles may even incorporate dance moves into their shows for a more dramatic effect.


Concert ensembles perform using only pit instruments, removing the marching element from the show. A drumset is often incorporated into the pit to make up for the lack of battery instruments. These indoor groups have come under hard fire in the last couple of years as to whether they should stay in the WGI circuit.[citation needed] In The Netherlands not only Concert groups can compete, also standstill drumlines can compete in the Standstill Class.

Set designs[edit]

Depending on the financial situation and the creativity of the design team, sets can be created to help the audience engage the performance to a greater depth. Painted floor coverings and backdrops are used to portray a story as the group performs the music in and around the props. Most upper level groups have large nylon-vinyl tarps that cover an entire gym floor.

Sets must also be designed to function within the space provided. If a performance is in a gym, the materials must be able to enter the gym. If the performance is in a stadium type gym, then doors and openings are easier to access.

There are strict rules on the area sets can be placed on and the time a group is allowed to set them up. Violations of these rules result in score deductions.


At first, indoor percussion ensembles wore traditional marching band uniforms. As shows and concepts increased in detail, uniforms were left behind, and theatrical costumes took their place. Uniforms could be as simple as jeans and T-shirts for a rendition of West Side Story or as complicated as special jumpsuits with chains and feathers to portray a show like Cirque Du Soleil, though many groups use more modern uniforms.

Influence on drum corps[edit]

Some drum corps, most notably[according to whom?] The Cadets, have attempted to make their outdoor field shows more intimate and theatrical like indoor percussion shows. The Cadets have taken ideas pioneered indoors to the field, such as the "Gods of Quads" tenor feature by Ponderosa High School from Colorado, and "drum speak" feature originally developed by the Mission Viejo High School Mission Viejo, California indoor percussion ensemble.

Winter marching ensembles[edit]

A more recent development in the indoor percussion ensemble genre has been the introduction of mixed-group ensembles, combining winter guard with indoor percussion ensembles, sometimes referred to as winter marching ensembles, most notably[according to whom?] the Aimachi Ensemble based in Japan.