Bass drums used by modern ensembles come in a variety of sizes, with a 14-inch (360 mm) "universal" depth, and diameter measured in 2-inch (51 mm) increments from 14 to 36 inches (910 mm). The heads of these drums are usually made of a smooth white PET film, which gives a tonality that is mid-way between clear and coated heads. Unlike tenors and snares, bass drums are mounted so that the cylindrical shell of the drum is mounted on the player's harness and the two drum heads of the drum face out sideways. The player can then play on both heads, one arm for a drum head on either side. Each drummer plays and carries one drum, and a line is created by having several people carry different-sized drums. Such drums are called tonal bass drums. The lowest drum in a line, however, is often tuned to have a low "thump" like a traditional bass drum rather than a tone. The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps were the first marching unit to use and standardize tonal bass drum tuning. Many groups try to use the largest size bass drum that is comfortable for the physically largest bass drummer to carry as the bottom bass drum, as larger people are generally better able to carry a bigger drum for long periods of time.
In corps-style bands, each bass drummer only plays one segment of the entire bass drum part, unlike the snares and tenors. This is known as a split part. A unison refers to when all or some bass drummers play together at the same time. Lines can vary in size from as few as 3 players in small high schools to as many as 9 in very large college marching bands. A line of 5 (with individual drum sizes ranging from 18" to 32") is the most common in a drum corps. Some traditional groups, such as some show-style marching bands from historically black colleges and universities continue to use a non-tonal bass line, where each drum is roughly the same size and each drummer plays the same part.
Pipe bands and some traditional groups use a single bass drummer, who typically carries the pulse of the group. The bass drums used by pipe bands have seen an increase in size and more of a focus on tone in recent times. Typical sizes range from 12 to 18 inches (460 mm) deep by 28 inches (710 mm) in diameter. The goal is to produced a subtle deep tone which is usually in tune with the drones of the bagpipe. Various muffling techniques (sometimes referred to as "treatments") can be used on bass drums to achieve a desired sound. The most common of these involve applying foam weatherstripping, either on the head directly or on the shell of the drum. Some drumhead manufacturers make heads that are "pre-muffled." These heads usually have separate pieces of PET film or other material which are set into the head's flesh hoop and touch the head to control overtones.
Read more about this topic: Marching Percussion
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