top of page



norfolk state spartan legion - 2.jpg

Norfolk State University, "Spartan Legion" Drumline

aka "Funk Squad"


Historically Black Colleges and Universities also referred to as HBCU's are schools that were initially created for the purpose of educating African-Americans, who at the time could not attend other institutions due to segregation.

The first HBCU founded was the Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1837, and the first HBCU to establish a musical program was Tuskeegee University, formally known as Tuskeegee Normal School in 1890.

To date, there are currently 104 active HBCU's within the United States that provide education to people of all races, backgrounds, and genders. These institutions are comprised of both Public & Private establishments, with many being well-known for a strong history of graduates becoming prominent business-people, politicians, musicians, scientists, and beyond.

While the tuning of drums and technical demand has evolved beyond simply playing simple backing beats for the band, well-seasoned groups find the balance between pushing the musical abilities of performers, and keeping a steady groove/feel for the audience.

It is common to find most groups playing the PAS Standard 40 Rudiments, in addition to modern hybrid rudiments both on and of the field whether they are with or without their wind sections.

For most HBCU groups, the choice of equipment varies but typically includes snares, multi-tenors, bass drums, cymbals, and single-tenors. The use of each drum varies by each groups style, but it is still common for the primary focus being functioning as a drumset while with the band, while still being able to play technically demanding material during section only performances.

famu snareline.JPG

Florida A&M University, The Marching "100" Drumline


Marching Snare Drum - Used as a rhythmic and tempo source, while providing context, texture, and a strong reference point.

Multi-Tenor Drum - Used a melodic color within music, and filling in the mid to high range of the composition spectrum.

Marching Bass Drum - Used as a source of strong pulse and bassline, with the ability to add melodic color and density to music. Fills in the mid-low to low range of the composition spectrum.

Marching Tenor Drum - Used as an additional color, with the ability to be an extension of multi-tenors, while also being independent and providing context and a mid-voice between snares and bass drums. Fills in between the mid to low range of the composition spectrum.

Marching Cymbals - Used as a complex music color by providing a metallic texture to music. When played properly, it has the ability to blend perfectly within the full drumline, while also cutting through when needed.

The HBCU Drumline culture has been evolving over the decades, and even with it's a strong base from its growth in the mid-1900s, it rose to even greater prominence with the film "Drumline" giving a wider-range of audiences a small dose of what HBCU marching bands and drumline performances are like. Although there are many factors that the film presented in error due to the "Hollywood" treatment, the true depth and culture of HBCU drumlines can't be truly understood without experiencing it live, or participating.

With a lot of tradition, both from a military and college-life aspect playing major roles in the culture, HBCU drumlines can be distinguished into 2 categories of style, while still maintaining the overall culture and purpose of existence. Most groups can be divided primarily into Modern and Traditional styles which are influenced by their level of commitment to their origins and background, as well as their playing, sound, and overall style.

Virginia State University, "Trojan Explosion" Drumline

At the forefront of innovation and bringing new elements to the culture is the Modern HBCU style which includes schools such as Norfolk State, North Carolina A&T, Bethune Cookman University, and Virginia State University. Schools such as these have a rich history of tradition that can still be found in their repertoire, visual styles, and even the alumni that still participate in certain events such as homecomings.

What defines them as modern is their evolution of sound, visuals, equipment choices, and the way their style has evolved to date. While many schools developed a high level of musicianship and technical abilities, their overall sound and style represent their core tradition and how they are categorized between Modern and Traditional.

Modern groups tend to play on high-tensioned drums that have moved beyond the standard sound of the mid-1900s where a drumset sound and feel was desired to match the bands repertoire and purpose at performances.

North Carolina A&T, "Cold Steel" Drumline

Modern groups have started to make the transition to high-tension model snare drums, while some traditional groups utilize standard tension models that stay true to their original ideal sound. The choice of heads also varies from kevlar-based heads to mylar heads depending on the desired sound.

Multi-Tenors are mostly set up in Quad, Quint, and Sextuplet configurations, with tuning/playing styles varying from group to group. Most groups use clear heads, with some choosing color heads for visual purposes as well.

Single-Tenors vary between the "chest-tenor" setup, and "leg-tenor" setup. Chest tenors are worn similar to a marching bass drum, and allow the player to get a more balanced sound by playing both sides of the drum which are now tuned to match the other. Leg tenors are worn like a snare or field drum, and use a batter + resonant head system, meaning only the top head is played, while the bottom head is tuned accordingly to provide a clear and focused tone that is in tune with the drum itself. (In some cases, leg tenors may only have a top head for a different tonal and projection purpose)

Bass drums for groups can be set up in either a tonal system (different pitches for each drum) or used in a single pitch system with multiple players (each drum is tuned the same). While still providing major impact within musical settings, modern marching bass drums provide tonal motion and musicality to drum cadences and other songs.

Cymbals are one of the most important parts of a HBCU drumline as they provide the unique texture that can create the unique vibe that groups are looking for the audience to feel. They can best be thought of as playing multiple roles because they are multi-functional and can keep time, add impact, add color, and visual using their instruments. Most cymbal lines embrace and have a strong culture of high energy cymbal choreography and tricks that can take years to master. Most groups use anywhere from 16" to 20" pairs, in a variety of formats and weights.

Just as most colleges & universities offer fraternal organizations, many HBCU's offer a diverse and unique culture as well which may include musical fraternities such as Kappa Kappa Psi, and Phi Mu Alpha. A major part of the HBCU experience is directly associated with college activities such as step-shows, campus events, fraternal organization events, and community outreach. Many HBCU's maintain their strong history and traditions thru alumni and bonds that are created by participating in various events such as homecoming, where many former members can return and share their history, perform with their group, and get a chance to meet new members and continue to help pass along traditions while networking.

Jackson State University "War & Thunder" Drumline x  Alcorn State University Drumline


HBCU Modern culture

HBCU Marching Percussion

HBCU Marching Percussion

HBCU Marching Percussion
NCAT- Cold Steel Drummers "ART" 2020

NCAT- Cold Steel Drummers "ART" 2020

Play Video
[Must See🔥] Million Dollar Funk Squad Performance 2019 Band Brawl

[Must See🔥] Million Dollar Funk Squad Performance 2019 Band Brawl

Play Video
VSU Drumline Multi-Camera @ 2019 "I-95 BOTB

VSU Drumline Multi-Camera @ 2019 "I-95 BOTB

Play Video

HBCU Traditional culture