USSBA Indoor Percussion: Something old, something new

Rich Hammond on sheets, scoring and a new format

With the Zildjian Indoor Percussion Series Presented by the USSBA season now underway, we thought it the ideal time to sit down with Rich Hammond, percussion education director, to talk about the unique approach the USSBA has to the activity. 

USSBA:  Rich, welcome to the world of USSBA Indoor.  You’ve taken on quite a task of creating an entirely new system for the percussion, would you mind taking us through a bit of the basics? 

RAH:  Sure.  To begin we have a three-judge system.  Three captions are judged as part of the system:  Performance Analysis, Ensemble Performance and Effect.

USSBA:  This is a little different from other judging systems. 

RAH:  You’re right, we do not have a specific visual judge.  We have made the decision that having three percussion judges provides more specific feedback for the drummers and staff that participate in the USSBA. 

USSBA:  This works better with the growing contingent of standstill and concert percussion ensemble.

RAH:  You are correct.  We are able to provide a full three percussionists to evaluate the non-marching ensembles.  More feedback is always a good thing.

USSBA:  So within the three captions, the system has two sub-captions on each sheet?

RAH:  Yes, we break it down easily to “What” and “How.”  We assign 20/10 points for “what” which is basically “Composition.”  Further, we assign 30/20/10 points for how best explained as “Excellence.”

USSBA:  We hear a lot that the system is built to reward the achievement of the students first.  How is that best explained? 

RAH:  As part of the judging process, the dialog will be about the “What & the How” constantly connecting the two.  If there is any preference, we would lean more to how.  In the USSBA we will put more weight into the student’s performance.  Driving a total vision that is rooted in the fundamental educational principals asked for by the band directors of the USSBA

USSBA:  What is new and what is old within the USSBA system? 

RAH:   First, let’s start with what is old – a basic break down of the Effect and Analysis captions.  It might be easier to show this to you in a chart format: 

  • Percussion Effect
    • Breaks down into 2 boxes
    • Overall Effect (200 points)
      • Credit the effectiveness of the entertainment value, coordination of all elements to create effect, communication of music, movement and programmatic flow.  Also credit the effectiveness and creativity of the presentation. 
    • Ensemble Effectiveness (200 points)
      • Reward the performers for their ability to bring the show to life through the successful demonstration of performance skills, with emphasis on a cohesive approach to musicality, control and quality of sound. 
  • Performance Analysis
    •   Breaks down into 2 Boxes
    • COMPOSITION (200 points)
      • The range and depth of construction of the written product, use of individual, section and full the ensemble to expand the range of composition.  
    • Excellence (200)
      • Recognize & credit the achievement of all qualities achieved by the performer.


RAH:  Both of the “OLD” & “NEW” sheets have been broken down to push the concept of ability and skill.  Ability is the actual facility to be able to do the action.  Skill is the ability to do something well.  Training of the ability is needed to do it well. 

USSBA:  Sounds pretty simple and clear cut.  So what is the new caption for the USSBA in 2011?

RAH:  The new sheet for the season is Ensemble Percussion.  When I try and tell this story I ask readers to put your Percussion Ensemble teaching shoes on, as if you are running your own percussion ensemble rehearsal.

Many times you don’t have a visual instructor with the percussion directors and instructors are playing that roll of visual - helping to define and maximize the ensembles visual performance opportunities to maximize musical intent and clarity are your priorities.  “If we don’t move well, we won’t play well.” 

USSBA:  If I understand this right, the students overall performance affects excellence and this includes the visual component.   

RAH:  You’re right.  So we move on to the musical regard which is the clarity of intent, vertical alignment and balance are the things that you hone into to help craft the performance side of the  “Big Picture.” In your rehearsal you are defining dynamics, listening points and musical importance to bring the written score to life.  All things from a rehearsal vantage point are executed from afar. With that being said, as drummers, oops… percussionists (don’t want to offend); it is innate in us to focus on the details.  And the skills to hear alignment issues are keen with all of you.  We ask the EP judge to think this way.    

USSBA:  This, then, is the cornerstone to how you can look at the caption and strike some balance on how it will be adjudicated?  

RAH:  We are asking the judge to dig deep in the Ensembles performance, the issues they are delving into are far more global then the PA sheet. The caption is “nuts and bolts” but on the ensemble scale.  It does not have the feel of an effect sheet.  This leaves the PA judge to consider the individual and section.   

USSBA:  If a program has a rich visual program will it be credited in this system? 

RAH: Yes, absolutely, the weight of the score will not be balanced in the area of construction – but it certainly is and will be considered in the EFFECT caption.  You will always be judged on the “what and how, just more balanced to the how.   

USSBA:  Construction and depth of construction is looked at and will be rewarded?

RAH:  Yes, just not weighted as an equal in comparison to the Excellence Box on all sheets.

USSBA:  We looked in depth at the Analysis and Effect sheets, can you take us through the new Ensemble sheet?

RAH: I’m happy to.  Once again it might be easier to look at this as a chart, first the Percussion sub-caption and second the Visual sub-caption

Percussion Ensemble: (100 points)

Recognize and credit the achievement of all qualities achieved by the Ensemble

  • Achievement of a holistic approach to intent

-          Clarity of intent. 

  • Phrasing
  • Nuance
  • Expression
  • Achievement of Ensemble Clarity

-          Composition

  • Orchestration allows for equal contribution

-          Vertical Alignment

  • Is the vertical role of each section clear?
  • Is staging a catalyst to apparent issues

-          Balance

  • Should be emphasized after alignment
  • Battery percussion (whenever possible) should be with-in the texture of the front ensemble.
  • Is staging maximizing or detracting from balance?

Visual Ensemble: (100 points)

Reward the performers for their technical achievement.  Evaluate the overall look of the unit with regard to clarity. 

  • Achievement of spacing
  • Achievement of line
  • Achievement of cover
  • Achievement of FORM
  • Adherence to style of movement
  • Coordination of hands and feet through all sections
  • Training, including concentration, stamina and recovery

USSBA:  Can you give us some examples, specifically about Balance and Blend in simple terms?

RAH:  Sure, we’d be asking questions like: “Is the battery in balance with the melodic content? “   If a group is presenting a melodic statement, it rules over everything.  The marching section should be clear secondary thought, thus playing with in the blend of the musical moment.  Or, if it’s on the stage and being played, it’s meant to be heard.  Or why else do it.  Is its role clearly defined?

More samples are like: are the snares over playing the quads in a unison phrase?  And if so, do the two make music together?

Can you hear the all the elements when pressing both ends of the unit’s dynamics spectrum?

Does staging or the student’s performance help enhance those qualities?  Does the staging or the student’s performance help take away from those qualities? 

USSBA:  Those questions talk a lot about the percussion side of the evaluation. What about Vertical Alignment? 

RAH:  Some times, especially because we are in a gym, we can’t get to this point because the balances in the gym make this thought unreadable.  

We review this with the judges asking them to consider evaluating a positive into a negative, helping to make this an important point.  Units are responsible for that gym and that single performance. The "we sound much better in our schools gym” can’t influence instructors or judges. 

USSBA:  Can you speak to construction?

RAH:  Yes. We tell judges to key in on this when you think design elements may not be maximizing performance opportunity for the students.  A typical comment might be: “That snare moment may have clarity issues because of the transitional moment leading up to their entrance."  

Construction comments come from all three sheets, but via the criteria on the front of the sheets.   We are not asking judges to be as influenced by it as much as other systems. This arrangement of criteria helps keep the student performance our #1 priority.   

USSBA: What is the bottom line on the USSBA approach to adjudication? 

RAH:  As I said before, the emphasis is always placed on the SUCCESS OF THE PERFORMER, not necessarily the abundance of skill produced or the design of the program.  We would caution as well, that directors and instructors should not draw a direct comparison to a unit’s score in the USSBA to the same unit’s score in other circuits.   

USSBA:  Thanks Rich for this in depth review of the all-new USSBA Indoor Percussion approach it sounds like you’ve done a great job in bringing the USSBA philosophy from the fall and the winter guard portion of activities and engrained it in percussion beginning this year.

RAH:  Thanks.  That was our hope.   Just want to let everyone know that if they ever have any questions regarding the new Indoor sheets and criteria, they can reach me anytime at

USSBA:  Thanks again Rich – we look forward to a fantastic 2011 season!


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