What My High School Drum Line Taught Me About Leadership

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As one of only two freshmen who landed a spot on my high school drum line in 2006, I always dreamed of being a captain in my senior year.

And that was pretty likely. With many drum lines there is a hierarchy; It mostly focuses on upper- and lowerclassmen, and it has a lot to do with the instruments themselves. At my school, the cymbals and bass drums are reserved for freshman and sophomore, and tenors are usually played by talented sophomores or juniors. The snare and quads are almost always played by the upperclassman — save for a few very talented individuals, many of whom I had the pleasure of playing alongside.

That’s just how it went. And like the movie “Drumline,” every freshman dreams of making snare their first year. But unlike “Drumline,” none of them ever do.

I started on the bass drum and played it for two years, moving to tenor my junior year and finally onto snare as a captain. In the early years, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to play the snare. But looking back it’s one of my biggest regrets in my time as captain.

The year before I became captain, the drum line changed entirely — the captains introduced all new cadences and accompanying movements. It was an amazing, drastic transformation and probably one of the best things to ever happen to the line.

The only problem was that all of the snare parts I had previously been practicing had now been thrown out.

When my time came to be captain, I took on snare and learned the parts. And I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t a natural either. Because these new parts were so challenging, and because I was still learning them myself, I realize now that I didn’t give the rest of the line the proper care they needed to learn and grow, and that was my biggest mistake.

The rest of the line was also all learning new parts, and my biggest regret is that I moved to snare my senior year instead of staying on tenor where I would be able to teach more and listen better.

What I did was selfish, and I wouldn’t expect my high school self to do anything different. It was a high school mindset. Seniors played snare; Captains played snare. That was what we knew. But now I realize how much better the line would have been if I had stayed on tenor and led the line with everything I had. I would have excelled at being a true leader instead of only half leading while trying to learn new parts at the same time.

And that’s not something I realized while I was on the line. It took some time to see the error of my ways, but I’m a better person and leader for having had that experience.

The most important thing I’ve come to understand is that a leader can stay behind the scenes and still be wildly effective (in fact, that likely happens more than we realize). And leaders don’t necessarily need to follow how it’s been done in the past to get it done right. Because sometimes skewing from the norm is exactly what you need to make things work for everyone.

Ambitious content creator. Part-time music maker.

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