Motion Capture Studies for Snare Drumming Technique and Pedagogy

Introduction to Motion Capture Studies

What is motion capture research for Snare Drumming

The research for motion capture studies for snare drum were conducted at the University of Texas at Austin in the Primate Locomotion Lab in the Anthropology department. As the primary investigator, I adopted the motion capture set-up from Dr. Liza Shapiro; who developed techniques for data capture and data analysis during her career as a researcher. 

Published papers on the data:

Analysis of a Buzz Stroke

Snare Drumming Preliminary Results

The topic studied during this experiment, rudimentary snare drumming, has a long history from the Swiss in the 16th century to the Civil War of America in the 1800's (1). Similarly, the application of motion capture technology to the pedagogy of snare drumming is not new. In 1925, Sanford Moeller released the Art of Snare Drumming; which included pictures of basic strokes and selected rudiments (2). Even more recently, Jojo Mayer released Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer which included a 3D rendering of the Moeller technique as taught through his lineage of teachers coupled with his unique approach (3). 

While this experiment is a comparative study of 4 different snare drumming styles, there are two groups of drummers in the experiment. One of the groups is the undergraduate percussionist. The second group is the non-traditional student who studies music, and who also played snare drum in the Marine Corps Band around a similar time. The experiment gives insight into the current style of the Marine Corps Band through the snare drum by analyzing the technique involved through motion capture. 

The Experiment 

The experimentees were filmed by five Basler 602 monochrome cameras at 150hz and 120hz. The anatomical markers were attached to the experimentees via 14mm and 19mm spherical reflective markers. There was reflective tape used as markers for the stick and snare drum. The position of each marker was calculated using the Peak Motis (v9.2) software were the resultant vector analysis is made possible. The instrumentation used for the experiments was a 10 inch Firecracker Snare Drum from Pearl and the Vic Firth 5B Barrel Tip Sticks. The orientation of the 3D Coordinate Plane is z as up and down, y as front to back, and x as left to right. 

The experimentees performed the five basic strokes and a selection of rudiments from the Percussive Arts Society 40 rudiments list. The data is comprised of the right anatomical markers of the shoulder, elbow, ulna, and radius in the resultant vector. This approach is used to map the application of basic strokes to combinations of basic strokes, known as rudiments. 

Mathematical Concepts to Traditional Snare Drum Pedagogical Concepts

There are mathematical concepts that map to certain approaches to snare drum pedagogy. The five number summary is a good place to start. The five number summary is a statistical approach to analyzing a data set: maximum value, minimum value, mode, mean, and standard deviation. This application of the five number summary to a snare drumming data set reveals how each component of the statistical analysis lends to confirming traditional means of pedagogy. 

For instance, when the mode is calculated in an experiment trail, the frames at which the phenomenon of the mode happens is where the rest position occurs. For snare drumming, the rest position is where the upper body is orchestrated above the snare drum in a manner where the body is not moving, or is at rest. The maximum value for a snare drumming data set refers to the up position of the arm; where the arm is either in sequence to strike the drum or has struck the drum and is in recovery. The minimum value for a snare drumming data set refers to the specifically the wrist as the wrist approaches the drum to strike. The mean value for a snare drumming data set refers to average displacement of the specific anatomical marker (i.e. ulna, radius, elbow, or shoulder). The standard deviation value for a snare drumming data set refers to the range of movement of the specific anatomical marker and how much of that movement differs from the movement itself. 

While the entirety of the experiment trial could be analyzed in the manner of the five number summary, an analysis of the positions can give insight into the overall movement patterns of the experimentee once the positions are applied to the entire set of data. For instance, the following is an average of positions for the buzz stroke for all 4 experimentees. Based on average of positions, the data can be analyzed through a triangulation of maximum and minimum values. Once the triangulation is complete, the reduction of the data can act as an insight into the underlying sine/cosine functions as the body is operating in an oscillatory manner. 


1. USMC. (1935). Manual for drummers, trumpeters und Fifers, U.S. Marine Corps, 1935. United States Marine Corps.

2. Moeller, S. A. (1950). The art of snare drumming. Leedy & Ludwig.3. Mayer, J. (Director). (2007). Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer: A Guide to Hand Technique. [Film]. S.l.: Hudson Ltd.