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"You will compete at everything in life - for grades, jobs, a mate and everything else...... so you might as well be good at it.  You have to be prepared.  You must be able to play everything off either hand - right or left. If a sergeant the army asks you do push-ups, you say, "which hand?"     Jay Tuomey

Jay Tuomey was my instructor for 7 years. The first corps I marched in had an instructor from a senior corps he taught. Joe Maczuga mentioned a corps that practiced in a mall parking lot. I took an audition behind Jay's car and was told to come to senior corps practice as a twelve year old. 

Practice was Tuesday and Thursday from 7 to 10pm. Jay stayed with anyone who wanted to work till 2am. My father picked me up at the VFW post at 2am. This amounted to 14 hours of instruction per week by the best teacher of basic form I ever saw. When Jay swung the accordion folding doors shut, everyone was behind their photography tripod with their pad ready to go. (Those tripods have the same screw size as a REMO practice pad.) It was all business.

"Make sure you wash your hands before practice.  I will be working with them."

Tuomey meticulously figured out your physiology, placing your fingers exactly where he wanted them on the stick. It was not the same for everybody. It might look like the line was uniform, but there were as many styles as there were people in his drumlines. He had pre-tested rules he followed that always worked. His first lesson was to take all sticks and put them in his briefcase. You earned them back with proper hand position and arm motion.

"I was into baseball as a kid.  Love the game.  Still do. I saw the Charles T. Kirk Corps at a parade in New York. They were a class act. I knew then it was something I had to do. I joined a corps out of Yonkers. My instructor was Tony Pennell. Back then they counted the number of rudiments you played. We played ten or so. The Kirks played 25 in one piece!

The senior corps drummers practiced in front of large panes of glass so you could see your reflection of everyone. He went around the room individually offering criticisms here and there but always showing you how to fix them. By the time he asked you to play, you knew what NOT to do.

You would find - to your surprise - that once basics were learned, you accelerated at a rapid pace. Sons of Liberty instructors seemed to know exactly when to teach a certain coordination and add it to your vocabulary, knowing it was slightly above your current ability. Like Sturtze, each individual played a rudiment or music phrase alone in front of everyone. We learned more by watching others mistake. When it was your turn to play, you knew what NOT to do.


I made the line as a twelve year old. They couldn't hide the fact I was so young, so I learned the music and marched all parades and standstills.

"We will not practice dynamics. If you can play well at triple forte, you can play well at triple piano. It is the same control. I want you to practice high and to work technique as long as possible. You can learn  dynamics in a few rehearsals. Technique is more important."

"I don't want anyone practicing with others in the line right now. I know some of you live close to each other. You will pick up their habits. Their habits are not your habits. We can wait till spring when music is passed out."

"Everyone must look the same in the line. It is important to get the sticks to move in the same plane.VERY IMPORTANT!"

Sons Of Liberty Bass Drum.jpg

"Dont pick your speed up till I tell you. I want to see good form. Playing fast with poor technique is practicing mistakes. Learn to play perfectly - slow. The rest will take care of itself"

Jay knew by the calluses on your hands if you had practiced. Questions were always welcome. he always seems to pick the right solution or knew what was going to happen next in your development and what problems you would encounter and when. Sometimes you went backwards to go forwards. It was physiological chess. he was the Grand Master.

They were interested in adding coordination difficulty rather than speed.

Practices were often stopped to fix someone's technique. Mistakes were explained, understood and not to be repeated. If Jay demonstrated, it was perfect. Once he asked "How many times do you want it?" and rattled off a series of something ten times in a row. Perfect.

Bobby Thompson was the same.

To them the art was about perfection.

All Tuomey students - everyone in the line - had to compete in individual contests. Snare. Tenor. Bass. You would get sued for that in today's depleted culture as "emotional cruelty." You can't hide anything in an individual sport.

The forearm was not needed for grace notes or taps. A wrist motion was quicker to the head for those notes. The forearm did what the wrist couldn't do - add power with the weight of the forearm bone behind it.

"Les Parks brought dynamics to Ancient style arrangements. We didn't play double forte all the time. Our competitors said this was a bad idea - that it wasn't "Ancient". It was about 1950. The next year, everyone had dynamics in their music. Now, they all did it."

"I want you to change your grip. rest the left stick between the first and second joints, not the tip of the finger. It will take you 2 or 3 weeks for it to feel comfortable but you will be better for it."    Jay Tuomey

"Les would stand on table tops and look down at all the styles.  he used a big mirror as well and spent hours on the perfection of the left hand turn.  So did Sturtze.  Parks drummed much closer to the head than Sturtze because of his M&M corps experience. He had more of an up and down style with the forearm. Bobby Thompson was a little looser n the hand. One common element was to move the sticks in the same plane; VERY IMPORTANT!"

"On the guitar, I can give an exercise, know how and where it will (almost inevitably) go wrong, and know what is needed to correct the errors two-or-three years later, and then how to correct the (almost inevitable) subsequent set of errors three-or-four years after that."   Peter Fripp - King Crimson Guitarist

"Parks had us playing with books under our arms walking across the hall. Hell, he didn't even play that way! When he did I said, "Look Les, your arms are moving!."

The "S" or "power train" is formed when a flat right wrist moves to the right, from the tip of the thumb to the wrist hinge and the wrist hinge up the forearm, then straight to the shoulder. Go left and you play more like they did in 1920 "around-the-tree" on a much lower drum like Burns Moore and Stone. A flat left hand will not work with the "S" form.

Once in a while Jay would ask for your best speed to see what changes you would make in the style under physical duress. He always taught breakdowns so this was going to come up.

Tuomey taught prep motion with the Seven Stroke Roll. I always started on the left and both hands would lift for the diddle on each hand. It was putting energy into the performance, beginning high-handed with power and speed.

"You don't win in the summer.  You win in the winter."

"Go past your best clean speed to where it fuzzes a bit. return to a clean speed and increase again.  Do this 5 to 10 times. Sleep on it.  You will play it better the next day."

Once in a while Jay would ask you to take your left thumb off the stick and do a breakdown or play the music. He could do it perfectly with strong index finger control. He didn't like  flat "ash try left hands", where an East Coast instructor was said to flick cigarette ashes into it.

"When the hand comes down for an attack, you should never see the palm of your hand. The the palm turns back for a release, then you see it.  Now you see it - now you don't.  Now you see it - now you don't"

Jay would put his coat on top of his practice pad and rattle off a series of something. He expected you to do the same and have the arm and grip strength to make the individual notes readable.

"Bad habits take three times longer to fix. I would rather teach a beginner the technique than have someone from another corps."

"Many drummers like to play fast immediately. This is a serious mistake.  if you have good technique, speed will come naturally. Always learn to play a rudiment perfectly - slow.  Do not worry about speed yet."

"Once the wrist turns first. Then the forearm can move up for more power. With practice the two movements merge.":

"Les Parks ran the corps and taught the drum line. he was a Julliard grad and handled all the arrangements.  His right hand man was Bobby Thompson. I marched in his line for many years. We used the same high arm motion Sturtze did but with a different left hand grip. It was Parks that invented the rigid (Left hand) middle finger technique. he was very inventive using Swiss. lesson 25 and Pada-Fla-Fla rudiments in the early 1950s. My dealings with Sturtze were informal. I used to pick his brain.  he played with a half thumb. This was not as precise as Les parks, who used all index finger and no thumb.  Les Parks was the inventor of the "pinky out" style with the pinky curled back away from the left hand. His teacher at Julliard - Moe Goldenburg, a pit drummer - helped with this giving more control between the 2nd and 4th digits. The pinky acts like a pendulum, turning the left hand down. It changes the center of gravity of the entire hand. It was used to keep the left hand from going flat."

I'm not sure the Sone of Liberty knew that they had discovered another reason for the pinky curl. There is a tendon between the 4th digit (ring finger) and pinky.  Because of this tendon, when the pinky is curled, the ring finger raises up and become more rigid, less likely to move. This is important because the stick rests on this finger.  it the finger wobbles, your control wobbles. Pinky out gave the stick a much more secure resting place. My personal style did not change for speed drumming. My stroke was shorter, but the grip and motion was exactly the same. These en had figured out a physical approach that was successful into the next music genres of marching percussion.

"The power train is from the tip of the right hand forming an "S" from the tip of the thumb to the elbow, forcing you to move the elbow on an attack."

Jay was a gentleman.  He never said harsh words about anyone, nor did his friend from the Sons of Liberty, Bobby Thompson who was brought in to teach our corps twice for a week. But when it came to seeing a Moeller motion in one of their rehearsals, that was a different story. If someone did a "Moeller flop", the rehearsal was immediately stopped and the individual was corrected to eliminate "wasted motion". They were very stern about it.  "I don't want to see that motion in our rehearsal. never do that again." Bobby T stated same, probably because in the 1920s and 1930s, the bugle corps used Moeller's technique. Ludwig published his book in 1925 and sold the book with the drums. Eric Perilloux saw the 1937 American Legion Nationals in New York. When asked what he saw Eric stated, "They were pathetic. After that fife and drum began to think of drum and bugle corps as a big joke."


"Playing in a line is like a sixth sense.  You can tell what the person next to you is going to do."

In my last phone conversation with Jay I asked,

"Where does speed come from?"

"Speed comes from your arms."


Jay Tuomey, came from Brooklyn, beginning at the the St. Dennis School at age ten and six years later the Yonkers City Drum, Bugle and Fife Corps, a former national championship unit, instructed by Harold (Pony) Pennell till 1941.  "A priest came to our house and told my parents he was starting a drum corps.  I wanted to play baseball.  I love baseball - still do.  I was 10 or 11 and most everyone was 12 and older.  I had always loved martial music but we were terrible. It wasn't good.  Then one day we marched in the St. Patricks Day Parade in New York.  I saw St. Anslem's Drum Corps.  They were so disciplined!  They were my kind of players!" 

"Pony (we called him that as he was short at 5-5) took me aside when he was hired and said "Son, let's see what you can do".  We went to see some really good units and that was it.  That was it!  I was hooked.  This was something I had to do."


Many fine players – including Jay - never marched in what they referred to as "M & M corps."   Fife and drum had the better players. Jay was a technical master who loved the Ancient sound, playing in Pipe Bands while instructing Michigan drum and bugle corps in the mid 1960’s to mid 1970's.  Like Sturtze, he taught backsticking and performed it easily. In 1943, duty called and he served in the U.S. Army as a 19 year old in the Pacific, including Okinawa duty. After the war, he attended New York University and finished his B.S. degree at Roger Williams College, yet remained active with Yonkers Fife and Drum Corps.  In 1950, he joined the Sons of Liberty Ancient Fife & Drum Corps from Brooklyn, where he remained for 11 years. Business responsibilities moved his family to Michigan, where he taught the Vanguard Sr. Drum and Bugle Corps in the 1960’s, teaching the author there and in a reorganized junior corps.  He would show up at parades in a Scottish kilt playing in a local pipe band and told the author to buy Schott’s and Dykehead recordings and study their rudiments and phrasings. Jay and Hugh Quigley marched together in Lancraft till 1994.  


Tuomey did not want younger players practicing with older ones as they could pick up their bad habits.  Jay set your “habits” himself by pressing your fingers into the shape and place he wanted, then watching his stick angles, grip and form.  When his brief case hit the table at the beginning of practice, your sticks were out, ready to go. Tuomey could play a clean double forte roll on a soft winter coat lying on a table. He could play anything on a winter coat lying on a table. Mature students were expected to demonstrate this level of control.  He could do this without any left hand thumb usage - all index finger – and could play a 24 inch high roll at piano with clean consistency. Tuomey took this author’s style toward a tighter grip in late May of 1971, for individual competition:  


“I want you to start practicing with the stick resting between the first and second joints of the ring and index finger.  It will give you more control.  Also, I want you to grab the back of the right stick with the last two fingers and hold the fulcrum constant between the thumb and index finger on the right hand.  You should release the back of the hand only for bounce rudiments such as Flam Taps and rudiments that have three consecutive strokes from one hand.”  


Jay was watching DCI finals on television in 1976 and heard the name of the author announced as winning the individuals competition.  There is no replacement for excellent instruction.  His advice that day was the difference.


People always dropped by Jay’s rehearsals from other marching units. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, you could stay after rehearsal till 2 am for private instruction.  The author’s father always drove back to the V.F.W. post in the small hours of the morning.  In all those years, Jay was never paid. He just loved the art.  Jim Pecora found Tuomey in Connecticut in the 1990’s and took lessons.  “Jay played beautifully and was very gracious with his time. It is so beautiful to see all the muscles working in such large motions.” 


These comments are typical of the master breakdown drummers from the Depression era.

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