The following guidelines will help you decide if the percussion is a good choice for you.
- Physical coordination is exceptional.
- Student is able to "march" quarter notes while clapping eighth notes.
- Student maintains a steady tempo while echo clapping four measure phrases.
- Student has previous keyboard experience.
- Commitment to becoming a complete percussionist is unwavering.
- Student is self-controlled.
- Dependability and sense of responsibility are strong.
- Parental support is strong.
The Complete Percussionist
The most common misconception about percussion is that "drums are easy." The complete percussionist must be able to play the snare drum, bass drum, mallet percussion (keyboard), timpani, auxiliary percussion instruments, and eventually drum set.
Students will be assigned to play different percussion parts throughout the year to assure experience on all instruments. Assignments will be made as equitably as possible. At times, a percussionist may play very little, or not at all.
Listen to Examples
- Keiko Abe
- Alan Abel
- Rob Carson
- Anthony Cirone
- Bobby Christian
- Gordon Stout
- Gary Burton
- Lionel Hampton
- Milt Jackson
- Clair Musser
- Peter Erskine
- Vic Firth
- Al Payson
- Buddy Rich
Assembly & Care
Avoid costly repairs!
The most expensive percussion equipment is provided by the school. In addition to drum sticks and mallets, students will need to provide their own bell set and snare drum for practice. Students are responsible for the care and maintenance of all percussion instruments at all times.
Assembling the Drum
- Open the bottom legs of the snare drum stand. Lock them into place by tightening the tripod base screw. Grasp the bar and raise the stand below your waist. Tighten the height adjustment screw and lock into place.
- Put the two support bars closest together in front of you. Be sure they are even. If your stand has an adjustable arm, it should point away from you and be extended. The bars should be parallel to the ground. Tighten the angle adjustment screw.
- Carefully place the snare drum in the stand so the snare strainer level faces you.
- Slide the adjustable arm until it fits snugly against the shell of the drum. The top batter head should be slightly below your waist. Lock your drum stand into position. Tighten all screws each time you play.
- Tighten the snare strainer. Tap the head of the snare drum. If the sound is not crisp, tighten or loosen the tension control screw. The snares should rest lightly against the bottom head. Stand by the drum with correct posture.
Assembling the Bells
- Stand in a comfortable position near the instrument. The raised keys should be pointing away from you. Make sure you have correct posture.
- If you are playing Orchestra Bells, set the instrument on a table or stand about waist high. The larger keys should be on the left.
- Adjust the music stand to about eye level. This enables you to easily read the music and watch the conductor.
Packing Up Carefully
Before putting your instrument back in its case after playing, do the following:
- Cover all percussion instruments when they are not being used.
- Put sticks and mallets away in the storage area.
- NEVER set down an object on top of a percussion instrument!
- You should have no other materials in your case, except for those it was designed to hold. Do not use force when closing your case or you could damage the instrument.
- Improper assembly may damage your instrument
- Damaged equipment will cause problems
To get the best sound or tone quality you should:
- Hold your sticks or mallets with a matched grip.
- Play with a good lift, stroke, and rebound (sticking).
To control pitch you should:
- Develop good listening skills.
- Practice different notes (especially on timpani).
Learn the Notes
One at a time...
Before you learn new songs, you need to learn the notes. A well-rounded percussionist should know the layout of the keyboard, such as the piano, bells, xylophone, marimba, vibes, and other "mallet" instruments. Scale patterns will help you memorize and feel the notes of different key signatures. An easy scale pattern to memorize is "C Major" because it is a straight line such as the white keys of the piano. For example, say your musical alphabet from C to C and play C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.
Articulation is the process of attacking and releasing a sequence of notes. Ending the sound is just as important as beginning the sound. Percussionists study rudiments that help with sticking control and articulation.
Dexterity is a mental skill or quickness, as well as the readiness and grace in physical activity. In relation to playing an instrument, dexterity is the skill and ease of using your hands and fingers.
Don't get in the habit of curling fingers too tight. Also, you may have trouble if you raise your fingers ("fan out") too far above the sticks or mallets. Remember that evenness is better than speed. Playing fast, furious, and fumbling is simply not impressive.
Each of the rudiment pages below include "embedded" Quicktime audio and video clips. In order to view these pages, you must have the Quicktime player and plugin installed on your computer (download it free at apple.com).
Single Stroke Rudiments
How do you sound?
Every percussion instrument requiring sticks or mallets can be played with a basic grip called the matched grip. Both sticks or mallets are held exactly the same (matched) way.
- Hold the sticks or mallets with a matched grip.
- Place the sticks in front of you with the tip of the sticks pointing forward.
- Extend your right hand as if shaking hands with someone.
- Pick up the right stick with your thumb and index finger about 1/3 from the end of the stick.
- The curve of your index finger's top knuckle and the thumb hold the stick in place, creating a pivot point.
- Gently curve your other finger around the stick.
- Check to be sure the stick is cradled in the palm of your hand.
- Turn your hand palm-down to a comfortable resting position.
- Follow the same procedure for your left hand.
Posture & Poise
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and always keep your:
- Shoulders back and relaxed
- Spine straight and tall
- Music stand height-adjusted to read the music and watch the conductor
Sticking Work-Out for Drums
R = Right Hand Stick
L = Left Hand Stick
Play the following sticking work-out on your practice pad. Always strike near the center of the practice pad. Keep an even pulse when playing and resting. This sticking method is called the Right Hand Lead:
R L R L | REST | R L R L | REST |
Sticking Work-Out for Bells (Legato Stroke)
R = Right Hand Stick
L = Left Hand Stick
Find the largest key at the left end of the instrument. Play the following sticking work-out keeping an even pulse. Start with your mallet in the "up" position and always strike near the center of the key. Your foot should be subdividing eighth notes, which is the speed of the mallet when playing legato strokes.
R R R R | REST | L L L L | REST |
Tuning & Pitch Control
Take control of your pitch.
Tuning is the process of matching pitch, which requires two sources: your instrument and another instrumentalist or electronic tuner. Experienced players tune to a "remembered" pitch.
How to Tune
Percussionists "tune" their drums by tightening or loosening the head. For example, the pitch of the timpani may be raised by pushing the pedal, which tightens the head. The snare drum has a special key and other drums have various methods for tightening and loosening the head.
How to Control Pitch
The wind instruments constantly adjust their pitch to make the ensemble sound good. The bells and other "pitched percussion" are fixed to specific frequencies or tones, which means percussionsists have a different kind of responsibilty. The percussion section may sound like it doesn't belong unless they are all focused on listening. By listening to the rest of the ensemble, especially the flutes and oboes, the percussionist may balance and blend the sounds to create pleasing music.
Intonation & Technique
The Percussion's Natural Flaws
The percussion keyboard instruments, like the piano, use a system of tuning called twelve-tone equal temperament. This means percussionists cannot adjust the tones like other instrumentalists in the band.
Inherent Intonation Flaws
Most percussion instruments have fixed tones that cannot be adjusted during a performance. One exception would be the timpani.
Intonation is the process of moving from one pitch to another pitch at a specific interval (vertically). Intonation is controlled by one person because it relies on a trained ear and acquired listening skills while playing.
Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
Get more familiar with your instrument and learn who invented it, who composes music for it, and who has mastered the art of playing it.
Percussion instruments were invented by prehistoric cultures. However, most percussion history is connected with military groups. Drums were used in the 700 A.D. Moorish invasion of Africa. These instruments were ancestors of the snare drum and timpani.
There really isn't one inventor of the drums and percussion. Both the Scots and Swiss developed the snare drum around 1300. Around 1450, Turkish military bands featured triangles, cymbals, and several sizes of drums. The instruments used in these "Janizary Bands" communicated signals to large numbers of fighting troops.
Since there are so many percussion instruments, they are in a family of their own. The percussion family includes drums, keyboard instruments, and accessories. Some of the most common drums are the snare drum, bass drum, timpani, bongos, and congas.
IV. Composers & Performers
J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Debussy, Sousa, and Stravinsky are all important composers who have included percussion in their writing. Famous percussionists include Vic Firth, Peter Erskine, Buddy Rich, and Al Payson.
Keyboard percussion instruments were known to exist around 3500 B.C. in the Orient. The xylophone is probably the oldest keyboard percussion instrument, while the vibraphone is a 20th century American invention.
The initial purpose of the glockenspiel, or orchestra bells, was to aid 13th century Dutch bell masters in tuning their tower carillons. The similar bell lyra was used by German armies after 1870. Today, keyboard percussion instruments are used in marching bands, concert band, and orchestras.
Keyboard instruments belong to the percussion family - even the piano! Some people say the piano is a string instrument, but it uses hammers to strike the strings inside. Common keyboard percussion instruments include orchestra bells, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, and chimes.
IV. Composers & Performers
Saint-Saens, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Hovhaness are all important composers who have included keyboard percussion instruments in their writing. Clair Musser, Milt Jackson, Gary Burton, and Lionel Hampton are famous keyboard percussionists.
Generally, if a certain percussion instrument is neither a drum nor a keyboard, it is called "Auxiliary Percussion." Auxiliary percussion instruments are also called "toys" or "accessories." The drums and keyboards provide the basic techniques to play all other instruments in the percussion family.
Common percussion toys are the cymbals, triangle, tambourine, claves, cowbell, wood blocks, maracas, sleigh bells, slapstick, slide whistle, guiro, timbales, and castanets. Heads up! You should never allow anyone, including yourself, to play the percussion instruments until you are trained by the teacher or director. We don't want any broken toys!
Mallets & Sticks
The percussion instruments listed above show which mallet or stick to use. There are bass drum mallets, timpani mallets, yarn mallets, rubber mallets, plastic mallets, rawhide mallets, "beaters" made of metal, and more. If you use the wrong stick or mallet, you could damage the percussion instruments.
|Concert Snare Drum with Stand||5B or 2B sticks|
|Concert Bass Drum with Stand||1 pair medium bass drum mallets|
(16" to 18")
|Played in pairs|
|Suspended Cymbal with Stand
(16" to 18")
|1 pair medium yarn mallets|
|Triangle with Clip||1 pair metal beaters|
|Wood Block||1 pair medium rubber mallets
1 pair hard rubber mallets
(23", 26", 29", 32")
|1 pair general timpani mallets
1 pair hard timpani mallets
|Bells||1 pair very hard lexan mallets
1 pair hard rubber mallets
|Xylophone||1 pair hard rubber mallets
1 pair medium rubber mallets
|Chimes||2 plastic or 2 rawhide mallets|
|Marimba||Various yarn and rubber mallets|
|Vibraphone||Various yarn and rubber mallets|
Units of Study
Building skill. Developing technique.
Learn about intonation, pitch control, care & maintenance, etc.