Percussive Musings
Notes from Behind the Screen

Recently I had the opportunity to sit in on two days of auditions for the symphony. These auditions were to fill some principal and section seats as well to fill out the sub list in several sections. It was an interesting experience hearing the auditions for all of the instruments as well being able to talk with colleagues about what they were listening for as people played. As the days went along I started to think about this post as several recurring themes appeared.

 

1) Be organized! I was surprised at how many people arrived without even having all of the music that was asked for on the list. In this case all of the music was made available in PDF files so no one had to track down the excerpts. It obviously does not leave a good first impression when you have to ask for a page of music in the audition! But being organized also applies to having a plan when you go in. Have the music organized in a folder in plastic sheets. If a reduced cut list is shown then you can organize your music in order of that list. Percussionists: have a plan for setting up and getting organized! As a percussionist I know it takes time to get set up but the best auditions were played by the people who were the quickest to set up (implying I think that they knew what they were going to do when they walked in the room). Winds and strings: it’s ok to check tuning, play a few notes to get a feel for the space but you should probably not sound like you are tuning for the very first time when you have walked into the room.

 

2) Be equally prepared on all of the material! You never know what the first piece you are asked to play is going to be but I cannot emphasize how important those first few notes are when people are hearing 100’s of auditions. To that end, you cannot have any excerpts that are weak as that may very well end being the first notes you play in the audition. If there is some form of solo piece on the list chances are good that will be first so make sure you are very prepared on that work. Make sure it is very musical and expressive and can quickly show the committee who you are as a performer.

 

3) Do your homework !!! Listen to recordings and by recordings I mean several! Get an idea of an average tempo for all of the pieces. In many cases it seems like people managed to only listen to one recording that happened to be way out of the norm for interpretation and that is what they went with for tempo and/or style. Do as mIt is also important to be familiar with standard performance practices for each excerpt. There are many practices that have become fairly standard through time such as notes that look short that should actually be long, notes that have been corrected over time etc. that one should know before playing in the audition. This shows a conscientious player that takes the time to do their research.

 

4) Don’t speak!! The purpose of a blind audition is to try and keep everything as fair as possible for every player but speaking out loud defeats that purpose for everyone. If you have a question signal the monitor to come to you and ask it quietly. Do not speak loudly enough for the committee to be able to hear you. And also avoid answering “OK” if asked to do something differently or cursing out loud when an excerpt you were hoping to avoid comes up……

 

5) Be rhythmically accurate! Practice with a metronome regularly. Be sure all of your notes are the correct length (especially accurately counting longer notes!). Come up with a rhythm to think in your head during longer notes to make sure they are the correct length. Record yourself and listen for places where you tend to speed up and slow down because if you are doing it in a practice session that will become even more heightened in the stress of an audition. And if there are rests in the audition pieces come up with something to sing to yourself to be sure that you keep the rests the appropriate length. I can promise, much of the committee is sitting there conducting the beat during the rests and expect you to come in correctly when they get to the entrance.

 

6) Play in Tune! This may seem fairly obvious but again many people learned the notes without really thinking about what the tuning sounded like within those notes. One thing a committee is listening for in auditions is if they feel like the player will be able to play in tune with the rest of the ensemble. Multiple intonation issues during an audition reduces the chances of getting the seat.

 

7) Think before you play! Have an idea of a lead in, part of your excerpt etc. that you can sing before you start to play to establish the style and tempo for yourself. Having these written on notes attached to your music can help you to not have to remember what you are using for this in the heat of the audition situation. If you know there is an excerpt that is played along with a particular instrument sing the other instruments part to get yourself in the correct tempo. For example, snare drummers can sing the clarinet solo for the first movement 3 excerpt of “Scheherazade” and  the double tongued 32nd notes played by the trumpets in movement 4 to establish the right speed and style. In many instances (such as the examples above) people play MUCH faster in auditions than would ever be possible in an ensemble.

 

8) Know your role in the music! Not all excerpts are “solo” or main parts. In some instances they are accompanimental or part of a duo. Knowing and being able to display knowledge of this is important as well. For example, know if a certain excerpt is be a duo where part of the time your part supports the other player but then becomes the main line. If you can display this knowledge in your playing it will go a long way towards getting you a job. In addition be flexible if you are asked to do something differently in the audition. The committee may literally just be trying to see how you take direction to ascertain how well you would be able to adjust within an ensemble. Don’t play louder or softer than is really necessary in the music. Some people, when playing on stage by themselves, tend to overplay their bigger dynamics trying to fill the hall. This can have a negative impact on tuning and tone quality. Just make good sounds appropriate to the dynamics. It also doesn’t hurt to still have some room to go higher or lower in dynamic if the committee wants to hear something different. And if you are asked to do something differently make sure it is actually different!

 

9) Be yourself! This may seem contradictory to much of what was written above but it is true. Yes, the committee is looking for someone who knows the music, plays in time, and plays in tune. But they are also looking for someone who really brings something to the table musically. Don’t be afraid to play expressively. The committee wants to get to know who you are as a musician and what your musical ideas might be. This way they can also judge how you would fit into the rest of the section. Just getting the correct notes and rhythms will get you through to a certain point in the audition but will most of the time not be enough to get the final job.

 

10) It is one audition on one day! Each time you audition it is for a group of people that are sitting there trying to make a decision about several people based on one moment in time. If you do not get the spot it could be something as simple as it just was not quite the sound they were looking for. If one has truly done everything possible to be prepared for the audition there is nothing else that can be done. Losing an audition does not mean to stop playing. It simply means that was not what was being looked for on that particular day. The more one auditions the better the auditions will become so keep at it!

 

wigginst:

It’s summertime, which means our students have dispersed to their homes, or the mountains or the beach. Many will have jobs to be able to pay for the next school year. To many (too many!!) thoughts of practicing are not yet dancing in their heads. Theory class is behind them until next fall. It’s…

wigginst:

I feel that often marching percussion gets a bad rap. I often hear that it teaches overplaying, is unmusical, takes up too much of a student’s time and more. I believe that performing in drum line can be an essential tool for any percussionist’s development. I state often that I would not be…

Summer Reading

Anyone that knows me well knows that I love to read. At any given time I might have a few different books I am working on. Reading can be a great way to gain new insights and ideas, as well as just being relaxing! It is easy to lose yourself in a book for quite a while. Some of my favorites (besides lighter reading I like to do to get away from music) are of course books about music. I also really like books by great coaches and great motivators as there are often ideas there that can be directly applied to teaching.

As a teacher I think it is important to try and get my students to read as well. Over time I have noticed that generally many students do not read that often for pleasure or intellectual curiosity. In fact, several even have issues with reading their texts they are supposed to be studying….. I find this sad as there is just so much knowledge out there and it cannot all just come directly from what a teacher has said in classes or lessons! In fact, I find one of the toughest parts of my job to be figuring out what I can teach them and then how I am going to teach them how to learn the rest they need to know on their own!

To that end I will often assign reading assignments for my students. I always try to make sure what they are reading is both engaging and relevant to them so that they have no excuses not to do it (although some will still find ways to avoid it, even when it applies directly to what they are doing!). Many times it will be journal articles or blog posts I find particularly interesting that we will read and then discuss in studio class. These can often be some of the best studio classes as they lead to great discussions and even some good debates (another thing students don’t do enough of today - arguing is not debating!). Other times I will assign books for them to read that they may have to write a report and that we will discuss together. Call it percussion studio book club if you will.

Some recent personal favorites:

The Percussionists Art by Steven Schick

The Farthest Place by John Luther Adams

The One Day Contract by Rick Pitino

Learning to Listen by Gary Burton

The Great American Symphony Orchestra by Anthony Cirone

Working Toward Excellence by Paul Buyer

No Beethoven by Peter Erskine

Behind the Copper Fence by Thomas Akin

Wonderful World of Percussion by Emil Richards

Not for the Faint of Heart by Jeremy Van Wert (a GREAT read for those wanting to learn more about drum corps!)

Leader of the Band by Scott Lang

Marching Bands and Drumlines by Paul Buyer

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

No Such Thing as Silence by Kyle Gann

Touched by Sound: A Drummers Journey by John Wyre

This summer’s reading list for All UNCP Percussionists:

Working Toward Excellence by Paul Buyer

On Musical Interpretation in Percussion Performance by Anthony Cirone

For Upperclassmen:

Marimbists Guide to Performing Bach by Leigh Howard Stevens

Touched by Sound: A Drummers Journey by John Wyre

For Incoming Freshman (to try and get them a lot of the basic information they will need to hit the ground running in the fall!):

A Percussionists Handbook by Peter Saleh

The Logic of it All by Anthony Cirone

Majoring in Music by Rich Holly

 

On Context

As a teacher and performer I am often asked questions about the “correct” way to play something, the “right” mallet to play something with etc. I am sure people get frustrated when I tell them that it is all a matter of context. What is right and correct will vary given a NUMBER of variables. This is something we as percussionists (and musicians in general ) have to deal with daily.

For example let’s look at a mezzo forte note played on middle C on a marimba. The correct mallet choice, playing spot, volume and more is all going to be determined by many variables in the equation. What is its role musically? Is it played with other instruments and if so what is their timbre? What is the volume those other instruments are playing? What type of instrument is it (there is no standardization to marimba designs so even the brand can have an effect on how you have to play it)? What are the acoustics of the performance space? And the list can go on. As you can see that is a fair amount of questions possible just for 1 mid range note at a mid level dynamic! As an example, playing this one note to blend with a violin will be a very different approach than trying to blend it with a trumpet.

In an ensemble setting it is very important to be aware of the role of what we are playing in the overall scope of a piece. While it would be nice to have one triangle and one triangle beater that would cover everything we needed that is just not the case. Some of the time what we have to do even seems counter intuitive to students. For example, a soft timpani mallet is not often what is needed for a soft timpani part! If the part has a rhythmic focus to it a harder mallet will be needed instead to give rhythmic clarity. This can just as easily apply on marimba and more. For this reason I encourage students (and directors) to think of mallets as articulations more than hardness or especially volumes.

You often see orchestral percussionists with what appears to be an arsenal of cymbals, triangles etc in the back preparing to perform one piece. Every time that instrument appears in the work the context of what sound is needed might have changed from the dynamic to the other instruments playing at the time. This is where the performers ears and score preparation really come in to play. The best performers have looked at and studied the pieces to have an idea of what instruments, implements, dynamics and more are needed all the way through a piece. But even after all that work, they still have to have the flexibility to adjust once in the rehearsal situation as then the variables of the hall, setup, conductor wishes (a whole other article unto itself….) and more are added to the equation. These selections will even change from performance to performance as the performing space, instruments provided, ensemble performing with and more change.

Everyone has to look for a place to start when making these decisions. That is where books, articles, teachers, colleagues and more come in. But at the end of the day all of those recommendations will be based on the context of where those people performed as well. So it will still be incumbent upon the performer to take that information and make adjustments for their particular situation. And don’t be afraid to pull out that one mallet that you will use one time to play that one note perfectly if needed. In the correct context it will be worth it!

On Context

As a teacher and performer I am often asked questions about the “correct” way to play something, the “right” mallet to play something with etc. I am sure people get frustrated when I tell them that it is all a matter of context. What is right and correct will vary given a NUMBER of variables. This is something we as percussionists (and musicians in general ) have to deal with on a daily basis.

 

For example let’s look at a mezzo forte note played on middle C on a marimba. The correct mallet selection, playing spot, volume and more is all going to be determined by many different variables in the equation. What is its role musically? Is it played with other instruments and if so what is their timbre? What is the volume those other instruments are playing? What type of instrument is it (there is no standardization to marimba designs so even the brand can have an effect on how you have to play it)? What are the acoustics of the performance space? And the list can go on. As you can see that is a fair amount of questions possible just for 1 mid range note at a mid level dynamic! 

In an ensemble setting it is very important to be aware of the role of what we are playing in the overall scope of a piece. While it would be nice to have one triangle and one triangle beater that would cover everything we needed that is just not the case. Some of the time what we have to do even seems counter intuitive to students. For example, a soft timpani mallet is not often what is needed for a soft timpani part! If the part has a rhythmic focus to it a harder mallet will be needed instead to provide rhythmic clarity. This can just as easily apply on marimba and more. For this reason I encourage students (and directors) to think of mallets as articulations more than hardnesses or especially volumes.

You often see orchestral percussionists with what appears to be an arsenal of cymbals, triangles etc in the back preparing to perform one piece. Every time that instrument appears in the work the context of what sound is needed might have changed from the dynamic to the other instruments playing at the time. This is where the performers ears and score preparation really come in to play. The best performers have looked at and studied the pieces to have an idea of what instruments, implements, dynamics and more are needed all the way through a piece. But even after all of that work, they still have to have the flexibility to adjust once in the rehearsal situation as then the variables of the hall, setup, conductor wishes (a whole other article unto itself….) and more are added to the equation. These selections will even change from performance to performance as the performing space, instruments provided, ensemble performing with and more change.

 

Everyone has to look for a place to start when making these decisions. That is where books, articles,  teachers, colleagues and more come in. But at the end of the day all of those recommendations will be based on the context of where those people performed as well. So it will still be incumbent upon the performer to  take that information and make adjustments for their particular situation.

 

Notes from Behind the Screen

This week I had the opportunity to sit in on two days of auditions for the symphony. These auditions were to fill some principal and section seats as well to fill out the sub list in several sections. It was an interesting experience hearing the auditions for all the instruments as well as being able to talk with colleagues about what they were listening for as people played. As the days went along I started to think about this post as several recurring themes appeared.

Demystifying Marching Percussion

I often hear from band directors that one of the hardest things for them to do is know how to work with their marching percussion sections. It can be intimidating to try and think of what to say to a section that one does not fully feel like they understand. So I thought I would put together some ideas of what to look for when working with the marching percussion.

Samples exercises can be found at http://media.wix.com/ugd/2c8168_33102a6b2e0b5ca8850ee19f1387f68a.pdf 

Have a Solid Technical Foundation (“If You Don’t Have Time to Warm Up You Don’t Have Time to be Good” - one of my favorite Marching Roundtable quotes!)

We all know that technique is the foundation of a successful program. For a marching percussion ensemble this program is going to include both hand and feet warm ups. In a perfect world the group will have their own instructor or a strong section leader who can take charge of working the percussion section through the warm up sequence. If this is the case I would recommend 20-30  minutes (at least!) at the start of a rehearsal to be allotted for the percussion to have a playing warm up. Most directors probably want at least this much time to warm up the winds anyway.  Be sure that the batteries drums are tuned at the start of each rehearsal to get a consistent sound from player to player. If any heads need to be changed this should be done prior to rehearsal as well. Low quality heads and tuning can adversely affect any progress trying to be achieved in rehearsal.

As there are many different approaches to performing on marching percussion instruments this will not go into the specific hand techniques to be used as that can be unique to each group. There are many resources available in books and online to help define this style for your students.

Movement

I recommend having the students mark time as much as possible while playing during the warmups. Another option is “tracking” or actually marching through a basics sequence while playing the exercises. After all, it is “marching” band. Watch the feet while listening to the line as MANY errors in playing are actually caused by timing issue in the feet as much as any issues in the hands. It is also becoming more common for body movement to be involved in marching shows and many groups are starting to include movements from the show as a part of their playing warm up as well.

If the line is standing in a warmup arc I highly recommend the use of stands to help prevent back injury in the members. While speaking of health I also have to emphasize having the members wear hearing protection while playing! Hearing cannot be fixed and the amount of time for safe exposure to marching percussion is mere seconds!

Stretch

It is important to stretch the muscles and get the blood flowing the the body before starting to play or march. Be sure to stretch the legs, back, arms, wrists, and shoulders.

Starting Exercises

For the battery this will typically either be a count off from a section lead played on the drum or a verbal count off (dut). Many groups use a combination of the 2 with the section leader giving the first four beats and the everyone dutting the second four for each exercise. The idea here is that there will not be a tap off during the show so the section is working on getting everyone to verbalize a consistent beat. A note about duts: no one wants to hear them in the stands! They can distract from the show. While they are necessary at times to be sure everyone enters together (especially in tricky listening environments) it should not become an audible aspect of the performance to the listener! 

For the front ensemble it will be a visual count off. This is usually four “aired” counts from the section leader followed by four from the full section. This motion is just a version of the full stroke that will be used when playing but without striking the bars. This is done because often the front has to watch each other for timing with one player specifically designated to listen for the timing from front to back. This can prevent too many interpretations of the beat from the front ensemble.

Battery Exercises

Legatos

Often this will be some form of an “8 on a hand” type exercise. At this point you want to be looking for a continuous motion of the sticks and the sticks moving straight up and down in an even and consistent motion. Look at the grip and be sure that the hand position is even and consistent between the hands. Experiment with different dynamic levels to work on making sure the stroke is consistent at multiple dynamic levels. Listen for: a consistent sound from all players. Alternate having individuals and the full line play so that you can hear the sound being produced by each player (this should be done with all of the exercises). Maintain even spacing between all notes in the sequence. Look for: the stick continuing in an up and down motion and not stopping over the drum (other than after the last stroke on each hand). Always watch the hand that is not playing to be sure it stays low and over the head.

Accent/Tap Exercise

This exercise can take the form of single hand (8th notes) accent and tap (non accent) patterns or can also be a “grid” pattern. The key thing to this is that there must be 2 different stick heights present in the approach to the drum. The accented note should not be played with any more force than the tap. It just features a point of rise from the stick. You can also have the students play buzz strokes on the non accent notes to work on the rhythmic accuracy. Listen for: evenness of sound between the hands and the notes at the different stick heights. Make sure that the accent note is not played with a tighter or more forced stroke as that will serve to distort both the sound of the drum and the rhythm. Look for: added tension in the hands on the accents. Make sure there is a clear visual distinction between the accent and non accent note. Watch to be sure the feet are staying on the beat and not trying to adjust to fit with the accent patterns.

Double/Triple Beat

This exercise is used to start developing the open or double stroke roll technique. The goal in the exercise is to work towards both notes of a double stroke are the same stick height and sound. Often you will see a decrescendo from the first note to the second note. You want the students to work for both notes being even. The key to this is having adequate stick speed (velocity) to create the rebound. One way to demonstrate this is to have the pull the stick back with one hand while pressing towards the head with the hand gripping the stick. When they release the second hand the stick should move with enough speed to create two notes from the stroke. Listen for: evenness of the sound between the first and second note. Also be sure that the spacing between the notes is rhythmically even and that the second note is not coming in too close to the first. Also listen to be sure that the hands are balanced from a volume perspective. Look for: The height of each not being even. Be sure fingers are not releasing from the stick too much creating a lack of control.

Stick Control

This is typically a 16th based exercise taken from the first few exercises in George Lawrence Stone’s book “Stick Control.” This exercise is designed to start developing evenness of stroke and sound while doing different sticking combinations. The goal is for every note to create the same sound from the drum. Listen for: even sounding 16th notes all the way through the exercise (no agogic accents). Also be sure that the tempo stays consistent as the students switch from one sticking pattern to the next. Look for: a constant flow of the sticks and even heights for every note.

Paradiddles

This again will be two stick heights with accents and taps. The goal here is to develop the coordination necessary to play these different sticking patterns that are some of the most common in contemporary marching music. Most exercises will be some form of combination of paradiddles (rlrr lrll) and paradiddlediddles (rlrrll) which are the 2 most commonly used patterns. Double paradiddles (rlrlrr lrlrll) can also be used in the exercise. Listen for: evenness of sound between the hands and the notes at the different stick heights. Make sure that the accent note is not played with a tighter or more forced stroke as that will serve to distort both the sound of the drum and the rhythm. Look for: added tension in the hands on the accents. Make sure there is a clear visual distinction between the accent and non accent note. Watch to be sure the feet are staying on the beat and not trying to adjust to fit with the accent patterns.

Rolls

Rolls in marching percussion are most commonly open (double strokes) although there are many instances where an orchestral (buzz) roll will be used as well. Both should be worked on in the roll warmup sequence. Listen for: clearly articulated double strokes. These should sound like 16th’s, 32nd’s or sixtuplets most commonly. Think of the sound of a clearly articulated double tonguing passage from the brass. That is what a good roll should sound like. Watch for: Stick heights lowering towards the drum as the rolls get faster. Slightly more arm will often come into the stroke as the roll speed increases as well. Make sure that the hands do not get more tense as the speed increases as well. Orchestral buzz rolls can also be substituted for open rolls in order to work on getting a full and even sound along with a consistent rhythmic base to the roll. This base is necessary to insure that the students will attack and release the buzz at the same time in a passage of music. When playing the show music the rhythmic base of a buzz needs to be defined for all players to ensure uniformity of timing.

Flams

In the immortal words of Dennis Delucia “Keep your grace notes down!!!!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHxAqL5w8yE) Just like the aforementioned accents/taps, flams must have two different stick heights to be executed correctly. Where most students get into trouble is lifting the grace note while also lifting the main note. Keep the grace note much lower to the head for accurate spacing. The most common patterns used in marching percussion will be flam accents (rlr lrl with a flam on each first note) and flam taps (rr ll with a flam on each first note). Listen for: the grace note being slightly before the accent note and much soften than the accent note. Be sure that the grace note does not come too rhythmically early, creating a dotted rhythm sound. In marching percussion the grace not is often played much closer to the main note than in concert percussion. Also be sure that both notes do not hit at the same time as a double stop. Look for: two different heights from the sticks. Watch to be sure that the grace note does not lift to a height to close to the main note.

Full Band Warmup

A sequence similar to this can also be constructed if the director needs to have the full band together for the daily warm up sequence. In this case, adapt the above exercises to serve as a rhythm foundation for the various wind exercises to be performed. But one thing to keep in mind: make sure they are written in a tempo and meter that will allow the percussionists to properly warm up. Many times wind exercises will be at a tempo that is much slower than what is needed to get the percussionists hands moving in the correct speed. If that is the case alter the base rhythmic structure of the percussion exercises to work. For example if 8 on hand seems to slow use a triplet or 16th based variation on the exercise.

Specific Technical Things To Look For

Snares

Playing in the center of the head. If in the music it is defined to be played at the edge, over the guts etc. be sure all plays have the same playing position for the most consistent sound possible.

Tenors

Minimize arm motion as much as possible. Do not play in the center of the heads but closer to the edge of each drummer nearest the performer. The basic motion from left to right on the drums should be fairly close to a straight line. Make sure that accents and taps are clearly delineated and not just a product of the changing pitches of the drums.

Basses

Be sure everyone has a good sense of where the center of the head is. Get a good rotation out away from the drum to get a full sound. If playing halfway or at the edge for music reasons be sure this location is clearly recognized by the performers. The mallets should have an upward angle (around 45 degrees) to them when looked at from the instructors view with the head of the mallet in the center of the head. This will mean that the hands are closer to the bottom portion of the drum. The

The Front Ensemble

When it comes to the front ensemble they can either warm up by themselves or as a full ensemble with the battery. In many cases the basic front ensemble exercises can be adapted to fit with the battery exercises. One advantage to having the front warm up with the battery is it can be used to consistently work on their listening back to the battery for timing. In very few instances should the front be watching and playing with the drum majors hands so every opportunity to get them used to listening to the battery can be beneficial. I highly recommend the book “Up Front” by Jim Ancona and Jim Casella (published by Tapspace) for anyone whose ensemble uses a front ensemble. This book contains a myriad of exercises, technical breakdowns, writing examples and even care and maintenance tips for the front ensemble.

Front Ensemble Exercises

The front will need a warm up sequences that gets the hands moving while also dealing with the issues of moving around the keyboard in common patterns seen in the show music. You also want the front to work on playing in multiple key signatures. Make sure that for all exercises a timpani part is included as well if you use timpani in the front. The timpani exercises should including tuning (playing root notes and scalar patterns) and working to create a quality tone from the drums. Make sure that for both keyboards and timpani the stroke starts and stops from the same height (piston stroke).

Octaves

Most fronts will start with some form of exercise that works on moving up and down the keyboard in octaves using double stops. Often these are just basic scale patterns and can fit nicely over the first couple of warm ups in the battery sequence. Listen for: note accuracy (not compressing or expanding the interval). Make sure that the sound of each hand occurs at the same time and does not start to become a flam sound. Look for: the mallets always returning to where they start from. Be sure that students are not playing on the nodal points of the bar.

Green Scales

These are patterns taken from George Hamilton Green’s “Instruction Course for Xylophone” and are very similar to “Kraus” scales used by many other instruments. Here the student is working on moving up and down the keyboard in alternating hand scale patterns. Listen for: note accuracy. Be sure that the sound of each hand is even and balanced and that there are no accents as the students move up and down the keyboard. Look for: an even height between hands. Also be sure the students are again avoiding the nodal points of the bars.

Spatial Exercise

This exercise is to work on the hands being able to expand outward in different directions on the keyboard. For example a pattern such as c-d-b-e-a etc. This can also be done chromatically. Many great exercises can be found in Gordon Stouts “Ideo-Kinetics Workbook.” Another way of doing this is expanding from a main note such as c-d-c-e-c etc and then going down as well. Listen for: Listen for: note accuracy. Be sure that the sound of each hand is even and balanced and that there are no accents as the students move up and down the keyboard. Look for: an even height between hands. Also be sure the students are again avoiding the nodal points of the bars.

Arpeggios

This exercise will work moving up and down the keyboard in patterns such as 3rds. Listen for: note accuracy. Be sure that the sound of each hand is even and balanced and that there are no accents as the students move up and down the keyboard. Look for: an even height between hands. Also be sure the students are again avoiding the nodal points of the bars.

Four Mallet Exercises

Block Chords

This exercise starts to set the foundation of 4 mallet technique. This can be done using actual chord progressions as well as using intervals of 4ths and 5ths in each hand. Be sure that the students are using a good piston stroke. Listen for evenness of all four notes. Be sure all notes are hitting at the same time and there is no flam sound. Look for: control over the mallets. Make sure all mallets are an equal height. Avoid hitting the nodal points.

Permutations

Permutations are the various stickings that percussionists use to maneuver around the keyboard with four mallets. It is simply the order of the mallets hitting the bars. The mallets are typically number 1-4 from left to right in the players hands. Typical permutations are 1-2-3-4, 4-3-2-1, 1-2-4-3, 4-3-1-2. The most common form of exercise for this alternates 8th notes and 16th notes on each pattern. Listen for evenness of all four notes. Be sure the students are not compressing the rhythmic spacing between the notes of each hand. Look for: control over the mallets. Make sure all mallets are an equal height. Avoid hitting the nodal points. Be sure that there is a good rotation of the forearm with each set of strokes.

Commonly Used Percussion Terms by Jamie Patterson

TERMS

Rhythmic Integrity - Not letting the quality of one’s rhythms change in any given Physical or Dynamic situation.

Dynamic Integrity - No letting the musicality or range of one’s dynamics change in any given rhythmic or physical situation.

Sound Quality - “Big picture” of produced sound. (rhythm, dynamic, fullness/strength…)

Long Sound - Giving every rhythm the fullest possible value. (Fat)

Short Sound - Not giving proper length/value to a rhythm, Generally inner beats.

Strength of Sound - Producing consistent, full resonance at any given dynamic level.

Ownership - Playing to yourself and not listening in.

Sampling - Finding the sound of the people around you while still having complete focus on your sound/approach/time.

Temporal Center - Your soul’s ability (or lack-thereof) to independently hold “perfect” time.

Temporal Tendencies - The (potentially adverse) effect that certain rhythms/dynamics strive to have on your sense of time.

DEFINITIONS

Flow

There are many ways to interpret this idea, most of which are correct. “Flowing” while playing creates a sense of phrasing and minimizes mental and physical fatigue. In order to flow, you must find a balance between the stress of concentration/playing, and keeping your muscles and mindset relaxed. This can be achieved by using a comfortable technique, and consciously breathing more while you are playing. Flow is an integral factor for any percussionist who can “make it look easy.”

Sound Quality

Sound quality is the basic the idea of how the drum sounds. We always want bright open sounds. The more relaxed you can play the longer the sound is going to be. Long sounds are sounds that are bright, open, and make rhythms sound correct. It is NOT possible to play “correct” rhythms with a short sound. This will make rhythms inaccurate and very weak.

Keep the stick vibrating at all times and ALWAYS let the stick rebound naturally off of the drum. Drumming is basically just manipulating the rebound of the stick to do what you want. Whether you are playing legatos, accent tap passages, roll passages, or variations of the three, the stick should always be rebounding off of the head. This is accomplished by turning your wrists, letting the stick stay nice and cradled in your hands, and not pinching the fulcrums. Always strive

to play everything with a long sound. It is harder to do, but it makes all of the difference in the world.

Stick Heights

As marching percussionists, we often have an overly analytical side to how we define the things we do. These details are part of the gig. However, don’t let definitions such as stick heights or stick angles drive everything you do. They’re merely reference points and need to be flexible to adapt to the needs of the music and/or ensemble. Below is a basic reference for stick heights as dictated by musical expressions. Remember that the tension and force will not change with these different heights.

pp – 1 inch

p – 3 inches

mp – 6 inches

mf – 9 inches

f – 12 inches

ff – 15 inches

Marching Percussion Arranging Tips Part 2

Arranging or (Re-Arranging) for the Modern Marching Percussion Ensemble 

One thing that can make a huge difference in the quality of your marching percussion program is the quality of your arrangements. Your best option will always be to have the arrangements done specifically for your group. They can be done by an outside arranger that you hire, or by your percussion instructor. Whoever does the arranging though, it is 
key for them to know a few things first: 

1) What is the show? Is it a custom arrangement or a rearrangement of a stock chart? What styles do all of the charts fall in to? 

2) What is the size of the group? How many of each battery instrument? Is there a cymbal line? What front ensemble instruments are available? What sort of ethnic instruments does the school have available? Will the front ensemble be amplified (important as this could open up some more unusual instruments as possibilities)? What electronics are desired for the show and is all of the necessary equipment available to fully utilize them? How many players are there in the front ensemble? Is there a video or audio recording of the group from the previous year available to gauge talent? Will there be percussion instructors (and if so how many) with them regularly? 

3) What is the ability level of the group? How is their ability to play the following: rolls; flams; flam accents; paradiddles and paradiddle-diddles; grid patterns? Are they rhythmically solid enough to handle some odd rhythmic figures or does it need to be rhythmically straight forward? What sort of crash techniques does the cymbal line know? 
How many front ensemble members can comfortably play four mallets? Does the timpanist have good tuning abilities, or at the least tuning gauges? 

4) Specific points in the drill that the percussion might be in odd spacing or forms. Are there parts of the show where you do not want the battery to play? What are envisioned as the major musical impact points throughout the show? Is there a flow chart of the show available (highly recommended)? 

Often schools will not have the luxury of a custom arrangement and will need to use a stock chart. These however can also be adjusted for each specific group. A few tips: 

1) Look for places where the full battery seems to be playing for a long period of time in unison. See if one section could be removed to create a slightly different texture. Space in the arrangement is a good thing musically. Change the mallets or sticks the section is using to create new textures also. Try using a concert snare stick or some type of brush on the snares. Snares sticks can be a very effective sound change on tenors. 
2) Look for repeated patterns where a new sticking could be devised to heighten the students’ ability levels. 
3) Many of these charts will be based more around orchestral rolls than open rolls. Change some of the rolls to open if it makes sense musically. 
4) Many of these charts will have limited front ensemble parts. Use a flute part on the vibes, a trombone part on the marimba, and an edited tuba part on the timpani to fill out the sound more. If you have a section in the winds that is slightly weaker adding that part to the front ensemble can also add a lot to the ensemble sound. Also adjust the octave or interval these parts lie in to make them not be in exact unison with the particular wind instrument. Many times moving some parts up an interval of a fifth can add more color and projection to the front ensemble where they would normally get lost in the wind instruments. Add more auxiliary instruments where appropriate, especially cymbals and concert bass drum for impacts, and ethnic instruments throughout. 
5) Remove some of the unison bass drum parts (stock charts often have many). Save these for major impact points in the show. Also, adjust the parts for the number of bass drums you have. If the part is written for 4 and you have 5 split the #4 part between your 4th and 5th drum, or save drum 5 mostly to double unisons and impacts. If a rock or jazz show use drum 5 to simulate a drum set bass drum while the other 4 drums play the written part. Thus can be a very cool effect. If you have fewer drums than it is written for assign one player to cover 2 consecutive parts (i.e. player 1 plays 1 and 2, not 1 and 3. This would alter the 
pitch sequencing too much I believe). 

Special effects in the front ensemble can be effectively utilized to help increase the overall General Effect (GE) of the show. A few common examples: 

1) Suspended cymbal upside down on the timpani. Rolling on the cymbal can create an eerie, shimmering effect. Moving the pedal up and down can also glissando the pitch of the cymbal.


2) Bowing any instrument can be effective but metallic instruments (especially crotales and vibes) would be most effective outdoors. Amplification can also make this a more effective outdoor technique.


3) The marching machine is a set of small wooden blocks suspended from a frame. When this is played against a piece of wood (a desk, table or even concert bass drum shell) can effectively represent the sound of marching troops.


4) Metallic objects that can be effectively used outdoors include brake drums, propane tanks, oxygen tanks and more (be VERY careful to be sure the entire product is out of these tanks). Large, thin, metallic sheets can also be utilized to simulate the sound of thunder.


5) Try to have as wide a variety of cymbals in the front ensemble as possible. Utilize not just suspended cymbals but splash cymbals, ice bells, sizzle cymbals (can be simulated with a chain laid across a larger cymbal), Chinese cymbals and more. All of the major cymbal companies make a wide variety of sounds that can be used now. Also a collection of gongs and tam-tams in various sizes can add a lot of variety to the ensemble sound.


6) Use different varieties of drums if it fits in the show. Rope tuned snare drums can be very effective as can ethnic drums (ranging from African to Brazilian to Japanese Taiko drums). These can add a great authentic sound to the arrangements. 

Finally, I think the most important key to any marching percussion arrangement is the voicing. Think of the battery percussion as an STB choir. The snares are the soprano voice, the tenors are the tenor voice and the basses are the bass voice. When writing, use this voicing as a guide to follow the wind parts. A very basic set of doublings is snares 
with trumpets, tenors with mellophones and bass drums with the tubas. This voicing can help you to avoid having too thick of a texture throughout the show. But keep in mind it can be even more musically interesting to mix and match different wind and battery timbres (i.e. basses supporting trumpets, snares as a higher timbre to tubas etc.) Listen to see if you can hear the wind music in the battery scoring (when they play by themselves especially) either melodically or as a particular rhythmic support line. If neither of these seems to work it might be time to adjust something.

In addition, think of the front ensemble in the same way with the xylophone and bells as the soprano, vibraphone as the alto, marimba as the tenor and timpani as the bass. The front ensemble should also be approached as a concert percussion ensemble in its’ scoring. Thinking along these lines can help to guide the custom arrangement, or help to guide the adjustment of the stock arrangement. 

Sample Marching Band Arrangement Flow Chart 

Instrument Intro (1-16) Hit (17-18) A(19-40) 

Winds Low, sustain, build long tones, FF rhythmic accomp 

Brass Echo, build long tones, FF trpt and mello 
Low rhythmic 

Battery soft groove, building rhythmic fill, triplet bass rhythm 
Tenor melody 

Pit sustained sound impacts counter 

Guard body movement large flags rifle feature (highlight rhythm of the movement - impacts with hit points in the work)

Marching Percussion Arranging Tips

Every fall I get the great opportunity to sample much of the percussion education taking place by judging marching band competitions. This affords me the chance to see some really incredible playing and teaching during the fall. I do find though that a lot of groups become handicapped by what the students in the percussion ensemble are asked to do during the program. This can happen for many reasons: arrangements; ability level; lack of a dedicated percussion instructor and more.

With funding being tight I know it can be VERY difficult for programs to have instructors and arrangers specifically for their groups. This often leaves the band director in the position of having to teach the percussion section as well as the rest of the band. The marching percussion world comes with its own unique set of needs that can sometimes be challenging for non-percussionist band directors (or even percussionist band directors that are having to focus much more of their time on the full ensemble). To that end, I thought I would put out there a few tips that might help directors to guide their percussion programs to an even higher level during the season, which in turn WILL improve the overall band production!

Since it is summer time and everyone is heading head first into their show designing I thought I would start with talking about ways to make the arrangements more effective. These are just tips and I by NO means have all of the answers. 

Common Errors In Arrangements

1) Utilizing the drumline too much as a moving drumset. Snares playing 2 and 4, tenors playing quarter notes down the drums and basses playing a unison groove can be effective in small doses but too often becomes the main portion of what a percussion section is playing. If drumset is needed that much use a drumset in the front ensemble. And if you use a drumset definitely avoid having the battery doubling the set. That is a timing and musical nightmare. Look for creative ways to get the “groove” needed from the section if drumset cannot be employed. Use accent patterns with in diddle rudiments etc. to create more sticking variety but still maintain the necessary feel.

2) Related to 1 but often programs don’t have enough content in their arrangements. Most groups would not have the winds play whole notes through the full show but many times the percussion are doing the equivalent of that (see above). The marching season is a great time to develop the hand technique and coordination of the ensemble but they have to have some content to be able to do that. I am not saying every line has to have rolls at 200 bpm and crazy flam passages. Using the various diddle rudiments, an appropriate speed of roll for the players abilities etc. can go a long ways to improving their skills and further enhancing the wind writing.

3) Inadequate use of the front ensemble. The front can provide a myriad of sounds and colors to a show but often are underutilized. Too many shows feature the 1 student playing tambourine, 1 playing suspended cymbal, and the student that plays bells. To enhance the sound of the full ensemble first of all be sure that you have a good cymbal (or two) and a concert bass drum. These will help to fill out the wind sound sound at your impact moments. In addition a well placed and tasty cymbal roll can be just the right sound for a phrase transition musically. Add timpani to the front, especially if you have limited low brass. Timpani can add a great deal of bottom sound to help fill out the full ensemble texture. The roll of timpani in pit features is also often overlooked as they are what will fulfill the bass sound and keep the sound of the front ensemble from becoming too high pitched when the winds are not playing. Try to utilize a variety of mallet instruments. If your program is limited in keyboard instrumentation think about mallet selections to help blend the sounds into the winds more. For example yarn mallets on the low end of the xylophone can effectively emulate the sound of a marimba. Also adding one synthesizer (or mallet controller like a MalletKat) can open up a much wider palette of sounds from the front that can help further fill out the band sound (just do NOT overuse the “thunderous goo” bass effect!). Also try to not always have the front doubling a wind instrument if it can be avoided. The front can be great for ostinato patterns, arpeggiated patterns and more. These will often project better and fill out the ensemble sound more than doubling the melody in the front. And when it gets to the impact unleash the cymbals, bass drum, tam tam etc. I often hear percussion and GE judges talk about bands lacking impact and that is often by not fully using the front ensembles resources at those points in the show.

4) Space is good!! The drums do not have to all play all the time. Save that for the most important impact moments. Or have section maintaining a groove or ostinato effect while another of the sections carries the content at different times. Think of it the same way winds are arranged. The full wind section does not play the whole time and neither should the battery.

5) Use the idea of a rhythmic cadence. I am not talking about a street beat style cadence but one in the concept of what composers like John Cage would do in music that did not feature traditional melody and harmony. They would often use either speeding up or slowing down the rhythmic structures at the ends of a musical phrase to give the effect of finality and to transition to a new idea. Too often arrangers fall back on quarter note triplets or even just quarter notes to denote the end of a major event musically. After awhile this can lose the desired effect on the audience and become too predictable. Find ways to make the rhythmic structure naturally lead from one phrase to the next. In increase or decrease (either can work depending on the context) of the rhythmic tension can be a much more effective (and creative) way to transition between sections. One of the easiest is borrowing rhythmic motives from other points in the show or even other music that might be related to the show such as other pieces by the same composer (sort of musical Easter eggs).

6) Seek out as much material on the music you are playing as possible. If it is orchestral music get the full scores! Look for string lines that might not have been included in the arrangement to fill out the front ensemble parts. Look for important percussion parts from the original score and include those when possible (a GREAT way to teach your percussionists about these pieces and the role percussion can play in a larger concert ensemble). If it is pop music look for as many different versions of a tune as you can find. Many times you can find a version that has a slightly different yet very cool feel that you can incorporate. This can also give you new scoring ideas for timbres etc. Look for specific effects in a piece that you can try and come up with a cool new way to recreate on a field (try to do it acoustically first before settling on punching a button).

7) If it is a choice between a very small battery and a very small pit or having a larger version of each section consider putting the full percussion ensemble in the pit. The amount of color they can add to the show will be much higher there than with just battery instruments. It is also a great way to get more of the kids interested in and playing mallet instruments. I would not however use battery instruments in the pit or ground the battery. That causes way to many balance, blend and timing issues! Use concert drums to blend the sound more effectively. They can always get their battery fix playing in the stands at football games.

8) LESS RIM SHOTS!!! Shots should be an effect, not a main musical idea!