Preparing Percussionists

Unlike many of their fellow band members, percussionists have the task of not only mastering one instrument, but every instrument in the percussion section. This leaves an even greater challenge for band directors. As a band teacher with first-time band students, percussionists usually come in abundance and also find themselves unengaged. With limited class time, more attention is oftentimes put on helping wind instrument players produce their first notes. In the meantime, your percussionists are either left playing slow quarter notes, or creating utter mayhem hammering on their drums.

There are two vital steps to creating a well-rounded percussionist:

Starting On Bells Only

So many beginning bands are flooded by a large number of percussionists. Why? The prospect of banging on drums is enticing. However, by starting your percussionists off on snares, what you will find is either bored percussionists, who must play to the tempo of their classmates, or rowdy students hitting the drum pad any chance they get. But percussionists must be trained in both keyboard and battery instruments. Trying to teach both the snares and bells simultaneously also poses as a challenge, as band lessons tend to be time limited. Instead, consider focusing your percussionists on bells only. After the first few months, start introducing snare drums. By doing this, your percussion students will be stronger in reading music notation. They will also have a heightened awareness of the rest of the band which will come in handy down the line when transitioning to drums. Lastly, students will gain discipline and commitment to the percussion section as a whole, rather than purely being interested in drumming.

Teach Technique

The next critical step in keeping percussionists challenged and engaged at all times is teaching technique from the beginning. Rather than letting students hit their drums at the right tempo, impress upon them that they need to develop and practice a functional grip. This will set them up for success when they learn more difficult pieces of music as they progress. Performer and drum teach Stewart Hoffman lists some technique basics to get you going:

No matter what grip you teach, the following points apply to all drumming:

– Drop the stick, don’t hammer it into the drum

– Volume corresponds to the height from which the stick is dropped (so don’t hammer in order to get more volume)

– The sticks should move straight up and down. Strokes played from the side waste motion and hinder control

– Shoulders and arms must be relaxed!’

The percussion section of any band is vital to the success of the band overall. So when training these young students, remember that you are shaping a percussionist, not a drummer. For more music & band articles, follow us on Facebook!