The following is part of a series of posts relating to starting students on snare and mallets.
The first day with instruments is a very exciting day for young students! They have all this stuff, they’re about to play music with their friends…THEY HAVE ALL THIS STUFF! But, that excitement can easily turn into chaos if there is not a clear plan that follows a logical path outlined by the teacher.
After helping with many Start-Up clinics over the last 12 years, here are some of my (and my wife’s) thoughts on the process to help as you start your student’s off right on snare drum.
Before the Start-Up Day
Before the start up day the students need an understanding of pulse, meter, and musical notation.
Pulse: They should understand that music happens in time with a steady beat known as the pulse. They should tap their foot in time with the steady beat (played by a metronome). Then they should clap their hands while tapping their foot in time with the steady beat. Then they should say the number “1” while they clap their hands and tap their foot in time with the steady beat. (This is laying the groundwork for the process of tapping, counting, and clapping rhythms which is a great practice to get in the habit of doing.) After they have done that for a while ask them, “How many beats do you think we have clapped and counted?” Of course no one will know. But it makes a nice transition to introducing meter.
Meter and Measures: Meter is when you group collections of pulses together so that you may more easily keep track of them. Have the student’s tap, clap, and count “1 – 2, 1 -2”. Have them do this for four groups. Ask the students if anyone knows how many beats went by. Someone may know the answer! If not, do it again but prompt them to keep track of how many times they count to two. Tell them that we’re going to refer to these groups of beats as measures. Repeat this process for three letting them know that now there are three beats in our measures. Then do the same thing for four.
Musical Notation: Illustrate how the music you’ve been performing may be written down with notation. Draw a staff and explain this is where we write music. Draw four quarter notes and explain that these symbols represent the rhythm that we have been clapping. Since they have already heard the term measures, draw bar lines and explain to them that these section the music off into measures.
Armed with that information the students should be ready to take on the Snare Start-Up!
Great and Small is a programmatic work comprised of two delightful movements for solo keyboard percussion with optional audio accompaniment. These vignettes depict the powerful beasts Leviathan and Behemoth when they were still young, whimsical, and childlike. Deemed ‘’medium-easy” by the publisher, it is appropriate for older middle school or younger high school students and works well as their first solo piece.
As an educator, I found several benefits to studying this work with students. The length is ideal for younger percussionists, as each movement in the set is approximately two minutes. Neither movement requires four-mallet technique or similar advanced concepts, and the programmatic nature encourages conversation about character interpretation and expression. The entire piece is written using sixteenth notes as the smallest subdivision, exploring syncopated rhythms and interplay between the hands. This is especially noticeable in the second movement, “Budding Behemoth,” with many of these figures beginning on the left hand with a large leap. The first movement, “Little Leviathan,” includes phrase markings in the right hand to highlight the melody, something difficult to find in compositions for this ability level. Perhaps my favorite musical concept is the detailed use of dynamic contrast. Developing this at a young age is vital, and I am pleased to see an appropriate amount throughout both movements.
From a logistical point of view, the flexibility of Great and Small is wonderful for many public school situations. Herndon has composed the work so that any movement can be performed on a vibraphone, xylophone, or 4-octave marimba. While he recommends vibraphone for the first movement and marimba for the second movement, the option encourages students to take their own liberties bands on the equipment they have available. Furthermore, even through the audio accompaniment greatly enhances the piece, it is not necessary for performance. This allows for students to still gain from the work even if they are unable to meet the technological requirements, Very well priced, this composition is worth adding to your repertoire for younger students.
Vol. 57, No. 2, May 2019
“Guac is Extra” serves as a fun way to introduce students to the instruments and style of salsa music. John Herndon does a fantastic job of making the style accessible to younger players, as each uses two drums and an accessory instrument. The performance notes indicate the drums to be played with swizzle sticks; however, more advanced players are encouraged to use their hands for the congas and bongos.
The piece begins with a brief introduction and then layers the different instrument entrances as the groove is built. Once all the players have entered, the bongo, conga, and timbale players take solos. Although solos are written out for each player, there is room for players to embellish the solos or even create their own. Although not indicated in the score, it would not be difficult to extend the solos for the players, if needed. The middle section is made up of straight eighth notes with the players accenting certain notes to create a fun melody around the ensemble. The piece ends with a return to the original grooveand a brief coda.
This piece will help students to not only learn the style, but also work on ensemble sensitivity, listening, and groove. The piece will make an excellent addition to the repertoire for younger groups. With all the guac and salsa they will be playing, the only thing missing would be a side of chips!
Vol. 53, No. 1, March 2019
An important part of helping your students grow as musicians is knowing where they currently stand. Holding Class Placement Auditions can help you get a handle on exactly that. By evaluating student’s performance of the same etudes you should be able to group them into those displaying basic, intermediate, and advanced skills.
These Audition Etudes focus on three primary areas of percussion: Concert Percussion, Marimba, and Timpani.
The Concert Percussion Audition Etude provides an opportunity to evaluate students performing on a variety of commonly used percussion instruments: Suspended Cymbal, Triangle, Tambourine, Hand Cymbals, Concert Bass Drum, and Snare Drum.
This Marimba Audition Etude samples a variety of skill sets: basic four mallet technique, performing arpeggios, diatonic and chromatic scales.
The students should be evaluated on how they tune the instruments before they perform the Timpani Audition Etude .
Feel free to download and use to help audition your percussionists!
Having a lot of staff members can be great! But, only if you communicate effectively…
For every staff member you add you add a little Communication Overhead. Meaning that for every staff member you add you have to pay a little time in communication in order to receive quality work from them. If it is just you, zero time communicating. If you add a staff member, you should be communicating with them about plans for the rehearsal and goals for the group. If you add two, that’s even MORE time and so on…
For this reason Josh Kaufman in The Personal MBA suggests that you limit staff to between three and eight people. Any more than that and you spend a considerable amount of time communicating and it begins to detract from the effectiveness of the team. People get confused and work against one another, or they simply don’t know what to do so they don’t contribute.
For indoor drumline and marching band I follow his advice and limit the staff to two people in the fall and eight (the max) for indoor.
In addition, almost every rehearsal since spring 2014 I’ve posted a schedule like this in an area that can be seen by students and staff.
I usually spend no more than 10-15 minutes creating and posting it and it communicates to EVERYONE what the plan for the day is. I try to get it up an hour in advance so that staff members who find themselves in charge of running part of rehearsal can plan. I also encourage staff autonomy by not telling them EXACTLY what to do all the time. Notice the Pit has a lot of music time scheduled, but I don’t say exactly what to spend it on. I do this because I trust my staff and I want them to know that. No one feels trusted and valued if you micromanage them. Conversely, if they ask me what I’d like them to work on, I always have an answered prepared to supplement the plan in the schedule.
I first saw one of these posted by Rhythm X and thought, “They know what they’re doing. I’ll give it a shot.”
I haven’t been disappointed! Try it out with your group and let me know what you think.
One of the challenges of selecting percussion ensemble repertoire for educational ensembles is handling the different ability levels that are present within an ensemble.
Invariably some students are more advanced and become bored with “easy” parts. Conversely, some students are still developing basic skills and can be overwhelmed (and not educationally served) by advanced repertoire. Sometimes those students are in the same class…
What do you do?
One solution is to choose percussion ensemble pieces that include parts of variable difficulty levels.
What follows are three suggestions for just those types of pieces. I’ve included links to Tapspace where you can find more information about the pieces and I’ve listed the general difficulty level of each part in each piece, below. I use a 5-tiered system for ranking the difficulty levels of the parts: Easy, Medium-Easy, Medium, Medium-Advanced, Advanced.
I have programmed these pieces multiple times with my groups over the years. I return to them for their educational merit and because they provide the opportunity to meet every student wherever they are in their percussion education.
I hope these pieces serve you as well as they have me and my students 🥁
Now The Day Is Over by John Willmarth
- Glock: Medium-Easy
- Marimba 1: Medium-Advanced
- Marimba 2: Medium
- Vibe 1: Medium
- Vibe 2: Medium-Easy
- Chimes: Easy
- Piano: Student, Medium |Accompanist, Easy
- Percussion 1: Medium-Easy
- Percussion 2: Easy
Dystopia by Jim Casella
- Glock: Medium-Easy
- Vibe 1: Medium
- Vibe 2: Medium
- Marimba 1: Medium-Advanced
- Marimba 2: Medium-Advanced
- Timpani: Medium
- Piano: Student, Medium-Advanced |Accompanist, Medium-Easy
- Chimes: Easy
- Percussion: Medium-Easy
- Military Drum: Medium-Easy
- Snare Drum: Medium-Easy
- Tam-Tam: Easy
- Tom-Toms: Medium
- Cymbals: Easy
- Bass Drum: Medium-Easy
The River by Seth Adams
- Glock: Medium-Easy
- Chimes: Easy
- Vibes: Medium
- Marimba: Medium-Advanced
- Piano*: Student, Medium-Advanced | Accompanist, Medium-Easy
- Timpani: Medium-Advanced
- Bass Guitar*: Student, Medium-Advanced | Accompanist, Medium-Easy
- Percussion 1: Easy
- Percussion 2:
- Percussion 3:
- Percussion 4: Easy
*Though it is more effective with them, The River may be performed without Piano and Bass Guitar.
In addition to being a fun piece to play and program on a concert, it is also a great way to introduce young students to multiple-percussion score reading and basic extended playing techniques and notation.
Vol. 56, No. 3, July 2018
You can check out the full review here.