Posts

Drummer's Weight Room: Tap Timing Exercise

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Most young players struggle at some point with getting both hands to play evenly, at the same volume and with the same sound. There are many exercises which address these concerns, and this is one of my favorites because it is both simple and versatile. Like most classic drumming exercises, this one has roots that go back a century or more, and can be applied to the limits of your imagination. The “Tap Timing” exercise is simple. Play the rhythms and sticking as written, with metronome or music, and strive to make each stroke look, sound and feel the same. Start slow enough to play it accurately, and count out loud – at least at first.
As you can see from the ending markings (1 through 5), the first measure is a, “Check Pattern,” to be played before each of the variations. There are two major performance goals of the exercise: Make all notes sound the same.  This is tougher than it first appears, and will take some concentration at first. You may want to video/record yourself to make …

Everything you've ever heard is a lie

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Ok, so not everything you've ever heard is a lie. Just all the drum sounds you've ever heard on speakers or headphones.

In college, I was the percussion manager for a small music store. It was a great place for me to learn how to tune drums and work with different materials and configurations. And, in addition to my own playing and recording, it taught me that most of us don't have a clue what drums actually sound like.

To the drum neophyte, just the idea of tuning a drum is a revelation. You hit it, and you get the sound that you get. And when most people hear the "naked" drum sounds, they'll think there's something wrong, because the sounds are "bad."

Most drummers know that you can change the sound of the drum through tuning and head selection. But still too many drummers don't know that the sounds they're getting are natural - they may even be great - even if they don't sound like the drums they're hearing on recordings. As a …

What I Wish Every Young Percussionist Knew

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This post will probably be read by several actual junior high band directors, all of whom have far more experience and wisdom than I do. At the risk of enduring a few, "duh!" comments, I offer the following.

"It's a riddle, really - does percussion attract squirrelly people, or do they become squirrelly because they play percussion?" - Band Directors Everywhere!
Recently, I was asked to fill in for a junior high percussionist (seriously) at a concert.* It was a great experience on the whole, but I was reminded about all the things I wish I'd known when I was an 11-year-old beginning band student. Here are a few of them.

You already have a reputation.
With the band director - who's known too many percussionists - and with the mass of the human population. Drummers (and I know there's a discussion about drummers vs. percussionists, but it's for another time) are known for being flaky, not taking things seriously, never being on task, not knowing wha…

"Just do it like we did it in rehearsal."

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As a young band director, I was always caught off guard by how differently my band played on stage than they did in the practice room. Sometimes the drop-off was extreme, and in my first year it got to be so bad that the kids started to expect the performance to be dismal even if rehearsals were excellent.

At the district festival, I happened to be talking to one of the most successful directors in the state, and I asked him what he told his kids before they went on stage to get them to play so well. His answer is the title of this post, "I tell them, 'Just do it like we did it in rehearsal.'"

The simplicity of the concept stunned me. For some reason, I thought that I had to offer some sort of special advice to get my kids mentally prepared to play a concert in front of an audience. In reality, that preparation had already been done, and what I needed to do was help them to get in the exact same frame of mind they'd been in during those excellent rehearsals. Inst…

How do you spell fun?

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"Because after a while, even lobster starts to taste like soap." - Dave Ramsey
When I taught high school band, I would start off every year by telling my new students that my whole goal for them was to have fun. That's it, just have fun. I loved the stunned reactions on their faces. They'd giggle and do little celebration dances. (Easy A!) 
Then I'd twist the plot.
"Let me spell 'fun' for you, because some of you may have forgotten how to spell it over the summer break," I'd say, matter-of-factly. Accompanied by giggling and whispering, I would walk to the white board, and with a new, fresh dry-erase marker I would spell in tall capital letters:

W - O - R - K
The laughter would stop. Instead, silence. After a minute or so, inevitably, there'd be some kid in the back who would shout out, "Hey! You spelled it wrong! That says WORK!" 
I'd smile, nod my head and say, "Yes. It does say, 'fun.' Excellent reading." 
As …

With the end in mind, you don't need resolutions

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I'm on record as saying that I don't do New Year's resolutions. They're largely a waste of time and they set you up for failure. And that failure results in less motivation and less productivity.

One alternative is to focus on results. Ask yourself what you want the end result to look like, then work backwards. What will have to happen to get that result?

The other day I was shooting baskets, and I wasn't having much success. Mostly, I was just chucking the sphere at the hoop. The more I missed, the more I just thought, "Well, try it again!" You know what they say about insanity, right?*

Finally, after missing many shots in a row, I thought, "What am I not doing right?" I had been focusing on my feet, my arm/hand position, release, follow through, etc., but I had forgotten what needed to happen at the hoop - for the ball to go through! That simple thought reminded me of a key concept, that of "dropping" the ball on top of the hoop.

Inst…

Servants get all the good stuff

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"You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." - Zig Ziglar, Secrets of Closing the Sale (1984)
December is a great time to be a freelance musician. One of my annual Christmas gigs is to play in the percussion section of Dr. Craig Jessop's American Festival Chorus and Orchestra. It's a world-class ensemble, and always features a prominent soloist.

This year was no exception. The performances were electric, and the guest artist, Alyson Cambridge, delivered passionate, moving interpretations. It was a joy to be a part of the process of preparation and presentation of such a gift.

During one of the performances in a section where I had rests (welcome to orchestral percussion), I was watching the singers, the instrumentalists, the conductor, the soloist and the audience, and I had an epiphany.

I don't think about it often, but a section percussionist's role - almost without exception - is to be servant to t…