Percussion and drums are always a popular selection for band students. Each year, your incoming class will likely have some number of youngsters who can’t wait to start banging out some beats on a drum set. But how do you know which students are really cut out for playing percussion instruments, and how do you ensure they mature into well-rounded percussionists?
Why You Should Want Well-Rounded Percussionists
Students who want to drum will benefit from becoming well-rounded percussionists. They’ll learn to read music, which is critical if they want to advance their practice and especially if they want to major in music in college, teach music or make a living as a professional musician in the future. Learning mallet instruments and hand percussion skills will make them better at listening for melodies and tones in the band and understanding balance throughout the band. Ear training is critical for all musicians to develop and playing multiple percussion instruments will help. Plus, encouraging students to play multiple instruments may uncover a passion for the front ensemble that they might not have recognized!
Be Clear with Your Expectations for Your Percussion Program
As an educator, you need to be clear with yourself about what you expect from your percussionists. Do you want them to have a working knowledge of all the percussion instruments or just a specific selection of them? Will you let students focus on drumming only or do you require them to learn mallet instruments and hand percussion? Will your percussionists have specific roles within the band or will they rotate through all of the percussion positions?
Once you have a clear vision, you’ll be better able to communicate your expectations to your students. If you want to develop well-rounded percussionists, incoming students must know this up front, so they don’t have misguided thoughts of only learning drums. They must also understand how they will be assessed or graded and what percussion success looks like in your program.
What to Look for in Percussion Students
Almost any student can learn to play percussion instruments. However, there are several qualities that will often lead a musician to being a great percussionist. Obviously, you want a percussion candidate to have good rhythm and excellent musical sensitivity. Ideal students will be organized, precise, independent and patient. Percussionists need to understand that when they are playing, they play a critical role for the entire band; at the same time, when they’re not playing, they must remain still but engaged until their turn comes up again. Look for students who are excellent listeners and who are truly dedicated to the art of percussion (not just the drums).
How to Start Percussionists in Your Program
With an incoming class of young musicians, how do you know who possesses all of those qualities listed above? There are a couple schools of thought for your approach:
- Audition percussion candidates: if there are many students who want to play, hold introductory auditions to determine if they can follow a provided beat. Give them new tempos to see who can pick them up quickly. Instruct them to play quarter notes with one hand and eighth notes with another. Have them work through a selection of percussion instruments (mallet keyboards, hand held percussion, etc.) to ensure they have the rhythm and ability to adapt to different instruments. Select only the most capable students.
- Don’t let anyone start on percussion: this may sound radical, but forcing all students to start on non-percussion instruments will let you get to know your class, start to identify which students have the qualities noted above, and see who really shows the interest and dedication. By mid-year, you should be able to select those students who will have success as percussionists.
- Only allow mallets or bells to start: this approach allows the kids to learn to listen, read music and keep a beat while you have a chance to get to know the students and their qualities and their rhythmic abilities and dedication.
Give Your Percussionists the Right Tools
As your percussion students advance, teaching them to respect and care for the instruments and accessories is nearly as important as it is teaching them to play. Providing your students with high quality tools will go a long way in helping them. There is a wide selection of affordable gear for your percussion students, including student percussion as well as intermediate and advanced instruments. You'll also want to stock up on practice pads, sticks and mallets, concert percussion and percussion books and music.
Percussion students shoulder a lot of responsibilities in your program. Make sure you and your students understand your expectations. Take the time to get to know your new musicians and find those who have the ideal qualities that will help them grow into excellent percussionists. Give them the best tools you can and teach them the importance of taking care of those instruments and accessories.
If you need additional guidance or resources, the Percussive Arts Society is a great community for educators involved in percussion. Or, call a Woodwind & Brasswind Staff Advisor who can help you choose the best items for your program. We’re proud to offer exclusive educator pricing to help your budget go further.