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Percussion Beginning Stages


The primary focus of instruction in percussion involves the awareness of beat and the rhythmic subdivisions, which make it up.

All lessons on musical instruments need to emphasize the beat. Many teachers use counting, tapping, patting and clapping to develop beat awareness and the role of the rhythm within the beat. These are all good methods to use when teaching percussion.

Snare Drum

Most percussionists start their instruction on snare drum. The first thing most students learn (after learning how to set up the drum) is how to hold the sticks. The first ingredient of success is to ensure that the stick is balanced in such a way as to allow the best bounce (this is approximately one third of the way up the stick). There are two common ways of holding the sticks:

Traditional grip - in which the left hand (usually in a relative palm up direction) holds the stick across the palm from the web of the thumb to between the middle and ring finger. The thumb is used to direct pressure on to the top of the stick. This method of grip was a product of hundreds of years ago when drums were carried on slings on the lift side of the player. The right hand grasps the stick in the same way as the matched grip description below.

Matched grip - (in which both hands hold the sticks the same way). Fingers and thumb should be in a relaxed position with fingers slightly curved. Grasp the stick at the "best bounce" location with thumb on the inside and index finger on the opposite side. The stick should contact the index finger approximately at the end of the second joint. The back of the stick usually passes diagonally through the palm almost in line with the arm, with the other fingers curved loosely around the stick. The palm should be down when playing and the knuckles should be toward the ceiling. There are several variations of this, which you should clarify with your teacher.

The stroke - Start with the stick in the middle of the drum head, raise it to a height of about 5 inches and strike the head (about 2/3 the way toward the center). Make sure that the wrist and arm remain slightly flexible and limber. A wrist or arm that is too stiff (or loose) can be detrimental to playing. Students should avoid looking like one of those wind up toy, drum playing monkeys and use a hinge motion or a small "crack the whip" type of motion (the monkey always make people laugh because he uses a stiff full arm motion) The tip of the stick should bounce once in an upward unrestricted motion. Some describe good single stroke technique as pulling the sound out of the head with the bounce of the stick tip.

What about those fingers curled loosely around the stick? These fingers are very important in controlling the rebound and developing technique. Don't neglect them. Later on those fingers will be exercised individually with the stick. These properly trained fingers will aid in developing the ability to play rapid single stroke passages and also will enable the player to play rolls on the timpani (which are single stroke rolls)

Once the beginner has a good hold on the basics of stroke, stick position, and reading basic patterns suggest a set of warm up exercises designed to develop technique. One such exercise is a hand exercise that develops stroke height, accent height and exercises the hand and wrist.

In this exercise the student plays the following pattern in the right hand. All large numbers are accents. The accents are about 5-7 inches above the drumhead. Small numbers are taps 2-5 inches above the drumhead. Remember to play with a steady beat.



Alternate this pattern from right hand to left over many repetitions.

Rolling - There are many types of rudiments the percussionist must master. Probably the most important of these is the roll. The two most commonly used rolls are the double-stroke and the buzz(or multiple bounce) roll.

Buzz Roll - the buzz roll consists of stroking the drum and having multiple bounces (5-7 ata slow tempo) on the drum head from each stick. You can begin working on this roll by working one hand at a time until you get a consistent multiple bounce. At this point you can alternate R and L hands in a 1-2-3-4 pattern of beats. A good exercise is to single stroke the beats and replace a number with a buzz. The example below illustrate the pattern:


You can progress from this buzzing on 3, then on 2, then 1, 1 & 2, 1,2, & 3. The idea here is to use these repetitions as a part of your regular warm-up.

Double Stroke Roll - the double stroke roll can be taught in a similar way to the buzz. The difference is that each stroke of the sticks results in a bounce of 2 even sounding taps. It is important to start slowly and gradually increase tempo as the student progresses.