Keeping Percussionists Interested During Concert Season
by John Pollard,

Keeping percussionists interested during concert season can sometimes be a challenge. High school drummers sometimes see marching season as a feast of notes and visuals but look upon concert season as a less important, boring time. That perception is not accurate from a mature musical standpoint, but it is a reality instructors often face. The following suggestions are designed to help instructors keep percussionists on-task and accountable during concert band rehearsals.

A drummer's perception that concert season is boring comes largely from inactivity: Imagine asking half of your trumpet section to sit quietly without instruments each day while the rest of the band warms up and works on a piece of music. This regularly happens to percussionists when there aren't enough parts to go around.

My goal is to keep all players engaged at all times. I've observed that students with active roles throughout rehearsal feel a stronger sense of belonging and have healthier attitudes about concert season - and band in general. Here are some ways to keep percussionists active:

During warm-ups, use a metronome. Allow percussionists to play drumline exercises on mounted practice pads while the band plays their standard long tone and other warm-ups. It's easy to edit drumline exercises to fit wind warm-ups. Using practice pads keeps the sound from being disruptive.

Include mallet instruments in warm-ups. For long tones, have players roll notes in unison with the band. For chorales, have them roll two or four note chords (chorales are great for developing four-mallet playing). Range extension exercises often include scale/arpeggio patterns, which can be integrated by giving percussionists flute or oboe parts to play. I prefer using the above methods in tandem: Assign half of your students to play the warm-ups on practice pads and the other half on mallet instruments. The next day have them switch places so they're constantly improving both mallet and drumming skills.

When you go from warm-ups to music rehearsal, provide each percussionist with a part to play. Students left without a part become bored and can feel overlooked - especially second/third band students who may not be as committed as the top players.

For any "extra" players, try doubling wind parts on marimba and vibraphone. These instruments blend well with the band and are always in-tune. A transposed French horn or saxophone part sounds fine on vibraphone. Oboe parts require no transposition and may be doubled on marimba (useful if you're short of doublereed players). Bassoon and low brass parts work well on marimba and give students a chance to exercise reading bass clef. Remember that marimba and vibraphone sound in the written octave.

Obviously you'll need to edit creatively (you won't want marimba playing with soli brass) but students don't mind the edits. They just want a part to play - that's why they joined band. These ideas may improve the interest level and skill of your players and provide a more positive rehearsal environment for your entire band.

From Chris Worrick

As a percussionist, and Jr-High - High School band director I totally agree with your article. When I went through school, the percussionist were not challenged and we dredded counting a zillion measures of rests only to play the occaisional quarter note. I got so bored that my senior year I started playing the mallet parts just to have something to do in class. This opened up a whole new area of music for me and my high school plans of going into architecture changed to music.

Currently my seventh grade band of 35 has only one trombone for a bass section (not much) so I have transposed the tuba parts up and have a student using the bottom of our 4-1/3 marimba to play bass. This is solving three problems at once:

1. Another percussionist has something to do.
2. The percussionists are reading (keyboard) music.
3. Our band gets to hear a bass part.

With High School Students I can see the benifit of doing this in bass clef, but the middle school drummers are still learning to read music so I transpose it to treble clef and just have them play it at the bottom of the marimba. This way I don't confuse their reading development by mixing up clefs and note names on them. This does not seem to hinder their timpani reading skills as timpani stay set with their pitches at their level of music and do not require the constant note changes to have to read. With the newer music writing programs (finale) I can scan the music into the computer and transpose the tuba parts in no time. This makes it very easy to fill in any music parts with the keyboards and keep the percussionists busy. This way I can fill in more parts with the percussion than just flute and oboe. The percussionists then get to experince playing harmonic parts rather than just the melody that flute and oboe usually play. Working it right ( I haven't tried this yet) the keyboards could play all the parts of the band and you would automatically have a full percussion ensemble piece for them to play.