Involving Your Students in New Areas of Percussion

One of the many challenges that percussion educators encounter is how to involve their students in new areas of percussion. Some marching band students are not interested in jazz or ethnic drumming, and mallet students are not always involved in snare, timpani or drum set. Recently, we asked some of our educators how they were addressing this issue. Following are excerpts from some of the responses we received.

"If you want someone to listen to you and engage you in conversation, then you must seek out the common ground that exists between the two of you. In much the same way, if you teach percussion and want to interest your students in new areas of study, you must help them discover the common ground that exists between what they do now, what they like and are comfortable with, and what they have yet to explore. For example, a colleague of mine has a summer percussion camp, which offers the study of ethnic percussion. During one of those camps, he presented a clinic on the ‘clave.' He played excerpts from various popular forms of music and showed the students the presence of the ‘clave' within each song. When the students began to hear and see that the 'clave' was very much a part of Beck's hit, 'Loser' and 'Hand Jive' from the movie Grease, they had evidence of a link between something they knew and liked and something they might, perhaps, explore." - Neal Flum, Athens High School, current Alabama P.A.S. Secretary and former Past President.

"One way I encourage my students (without them even knowing it) is to play for them. Be it marimba, vibraphone, timpani, congas, or whatever the situation calls for, I try to give a little insight to what the possibilities are with practice. Playing videos, tapes or CDs is another way for them to hear what is attainable. This has not only given them encouragement, but it also encourages me as a teacher. It instills a good attitude within the students, which translates into them practicing not only the things that they already feel comfortable with, but also the things that they do not feel as comfortable with. The results are outstanding. The students are practicing more, which enables them to feel a certain amount of success, and after all, isn't that what teaching is all about?" - Chris Retschulte, Blackstone Regional School District, former Teaching Assistant from the University of Massachusetts under Thom Hannum.

"As you motivate your percussion students to move beyond the marching field and into the world of total percussion, remember to take small steps. Take comfort in knowing that your goal of molding these marching percussionists into total percussionists will be achieved if you maintain an educational philosophy that emphasizes total percussion education. Set your expectations for your students to be total percussionists. If these same students are in concert band, have them trade off parts. Each student should strive to perform on as many different percussion instruments as possible. If you have a school pep band, use a total percussion setup of drum set, congas, Latin percussion, bells and vibes instead of a marching setup. Remember, it is much easier to start your beginner students as total percussionists than to wait until they are in high school." - Dan Fyffe, Franklin Central High School, 1998 WGI Scholastic Concert World Champions.

"One answer to the question is the concert percussion ensemble. This will help keep the students motivated and become better all-around percussionists. The percussion ensemble is also a great way to teach different instruments and skills. A variety and balance in programming for the ensemble are the keys to keeping students interested. Try to pick a variety of selections that you think your students will like and that will lend themselves to the percussion and musical concepts you are trying to teach. Other considerations when selecting music are the different performing aspects such as creative stage setups (risers), dress (costumes), lighting and other visual effects. Another suggestion is to bring in a guest artist to perform with the group. This is educationally beneficial for both the students and the instructor. The world of percussion is so large that there are no limits, just use your imagination and have fun!" - Mike Lynch, Lassiter High School, 1998 BOA Grand National Champions.