PAS names Joshua Simonds as New Executive Director

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“I am honored the Board of Directors has entrusted me with leading this distinguished organization and am eager to start working with members around the world to build on 55 years of amazing history. Together, we will ensure PAS continues to be the global leader in percussion and drumming, and as our mission states, inspire, educate, and support percussionists and drummers throughout the world.” (more…)

Snare Drum Warm-up

Over the past couple of months, I have been introducing snare drum rudiments at PercussionEducation.com. For the percussionist, rudiments are like scales. You should be practicing them everyday just like a wind player practices scales. In this video, I would like to introduce my snare drum warm-up that I wrote a year ago. This 12 minute warm-up includes all of the basic strokes to give you a well rounded warm-up. Please download a copy of my snare drum warm-up, get out your practice pad, a metronome and go for it. (more…)

Better Preparing our Graduates

Over the past several years I’ve noticed a fair amount of discussion about the relevancy of a college education, especially one in the arts. And this post by Ivan Trevino echoes many of the concerns recent graduates are having about their college music degree experience.

I was asked recently to serve on a committee of faculty from the College of Fine Arts at UT to look more closely at the offerings, or lack thereof, of our current curriculum and to suggest changes and/or additions to better help students cope with life after school.

I’ve been writing and thinking about these things for quite some time and I’m excited about the opportunity to help our college adapt to the changing needs of our graduates. So, the purpose of tonight’s post, is to try and get a better pulse on what we, the protectors and directors of higher education, need to be aware of as we develop our offerings to become more relevant to today’s college music student.

To that end: whether you are a current college student, or college professor, what are your thoughts on how higher education needs to adapt to better prepare our graduates for success. Please leave your thoughts below and be sure to check out Ivan’s post (link above). Thanks for your ideas in advance!

Understanding the Problem at Hand.

Don’t underestimate the importance of understanding the problem at hand. In our “neurotic” (obsessive) percussion culture we often concern ourselves too much with playing the geekiest, nerdiest, and most expensive gear. While this obsession isn’t necessarily a bad thing (and often is the most important thing) there are some instances, especially for younger players, where it can throw us off course.
As usual, I like to take things I learn in life and apply them to my teaching and playing. I recently got back to water skiing. And, as is often the case, I was reminded of something I learned way back in my skiing hay-day (too long ago) that applies to my profession today. You see, I learned to slalom ski (one ski) on mediocre to good equipment. After several years of experience I was invited to try a top of the line, very expensive ski. I got up, hit a cut as hard as normal and the next thing I knew I was eating serious water. I learned the hard way that I had greatly underestimated the ski! It was TOTALLY different, almost to the point where I was a beginner again. That ski took time to adjust to, a long learning curve to be sure! I wasn’t able to continue skiing with it, but if I had, I know my skiing would have eventually taken a big next step. Why? Was it just because the ski? Well, only partly, if I didn’t have the strong foundation of skiing well on good equipment, I would be less likely to adapt to the high test qualities of the new ski. If I had started on that high end ski I would have failed immediately.
That story leads me to my question today; how important is the equipment (both instruments and stick/mallets) we use? Could it be that we look to our instruments and mallets to solve problems that only we can solve as players? If this is true, are we really reaping the benefits from that super geeky expensive gear?

Learn how to make more than one sound out of one set of sticks than only one sound out of each stick you own.

I’ve seen it often; younger players allowing their tools to distract them from the more important goal. This summer I witnessed a student insisting they needed a deeper snare drum when what they really needed to do was solve a more important problem first; playing any drum in time with the orchestra and conductor. Often students, after learning a new trick of the trade, are too eager to unveil it in an important audition or concert, and after doing so don’t realize that it made that excerpt flop even harder. Or, what about that show player, who is more concerned about having 8 sets of timpani mallets at their disposal in the middle of a large Broadway show set-up, than taking into consideration how that seemingly constructive idea actually causes logistical issues because it causes more problems that it solves (extraneous timpani mallets flying about the set-up as mallet changes are attempted but failed).
Actually, maybe this is a phenomenon seen all around us. Think about the infamous launch of the iPhone 4. It was made with 2 sides glass! Cool and shiny right? So I bought in.. (you did too..) and in a matter of weeks or months one or both sides of my “super elegant and high-end” smart phone were shattered. Think about it. How many iPhones have you seen around you with shattered screens? So much so that it gave birth to an entire business of screen replacement establishments eager to make money off of a design that had noble intentions but was a terrible idea. I fell in love with the bling, the status symbol, drank the Apple cool-aid; “this is what YOU want”. When all along what I really needed was a more durable smartphone, a hardware design that was more practical for the constant and stressful use of a device that went with me everywhere. Imagine a phone with a rubber back, one that didn’t feel like a slippery “fish” in the hands. Admittedly, a bit less “high end” but way more functional and durable. So I turned to Android, a platform that was at the time a bit less design oriented but infinitely more customizable. After experiencing the stable but restrictive capabilities of iOS Android turned out to be the high end ski! A software experience more adaptable with more practical hardware.
But what is the problem at hand? The point is to encourage younger players to find your own solution. Don’t let the bling of a new set of sticks, or a new super geeky marimba design distract you from making a mediocre to good instrument sound great. Ask questions like: why do I only use my teachers mallets? Keep it simple. As a starting point use minimal amounts of mallets. Learn how to make more than one sound out of one set of sticks than only one sound out of each stick you own. When you fully explore this minimal approach and learn to make your best sounds the bells and whistles of a new set of mallets, or a new instrument design will then become as important as they were meant to be by the brilliant designers who created them. Because you understand the foundation you will know how to apply the icing on the cake.
Real artistry doesn’t exist on high end equipment alone. Make the marimba sound great when you play it without resonators. Learn how to play an entire show with one set of timpani mallets while still creating articulate and legato notes. Learn how to make a lower end drum kit sound like DW’s top of the line model. If you can do all of these things and you finally get that “high end ski”, you’ll begin to really understand the difference between low and high end gear.
As always, I like to hear your perspective. While I’m obviously passionate about what I write here I’m also convinced there are many other ways to this end. Please share them and any other reactions below the post.

Fixing Things

We live in a culture where things are either working or they’re not. And if they’re not working, we throw them away.

Apparently, there used to be these things called repair stores. These were stores that fixed your broken TV’s, washer and dryers and even blenders and toasters. The way products are made and purchased today, the vast majority of these stores have gone out of business. Our approach and feeling about the things we own has also driven these stores out of our lives.

We see this in the professional world all the time as well. A good example is the shelf life for professional coaches. An under-performing season for your team (maybe 2 if you’re lucky) typically means you’re looking for a new job. This is seen not only in sports but many professions including music. Fair or unfair, it’s just the way things work.

All this leads to some misunderstandings in the music world. Many students and teachers have the mindset of “this either works it doesn’t.” Students either get it or they don’t. This has also led to the belief that people are either naturally talented at something or they’re simply not. One of my favorite quotes about talent is this – I find it amusing when people tell me that they don’t have a talent for music. I tell them to go practice for two hours a day for the next year. Then, come back and tell me how untalented you are.*

This is also one of the reasons that I’m not a fan of talent shows on television like American Idol and America’s Got Talent. They seem to perpetuate this idea that a person is inherently talented and then is somehow picked and their life is changed forever. While that’s great for the very small percentage that it works for, this isn’t reality. Reality is more along the lines of practicing everyday for ten years and creating a career through learning and experience. There are plenty of other posts on this site about creating a career, so I won’t go into that here.

Thankfully, there are places in the music world teaching the concept of persistence. The first that comes to my mind are the lessons learned in the marching arenas of percussion. Showing up everyday in the summer and every weekend through the winter teaches students that nothing is handed out, it takes a large amount of time and dedication to get good at anything in life and that things can in fact be fixed. These are invaluable lessons that go against the grain of many things in our culture. If this lesson is learned early, it can have a tremendous impact in anyone’s life.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that things can’t be fixed. Teachers – be patient and take time with your students. Students – be patient and take time with yourself. Nothing will ever be able to replace hard work over a long period of time.

*I couldn’t find the origin of this quote. If you know where it comes from, please let me know!

Talent, Work Ethic, and Family History; the Secret to Success(?)

Most of us have heard or read Malcom Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers in which he lays out his “10,000” hour “theory” claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. I’ve read this book and I have to say that his theory, at least in the way it’s presented, is convincing. I’ve also heard other teachers refer to the “10,000” hour rule specifically. So much so that over the last several years I’ve made regular mental notes to myself noting that it seems to be catching on, this theory of his.

Many, many times, I’ve talked to my students about the importance of practicing… a lot. Blaming practice, and a relentless work ethic for a good part of the success I’ve had. But more recent research is debunking this theory (for some individuals). And, thanks to Greg Zuber for posting this article in my Facebook news feed, drawing attention to a New York Times piece drawing a similar conclusion.

To quote this article directly: “Driving another nail in the practice coffin, a different recent study suggests that even years of work may not make up for tone-deaf genes.” I think it’s common knowledge that there can be some genetic component to successful musicians (my Mother, Father, brother, and yes, 1st cousin are/were all professional musicians). This we’ve always known as being mostly true. But, as an educator charged with mentoring college level students I think it important to ask a few questions.

As educators charged with building up and teaching the next generations music performers and educators how can we better identify students who are more likely to be successful? This would surely involve evaluating not only talent (the main way we audition/evaluate currently), but work ethic and family history as well. All of us know how important a good balance of talent and worth ethic is, but, is there a better mechanism that we can use to judge a students overall work ethic and artistic family history? Don’t we as educators need to take more responsibility for supporting (or not supporting) a students future in music? It’s a can of worms, but I often struggle with the college freshman in Texas who has been so involved in band in high school and knows “that world” so well that that defines what being a musician is. When that student learns in college that he can’t necessarily make a living performing in marching band, drum corps, or a concert band his reasons for doing music often have to be redefined. But, when this happens, this individual is already knee deep in an expensive college experience.

Perhaps the system as it stands is somewhat self regulating; meaning that those who are really meant to perform or teach music find a way to sift through the murkiness of the high school and college system and those who aren’t simply drop out. I’m simply asking, based on more recent research (and theories), can we do our job better to help serve these students? What is the balance between talent and work ethic and family history? What, if any importance, do you put on these theories and studies? Leave your thoughts to the many questions below the post.

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