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!

Block Chords are our Friends

marimbarollHow many times have you stepped up to the marimba to work on a passage and it seems like you have never seen the music before even though you spent hours practicing the day before? Well guess what? This happens to everyone including me. It is frustrating and makes you want to throw your mallets across the room. If this sounds familiar, I want you to start incorporating block chords into your practice routine.

If you think about it, we use block chords in our warm up routine (or at least you should be). Block chords allow us to warm up our big muscle groups and work on accuracy. So why do we only use them in warm ups? Here’s are some tips on how to use them on your next difficult marimba and/or vibraphone piece. (more…)

Are We There Yet?

pulitzer_logo

Recently, as I was putting the finishing touches on the University of Texas Percussion Group Fall 2014 Concert I discovered a connection between the composers; all had recently won Pulitzers.

2014 – John Luther Adams
2013 – Caroline Shaw
2012 – Kevin Puts
2011 – Zhou Long
2010 – Jennifer Higdon
2009 – Steve Reich
2008 – David Lang

With the exception of Puts, I had works by JLA, Shaw, Long and Higdon all on the docket. That represents 4 out of 5 of the last Pulitzer Prize Winners in the music category. Most of us are more familiar with the works of Reich and Lang than the previous 5 names on the list, but it was, in the end ridiculously easy to make an entire program of works who’s genesis began with a prize winner. And, Puts for what it’s worth, has several very nice offerings for percussion as well. So, what does this mean?

I believe we are living in an important time for percussionists, especially for those who play chamber music. Is there anything to this observation that suggests percussion instruments have taken a huge stride forward (in the last 7 years) in relevance to contemporary music? While I obviously feel strongly that there is a pattern here perhaps we won’t really get there until a work written entirely for percussion wins the big one.

Are we there yet? Leave your thoughts below the post.

Musing on a Career Teaching Music in the Private Sector

Wahlund Photo (680x432)Today’s guest post is by return contributor Ben Wahlund. Ben is a percussionist, composer, and educator based in the Chicago area and earlier this year shared Of Drumming and Farming (his PASIC Manifesto) on DrumChattr. He returns today with a great article that I think most of us can appreciate and hopefully institute into our daily lives. If you have something you would like to contribute, please send it us and we will be glad to check it out.

Musing on a Career Teaching Music in the Private Sector
By Ben Wahlund – Black Dog Music Studio

These are ideas that I’ve compiled in no particular order while sitting in a comfortable chair at the end of a long day. I may change my mind tomorrow, but these are the thoughts at my fingertips now (BW – 11/12/13).

Your career is only that – a career. Life is much bigger than your career. Invest time and energy appropriately. (more…)

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.

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