You Have What You Need

Being a percussionist can be expensive. It’s really just the nature of the beast. Instruments, mallets and computer programs aren’t cheap. They can seem even more expensive when you’re a broke college student or a young professional.

Fortunately, you don’t need to own a $3,000 drum set to be really good at playing drums.

The dude with the most mallets in their stick bag isn’t necessarily the best keyboard player. As a young professional, you are serving yourself in a much better manner by learning to use what you have in the best way possible as opposed to gathering every percussion related piece of equipment under the sun.

There are certain items that every percussionist (whether in college or the work force) does absolutely need. For example, an orchestral percussionist should at least have a solid snare drum, crash cymbals, triangle, tambourine and some other auxiliary instruments. But, you don’t need twelve sets of timpani mallets to play your University Symphony spring concert. Four or five sets will get you through that with no problem. Things like recitals and solo performances probably warrant special care and purchases regarding sticks and instruments. But, I can say that the percentage of my marimba mallet collection that I’ve used since leaving the college world for the professional one is not out of the single digits.

Basically, buying the full line of Tom Burritt marimba mallets won’t make you sound like Tom Burritt. Only putting in the hours of practice that he has can accomplish getting to that level.

Don’t be distracted by the shiny new software program update, new instrument line or just released sticks. You most likely have everything you need to be successful. Putting in the hours with what you have will get you to where you want to be.

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On an unrelated note, I recently made some updates to my personal website. Please take a moment to check them out, especially if you are looking for steel band repertoire for an upcoming performance.

London Symphony and LSO Play, Sam Walton on Bolero Snare Drum

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I recently stumbled upon a news article about the London Symphony launching an interactive effort on their website called LSO Play. I was pleasantly surprised at the extent to which they have implemented new abilities the web has to offer. All in all its pretty impressive. Watch the short video above for a demonstration.

Experience on of the world’s leading orchestras like never before, in the first of an on going series of performances. Interact with multiple HD camera angles and view up to four streams at one time. Discover the orchestra: Musicians, Instruments, Masterclasses and more.

Along with the ability to watch up to 4 camera angles, as the music is playing an interactive map of the orchestra, in real time, highlights the current solo as the texture changes and the piece progresses. This map is center below the screen. Toward the left you’ll see a plethora of other offerings that include a description of each instrument in the orchestra, performer biographies, masterclasses given by each soloist (including a great video of LSO Co-Principal Sam Walton discussing the famous snare drum part). It’s refreshing to see an orchestra utilize the real capabilities of the web.

What are your impressions of the LSO’s efforts here? Leave your thoughts below the post.

Erik Satie’s Ballet “Parade”

I’ve written before about some unknown gems I’ve found while working my two weeks at the Round Top Music Festival. This year I was introduced to Erik Satie’s Parade.

This work required the percussion section, along with the normal battery assortment, to play the following: high siren, “splashing sounds” or flaques sonores, lottery wheel, tap dancing, typewriter, pistol shots, low
siren, and bouteillophone (15 chromatically tuned bottles suspended from a frame).

Now, as you can imagine, most of these things were not half way between Austin and Houston in the middle of nowhere. I immediately went to spotify and google music to listen to as many recordings I could find. This was fascinating! All the unusual sounds were incredibly different or had serious substitutions. Most notably, instead of the bouteillophone, some kind of keyboard instrument was used (usually the vibraphone).

Then came the google search which was helpful but not extensive. Bill Cahn of Nexus wrote, on their very interesting blog roll, a post entitled Sounds We Were Never Taught to Play, offered some interesting approaches to solving the problems presented above.

A very helpful find was a document written by Tracy Doyle entitled: ERIK SATIE’S BALLET PARADE:
AN ARRANGEMENT FOR WOODWIND QUINTET AND PERCUSSION WITH HISTORICAL SUMMARY
. The beginning of this document was especially helpful. Hit the source link above and check it out.

Below are pictures of how we eventually solved the issues after consulting French conductor Pascal Verrot, a specialist on the subject. The large water cooler bottle was used for the puddle sounds. It is full of gravel and small stones and water. It was played by thrusting the bottle downward causing a water like sound. Tap shoes were played directly on the wooden stage for the claq (tap dancer) part. Most of the sounds were played so the audience could clearly see.

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Obviously, in no way is this information exhaustive but I do hope it will help future colleagues as they prepare to perform this work. I highly recommend reading about the resulting scandal hilariously accounted for by Wikipedia.

Interested in hearing the bouteillophone? Your in luck. Just click the vine below (and if you don’t hear audio click the audio button on the top left of the video). Thanks to Round Top student Michael Joplin for his hard work building the bouteillophone (no drinking involved…) and for agreeing to play the instrument for a vine I posted a few days before the concert.

Had you heard of this work before? If so, how did you solve many of these problems? Please leave your reactions below.

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Replacing a Tambourine Head

Nick 03-16-13-4Have you ever broken a tambourine head during a rehearsal or performance? Do you have an old head that doesn’t stay tight but you like the jingles? Today’s post, by Nick Bonaccio, a current undergrad student at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, walks us through the process of replacing a tambourine head. I first learned about Nick and his workshop after he emailed me about a new piece I wrote for Triangle and Electronics called Pitch Drop. Nick contacted me to find out when the piece would be published so he could play it on his upcoming recital on some new triangles he was designing. Since then, I have been following his blog and this week he posted a great post about how to replace a tambourine head. Thankfully, he allowed us to post this fine article on DrumChattr for our community. Thanks Nick and I can’t wait to see instruments you build next. Keep up the great work!

Replacing a Tambourine Head
By Nick Bonaccio

Today, I’d like to discuss a topic that seems to be a little perplexing: replacing a calfskin head on a concert tambourine. I remember a colleague of mine who purchased a brand new $150 tambourine just because the skin on his old instrument had torn. When I asked him about just replacing the broken head, he replied, “Oh, it’ll never sound as good as the original!” In this article I disagree; when installed correctly, a replacement tambourine head can sound great, stay taut, and last for a long time.

So why is this task so daunting? As percussionists, it’s usually assumed that we have the know-how to keep our equipment in tiptop shape. We recover our timpani sticks, replace drumheads, and perform other basic repairs, so why should tambourines be any different? I think the culprit here is most likely inexperience working with calfskin, compounded by the fact that there is usually no tuning mechanism on the tambourine. With no way to tune the new head, one might worry about getting the head tension just right. (or at least I did!) The best way to get over this fear is just to give it a try! Experiment! Hey, if you’re about to buy a new instrument just because you’ve got a split tambourine head, what have you got to lose?

To walk you through the process, I’ll show you how I replaced the head on a vintage Werco 10″ tambourine with a single row of “Spanish style” steel jingles with crimped edges. I found this instrument on eBay, and besides having a busted head, the instrument was in playable condition. For $6, the price was certainly right!

Photo 1-2

First, I’d like to talk about the materials and equipment you’ll need, the most important of which is the head itself. Some manufacturers sell head replacement kits (and, to be fair, I’ve never actually tried one) but I’ve avoided these because I like to get a piece of calfskin that is a fair amount larger than I actually need. You’re looking for a medium-to-thick piece of calfskin or goatskin and it really doesn’t need to be very high quality. I like the Pakistani skins available from Mid-East Music. These are somewhat inconsistent and definitely wouldn’t cut it for snare drum or timpani heads, but for tambourines they seem to do the trick just fine and they’re fairly inexpensive. Another good option is to cut down an old calfskin bass drum head. I like to have about 4″ more material than the diameter of the instrument (e.g. a for a 10″ tambourine, I’d buy a 14″ diameter piece of calfskin).

The next thing you’ll need is a method of keeping the head clamped to the shell while it dries so it doesn’t lose tension. There are several tools that work here: Brian Stotz of Repaircussions and the Rochester Philharmonic recommends a heavy-duty rubber band; Anthony Cirone recommends a 10″ embroidery hoop; and Bill Cahn of NEXUS recommends a 10″ hose clamp. I’ve had a lot of success with this last method. If you can’t find a 10″ hose clamp, you can attach two shorter ones together, as I’ve done in the picture below. Other supplies include: a flat-head screwdriver, a sharp utility knife, 120 grit sandpaper, yellow wood glue, and tacks if you’d like.

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Once you have all your supplies together, you’re ready to get started. If you can easily remove the jingles, I’ve found that it makes the whole process a little easier, but this is usually impractical on professional-level instruments. Here is the procedure:

  • Remove any tacks from your tambourine with the screwdriver and remove the existing calfskin by placing the point of the utility knife between the skin and the shell then working it all the way around the circumference.
  • Roughen up the edge and remove any glue residue with the sandpaper so the new glue will adhere well to the shell.
  • Soak your calfskin in lukewarm water for about 15-20 minutes or until it is pliable.
  • Apply glue to the sanded edge and top of the shell, then lay the calfskin over the hose clamp on a smooth surface and place the tambourine over the head and clamp, glue-side down.
  • As you gradually tighten the clamp with your screwdriver, remove any wrinkles and pull the skin so it is somewhat taut – remember as the skin dries it will tighten considerably. You may want to add a bead of glue around the inside of the instrument where the head meets the shell for added strength.

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The hard part is over! Now let the head dry in the clamp overnight, preferably in a cool, dark environment. Once it’s completely dry, trim off the excess skin with your utility knife. I like to do this before I remove the clamp so I can use it as a guide for a straight cut. There should be about 1/2″ or more glued to the side of the shell – don’t trim off too much! You can now add your tacks if you’d like but the strength of the glue is what does most of the work. Replace the jingles if you took them out, and voila! You’ve given your tambourine new life!

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I’d like to thank Brian Stotz and Bill Cahn for their advice about tambourine head maintenance. The method explained here is a combination of their respective approaches.

Thanks for reading. – Nick Bonaccio

Nick Bonaccio is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Percussion at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. His principal teachers include Rich Magnuson, Jeremy Levine, and Michael Burritt. He has also studied with Charles Ross of the Rochester Philharmonic as well as Bill Cahn and Jacob Nissly. In his spare time Nick enjoys woodworking, exercising, and collecting and restoring antique percussion instruments. If you have any question, please contact him through his website.

What to Hear Your New Instrument?

Are you looking for a new cymbal for your drum set? How about a new concert snare drum or tambourine? Until recently, you had to find someone who had the instrument you were looking for to check out what it sounded like. It is rare if the local music store would stock a Grover Triangle or Majestic Snare Drum. Now there are many great resources on the internet to hear your next new instrument. I compiled a list of some websites below and I am sure there are more websites that I neglected. If you know of any other resources, please leave a comment below. Happy Shopping.

Cymbals

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We have featured Mycymbal.com in a previous post but the site is worth mentioning again. When you go to the site, you can click on any cymbals they have in stock and there will be a video of the cymbal you can purchase. There prices are competitive and they carry all of the major brands of cymbals. Each video is about 2-3 minutes and the cymbal is played with wood and nylon sticks by itself and in combination with a drum kit. (I only wish there were site like this for concert cymbals).

Snare Drums

imageMajestic Percussion has been developing a lot of new concert percussion over the past couple of years. Like all of the major companies who are making concert snare drums, they offer a concert snare drum with a mechanism that allows for the use of up to four different types of snare material simultaneously, each with individual tension adjustment and throw off levers, while still allowing all to be engaged or disengaged together with a master switch. While this not a new approach, what sets them apart is their website where they let you hear all (yes all!!) of the combinations of snares that are available on their Prophonic concert snare drums. Each video features the same musical excerpt played on the six different models so you really get a sense of what each type of snare sounds like. There are other companies who have audio and video of their drums, but Majestic takes it to the next level by letting you listen to the variety you have in each drum.

Tambourines

t2gs-xGrover Pro Percussion uses a combination of audio and video to show off their tambourines. Neil Grover demonstrates different playing techniques of the tambourines and there are also audio samples of each instrument. What really makes them stand out are the audio clips of the tambourines being played with an orchestra. These samples allow the listener to hear what each tambourine would sound like in the context of an orchestra. I hope they continue to add audio clips to their other products.

Those resources alone will help you spend a significant amount of money. Like I said earlier, I am sure there are other resources. If so, please leave a comment below and let us know. Have a great weekend!

(Disclosure notice: Majestic Percussion is a sponsor of DrumChattr.com)

Thinking about Raising the Roof?

Thinking about Raising the Roof?

Today, we have a guest post from Bay Area percussionist Artie Storch. He is a regular extra percussionist for the San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Oakland and Marin Symphonies and is on the faculties of California State University, East Bay and Chabot College where he teaches percussion and directs the percussion ensembles. A couple of weeks ago, Tom and I had the pleasure of hearing Artie perform Michael Daugherty’s Raise the Roof with the CSU Fresno Wind Orchestra on the Central California PAS Day of Percussion. Here’s an article about preparing Michael Daugherty’s Raise the Roof for your upcoming performance.

Thinking about Raising the Roof?
By: Artie Storch

A twenty-first century percussion concerto that’s fun and challenging for soloist and accompanists alike, and leaves the audience humming the tunes! That’s what Michael Daugherty achieved with his 15 minute timpani concerto, Raise the Roof. Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare this piece without raising too much of a sweat.

Equipment
Although the score specifies five drums, with the 20” piccolo placed between the 26” and the 23”, I’ve found it more comfortable to leave the drums in their traditional (low to high) order. In addition, like many performers, I’ve found that an extra 23” tuned to high A saves a lot of trouble at letter J. This drum is placed on the outside of the semicircle, between the 23” and the 20”.

Notes, notes…
The next issue is where to put all those pitches, especially in the opening and the cadenza. One option is to distribute them among the drums (ex: tune A, C, D, E, G, A for the opening, with the 23” pedaling just E & F, and tune C, D, E, F#, A, Bb for the cadenza, with the 23” pedaling just F# & G). Alternatively, you can have A, C, D, E, A for the opening, pedaling E,F,& G on the 23”, and A, D, E, F#, Bb for the cadenza, pedaling F#, G, A, and even some Bb’s on the 23”, and C & D on the 29”.

Having tried both ways, I suggest the latter. Doing more pedaling on the 23” keeps movement to a minimum, enabling you to play faster (the cadenza is marked “as fast as possible”!). It also eliminates the ringing together of drums that are a half step apart. Lastly, I find it easier to bring out melodic phrasing when I’m not flying around all those surfaces! Oh – speaking of the cadenza: this is a great time to really shed your paradiddles. You’re gonna need them!

Shaken, not turned
At letter U, one of the section percussionists has 16th notes written for cabasa. With due respect for the composer’s intentions, this seems to work out much better when played on a shaker. (Most recordings I’ve heard agree). Playing continuous 16th notes on a cabasa is not something regularly done by most band or orchestral percussionists. Add to that the fact that the piano is usually placed quite a distance from the percussion section, and a shaker just playing straight time has a much better chance of helping the groove. Make sure that the shaker player can see the pianists hands – relying on sound will certainly cause the shaker to be late.

Did I say groove?
Check out the guaguanco at letter T. Listen to some Afro-Cuban tunes featuring this beat, and get the flavor in your ears. Try to lay for the accents on the “&a”, and not so much the “e” of the downbeat.
Over-emphasizing the “e” can make the figure sound late. It can also further confuse the band or orchestra, who are trying mightily to avoid hearing your dotted eighth – sixteenth figure as beat “1”. It’s tempting, let me tell you!!

Thanks, Michael!
Lastly, if anyone knows of maraca sticks that bounce as well as regular timpani sticks do, please let me know. Till then, we’ll all be muscling out all the fast double strokes from letter AA to CC. More practice pad work!!

Have fun with this cool piece, and enjoy your applause. It never fails to raise the audience from their seats!

Questions? Comments? Email Me

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