Ten Things I Wish I Knew Going into my First Ensemble Rehearsal (better known as “Ten Things All My Students Better Know At Their First Ensemble Rehearsal”)

As percussionists, we are required to know how to play a vast array of instruments as well as the techniques that are associated with them. Young percussion students who are studying with a private instructor usually study marimba, snare drum, drum set or timpani. Ensemble playing techniques are usually something that are acquired in high school and unfortunately, the percussion section doesn’t usually get as much attention as it should. Below, I have come up with my “Top 10″ considerations I think all percussionists should know going into their first ensemble rehearsal. My hope is that this list will aid the young percussionist and I value any input and additions anyone has to this list.

1. Bring One (or more) Black Towels

A black towel is a wonderful thing. A black towel can be used:

On a music stand to create a stick tray
On a Bass Drum or Tom to Mute the Drum
To wipe sweaty hands

2. Every Note You Play is a Solo.

Play with confidence and don’t hide the instrument behind the music stand.

3. Photocopy Your Music if you are playing from more than one music stand.

Do not move the music from one stand to another. Also make sure your music is taped together so it doesn’t fly off the stand when the AC is turned on or the side door is opened.

4. When you have rests, REST.

Don’t look around. Don’t check your email. Don’t Text. Don’t talk to other people in the section. Count your rests and come in when it is your turn to play.

5. Listen to the sound you are getting on the instrument; don’t just “hit the drum.”

6. Vibes and Marimbas are generally going to be lost in the texture of a large ensemble, especially a wind ensemble.

Xylophone and Bells are not! When you are playing vibes or marimba, use a slightly harder mallet than you think you should and ask someone to go out to the audience during the rehearsal to check the balance.

7. Learn to play triangle softly with a large beater.

Your goal is to excite as many overtones as possible. A smaller beater only produces a thin sound.

8. Always warm up the tam tam before playing.

Also, stand on the side of the instrument when playing it (not in front).

9. Breathe before you play, especially if you have a full ensemble unison.

10. The conductor is always right (even if they are wrong).

Do what the conductor wants and don’t talk back to the conductor. If they ask for a different mallet or instrument, GET IT. Don’t talk to them after rehearsal about what beater is required. If they want something different, they will ask you about it or they will come find you to talk about options.

This list is in no particular order. I think all of these considerations are equally important when playing in an ensemble. Am I forgetting something? Are there any more things you tell your students before their first ensemble rehearsal or something you have observed that you think everyone needs to know?


The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Phil Roeder on

Dave Gerhart

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