Earlier this week, I was visiting with a younger percussionist here at Indiana who is diving into the world of multi-percussion solos, and beginning to deal with some of the unique issues that this music presents. When I was a Sophomore or Junior I heard Steven Schick discussing how he learns music at PASIC during a panel discussion. He touched on many, many useful techniques, but there was one in particular that has saved me a great deal of heartache. I must warn you in advance, that it has been sometime since I saw the presentation so I cannot remember his exact process, but I have a process that I find very helpful when beginning a new multi-percussion piece.

One of the biggest obstacles when beginning a new multi-percussion solo is gaining a grasp of the unique notation and instrument layout that each piece presents. Someone once said, I believe Schick actually, that our learning a new instrument layout for each piece is like reorganizing the keyboard for each piano solo, and then compounding it by placing some of the keys behind the player. That being said, just knowing when to hit which instrument can be a daunting task. Here is the first thing I do when I get a multi-percussion solo or difficult ensemble part. Take it or leave it.

Basically, I go through the piece mentally to determine what the best set-up will probably be, the whole time remembering that this will probably change at some point. Usually, solos have diagrams to help this process, but it is important to keep an open mind when determining your set-up. Next, I get the instruments set up, but rather than beginning to learn the music that is on the page, I just put the “notation page” on the stand. You know, the page that tells you which “pitch” on the staff translates to which instrument in the set-up. At this point, I improvise, but I improvise carefully. Begin with one instrument, focusing on the “pitch” that represents this instrument. Then, gradually add more and more pitches, but only add them as you begin to rapidly associate the pitch on the staff with the correct instrument. The longer you can do this, the more you will associate the third space with the snare drum, just as you would normally associate it with a “C” (assuming treble clef).

For some this process may not be helpful, and that is fine. I find that it effectively eliminates the “translation” step in my brain, and lets me focus on the music I am trying to create. What tips do you have for the unique challenges of learning multiple percussion music? It’s a unique beast, and I’ve heard many solutions to the problems it presents. Please share yours in the comments.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 4, 2010 by Shane Griffin.


The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Sherri Lynn Wood on Flickr.com.

Dave Gerhart
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