(DOWNLOAD Snare Drum Sticking Patterns here)

It’s not easy to engage and challenge percussion students in school band class. Just having them play the method book snare drum part – especially during those first months of classes – won’t do it. Having them work on the snare and mallet exercises in a method book helps a little but, compared to the other instrumentalists in the class, there’s still not much for them to do. Dropping a stick onto a drum to play a quarter note doesn’t challenge percussion students (consider what a trumpeter has to learn just to play a note!). Playing nothing more than quarter notes and half notes for 20 or so lessons doesn’t lead to percussion students being engaged and happy. Not to mention that they just don’t learn much in the process.

But there are things band directors can do to spark their interest, and develop their technique and musicality. In my book, The Band Teacher’s Percussion Guide: Insights into Playing and Teaching Percussion (Oxford University Press), I discuss a number of possibilities. I’ll point out a couple here, and add some snare drum sticking patterns that will help engage and challenge percussion students as well as improve their technique.

Relentlessly watch your percussion student’s technique

First of all, beginning concert band class provides a great opportunity to relentlessly keep an eye on your percussionists’ technique. It’s easy just allow them to bang out notes while ignoring how they are playing the drum. If you can get your percussion students to focus on playing with good form and a relaxed stroke now – when they are forced to play slowly – they will be better prepared for technical challenges that come later on.

Play method book exercises on instruments other than snare drum

Secondly, try having them play the exercises on instruments other than the snare drum. They will start thinking about the different sounds they can produce and how best to produce them. Playing on instruments that sustain sounds, like cymbals, will help them understand the true length of the quarter and half notes that are notated.

Have students:

  • play the snare parts in the method book on tambourine, triangle, bass drum or suspended or crash cymbals. If the instrument rings, teach them how to dampen so that it sustains for the correct time value.
  • play on two tom toms. Using alternate sticking, they can play each bar moving between tom toms, or; they can play one bar with the right hand only and the following bar with the left, or; they can play the right hand on one tom and the left hand on the other.

Zero-in on rudiments and rolls

Percussionists must focus on new rudiments, buzzes and rolls as they are introduced in the method book. It’s just not enough that they are played once or twice at a slow tempo in the course of a band exercise. To challenge percussion students and guide them toward a more solid technique, make sure they practise buzzing and buzz exercises, rolls and rudiments on their own. They should practise them very slowly at first, but more and more quickly over months – and even years – always focusing on playing evenly and with a relaxed technique. Assign rudiments and rolls with appropriately challenging metronome marks as goals. Include them as a component of their play tests.

Try Practise and Warmup Snare Drum Sticking Patterns (download here)

You’ll need to supplement the method book with other material too.

You will find lots of basic flam, paradiddle and buzz exercises that can be downloaded for your students at the Percussion Guide’s Companion Website, but you can also try  these Practise and Warmup Snare Drum Sticking Patterns, which I’ve based on George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control, a classic book for developing snare drum technique. Students should play the quarter, eighth or sixteenth note exercises (depending on their technical level) in place of the snare drum material written in whatever method book exercise you are playing with the rest of the band. Playing these exercises evenly and without any accents will help your percussionists develop concentration, a good sense of time, and the ability to place notes right with the beat.

Playing from the method book alone does not challenge percussion students in a school band program. By adding a few of the suggestions and exercises above to the daily routine, you will help do so.  At the same time, you’ll guide them to a stronger technique and better musicianship.

Stewart’s percussion workshop, Control and Speed on the Snare Drum: Teaching and Evaluating a Relaxed Technique, at OMEA Counterpoint 2018 provides teachers with all the tools and confidence needed to effectively teach snare drum technique in band class.  Teachers will also discover a practical system for evaluation that guides students to greater control and speed on the instrument from their first play test on.


Friday, November 2 at 1:00-2:15


Hamilton Convention Centre,1 Summers Lane, Hamilton, ON L8P 4Y2

Summer is winding down and if you’re a high school band teacher, you’ve likely begun to tidy your band room, organize instruments, search out new music and plan programs.

But have you taken the time to focus specifically on your high school percussion program? Have you considered whether all your percussionists will be required to play snare drum, mallet instruments and timpani? Have you thought about expectations and outcomes, chosen music and considered tests that will develop your percussionists’ musicianship on each of the instruments? Maybe you’re considering having some students play untuned percussion and leaving mallets and/or timpani to someone with piano background?

To provide your students with an enjoyable, valuable and rewarding musical experience, preparing a well-considered plan, clearly communicating it to your percussionists, then developing a schedule that best facilitates your plan, is a must.

What instruments will the percussionists play?

It seems obvious that teachers should decide what instruments percussionists will have to play, but sometimes expectations are not so clear.

If all high school percussionists play all the instruments – an arrangement that I favour and one that obviously produces a well-rounded percussionist – they should be able to warm up and play at least an exercise or two on snare drum, a mallet instrument and timpani during most classes.

If you decide that pianists will play mallet instruments and/or timpani, I recommend that those playing untuned percussion achieve a working knowledge of mallet instruments in particular. Students who don’t have a relationship with a melodic instrument will have more difficulty relating to and understanding musical theory. And who knows, students who are eased in to playing mallet instruments or timpani may find that these otherwise foreign instruments are as engaging as the drums that first lured them to the percussion section.

Don’t neglect to organize a schedule, usually during recess or lunch time, so that students can practise mallets and timpani in the music room . (Practising at home on a portable glockenspiel is better than nothing, but given the tiny bars and excessive ringing, it’s not the most satisfying instrument to practise on.)

What should students practise in a high school percussion program?

For percussionists to develop a solid technical foundation, plan to go beyond the requirements of their band method books. Adding a few basic exercises into the percussion program will guide students to a more controlled technique.

When various rudiments and rolls, both buzzed and double stroked, are introduced, augment the material in the method book with specific exercises. When rudiments are introduced, focus on them and have students perform them at appropriate, but challenging, tempi.

You’ll find lots of good ideas for additional exercises and tests in books like Ted Reed’s Syncopation, as well as in my Band Teacher’s Percussion Guide, where you’ll also find clear guidelines as to what to watch and listen for when teaching rudiments and other exercises in the high school percussion program.

Remember too that by scheduling short playing tests on a regular basis, you will help your students develop a more consistent practise routine and a more fluid and controlled technique.