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.