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Band Teacher's Corner - Creating a Percussion Success Story

10 Steps To Building a Successful Percussion Section

1) When choosing your percussion section, be very selective. A percussionist must be responsible and organized. With many parts to be covered, musical interpretations to be made, and being responsible for multiple instruments, the best suited student will be a good listener, patient, attentive, detail oriented and be capable of multi-tasking. These skills are above their ability to play the instruments proficiently, read music and keep a steady rhythm!!  Many a good band has gone awry with poorly selected percussion sections (undisciplined, rhythmically challenged, disorganized, students incapable of focusing). Piano or other keyboard experience would also be helpful.

2) Make playing mallets and auxiliary instruments 50% of their mark. Why? They will take seriously their role as musicians and learn to read music.  Snare drum technique is only one of many skills they need to learn to be successful in the percussion section. Learning a mallet instrument skills will make them better at tuning tympani, helps them to listen for melodies in the band, and helps to create an understanding of balance within the band. Ear training is essential for all musicians to develop.

3) Give your percussion section assignments they can work on while the rest of the band is learningKeep them busy learning rudiments, exercises, scales for mallets, and ensemble pieces in a practice room while you are getting the rest of your band going.  Bring them back to class to demonstrate what they’ve accomplished, keeping them accountable for time spent away from the rest of the group.

4) Create a master list of who is covering what partKeep this written in your score as well as having a list that the students can see in the section.  You’ll know what is covered and what is not, who to look at or cue, and who needs assistance with their parts.

5) Put a copy of the master list in your percussion cabinet with extra copies of music. The nature of the percussion section includes the sharing of instruments and parts,  and because of this music tends to get shuffled around and lost.  Writing their names at the top of each sheet of music they receive helps identify the owner of the missing parts, and having an extra binder of music will greatly reduce frustration from lost or mis-placed parts.

6) Rotate students through instruments in your percussion section. Ensure each student has at least one piece on mallets, tympani, auxiliary, snare and bass drum. Although some students may show great strengths in one area or another, “specializing” them will stand in the way of that student developing into a well rounded percussionist. This is where a teacher must ask themselves the point of music education in school. Is it to have the best sounding band, or the most educational experience possible for all students?

7) Before camps or festivals be sure to write out a comprehensive list of what equipment you need **. For example, you need a bass drum, bass drum stand and bass drum mallet to operate a bass drum.  Triangle needs a clip, string and a beater to be fully functional. Suspended cymbal needs a stand (with felts, plastic sleeve and wing nut), and mallets.  ALWAYS bring sticks and mallets, even if the instrument is provided. It is expected.

** If you are going to a camp that does not provide tympani, and you do not have space for tympani, please bring toms or something that the tympanist can practice on during your band sessions.

8) Have practice pads and matching sticks wherever you may be. Whether in the band room, at a concert or at camp, having these available is essential. I recommend Vic Firth brand sticks either 5B or SD1 General sized sticks.  Vic Firth brand is reliable in being matched and balanced, and has an American flag where the fulcrum point should be. 5B or SD1 sticks are wider without being overly heavy.  This width allows the back three fingers to feel the stick.  Bring extra sticks and pads to camps and festivals. 5B is suitable for multiple purposes, while SD1 General sticks are designed specifically for snare drum.

9) Have the right tools in your band room. Percussionists need sturdy, height adjustable snare drum stands, good solid music stands to use as trap stands for instruments, towels to use as trap stand covers, functioning mallets, and properly tuned instruments.  Each student should have their own supply: A mallet bag with at least sticks, xylo/bell mallets, yarn mallets for suspended cymbal, and one set of medium tympani mallets.  This system creates a sense of responsibility for mallet care.

10) Be an Enforcer. One of the most common causes of damaged instruments and mallets is use by a non-percussionist. If anyone who is not a percussionist is caught touching percussion equipment, congratulate them for volunteering to help you clean the band room!!  This will deter others from volunteering!

Celene Yohemas is a music educator, freelance percussionist and drummer who teaches hundreds of clinics and workshops every year. If you would like a consultation or to book a clinic, please click here.


For clinicians of any instrumentation, contact Celene.

For rudiments, drum set grooves:

For percussion instruments, music and mallets.
or call 1-888-516-3242 and tell them Celene sent you.

For percussion ensemble music: