I've had the pleasure of teaching children for about ten years now, and because of that, I thought that I had established a fool proof way of reaching and instructing them. However, recently, I've had to change my strategies, a lot. What was once a completely structured format, is now a conglomerate of dancing, playing music games, literally throwing sticks and the students asking, "Can I be better than a professional," everyday. At first I was worried that I wouldn't be able to "do my job correctly," but, I realized that because of the changes I made, I actually was doing my job perfectly. This reminded me of a couple things I hadn't thought about in a while:
I am a huge fan of "Un-Structure," where I have a guide and I'm free to do anything within it, taking advantage of what's not stated, and pushing the limitations of what is. That being said, I'm a little surprised that I didn't begin my new year of teaching with that mindset. No one can really know how things will go, or how people will respond to what you say or have to say. One thing we can all count on about kids though, they love to have fun! My first instinct, when I spoke to them about practicing, was to tell them about getting good at drums. But I quickly switched it from getting good, doing cool stuff. Rolling is cool, playing fast is cool, doing dynamics is really cool, that sort of thing.
I wanted to monitor and manage that mindset of "good and bad" in the beginning, and if one of them said it wasn't good enough, I always countered with, "you just started though," or "yet." It's good that they can see and hear that what they did wasn't "correct," but rather than disappointment settling in, I likened the situation to a video game. We have to learn how to get through the level in order to beat it. It'll take a couple tries or one try for some, but it's just another level. Constant encouragement, something I was blessed to have as a child, and I want to give that to any student I have, even when things aren't "right." If that encouragement can come from school teachers, friends, family, strangers, or private teachers, the students can't help but be inspired, perhaps not for continuing in music, but definitely for something in their future.
I can barely remember when I played music just for the sake of making noise, or having fun. Nowadays, it always has a purpose of improvement, for good reason, but having a space where I can just "play around" is really important to me. So, with my students now, whether they be younger or older, I try to impress that mindset on them. My students now have time to just hit their pads or bell sets, properly, for 5 minutes. Of course they play loud and fast the whole time, but the fact is, they are actually "warming up," they just don't know it yet. Or when we play stick control and I ask them to play softer, until they all go to the edges of their pads, no one is thinking about technique. It's usually the "competitive encouragement" we hear. "Anything you can do I can do better," but never in a mean way. They always laugh and smile, and then it's so soft that they try weird things to make it softer. Some choke up on the sticks, others put their first finger on top of the stick to land on the pad slower. They just, try things, instinctively, just like a kid. If anything, that reminds me to do the same sort of experimentation in my practice. Just playing around to see what works and what doesn't.
The kids still think I'm lying about my age, and insist that I'm 18, but I always thought that my youthful look gave me an "in" to reaching younger students, and sometimes it does. I am still young and can recall a lot of the same experiences that they are having or have had. Other times it doesn't. But being young coupled with being a person of color, specifically for older students, also gives me a level of respect and attentiveness from a class. Now, I don't rely on that, but I do use that as a springboard in clinics at middle schools in my old neighborhood specifically. If the students know that you grew up in the same hood as them, and can be exposed the possibilities that are there for them, who knows where that can lead. And even if a teacher isn't a person of color, or grew up in the same place, sharing and, especially, being real and honest about a life experience is really worth something to them. That, I think, is what makes someone relevant to students these days, and so far it's worked, for me.
I've always loved to teach, but it's because I've had such great teachers that it was even a thought in my head to do it myself. I also loved to learn how to do things that others couldn't, or to do them better, because of how my mom and dad encouraged me to be great at what I did. Above all, I loved sharing with others. Not teaching, but just talking about discoveries or cool things I could do, because friends of mine in high school would tell me how cool it was, or ask if I had anything cool to play that day. One even encouraged me to write a book of them, which I eventually did. All of that makes me want to give children, especially, a running start when it comes to their dreams. "If I can do it, you definitely can do it, and do it better. In fact, I want you to do it better." They inevitably ask, "Better than you?" and I say, "If you practice, and don't give up." It's been a wonderful start of the school year, and I look forward to learning more from everyone I come in contact with. I hope you also find new things to inspire, encourage and teach you, as we all grow, and improve as musicians and as human beings.
During a performance, what are we thinking about? I thought about this a lot, because I would often get nervous and start getting into my own head about what the audience or judges or whoever were thinking about. So I had to train myself to not engage negative thoughts during a performance, but that wasn't enough for me. I decided to not only monitor my brain during performance, but during regular practice as well and this led to some really good things, and some not so good. Starting with the good, the act of monitoring the thoughts that go on in your head is somewhat alike to meditating. You choose a focal point and as other thoughts arise, you can choose to engage them, or not. So, as I play 12 scales in 32 different ways, maybe I'll start thinking about who to text or whether or not I should drink water or root beer. Practicing this type of focus was extremely helpful during practice and during performance, so I figured, why think about just one thing?
Now, when I am thinking about this, I am using an extreme amount of energy to keep my focus on whatever is going on right at that moment. I finally got the hang of it around the time I took the Cleveland Orchestra audition. During the semi-final round, two former instructors and a well respected entrepreneur were on the panel, and the screen was down, so I had a lot of potential thoughts that could arise from this situation. I managed to keep my thoughts only on the music in front of me, even while interacting with the panel when instructed to do something, and I was exhausted afterwards. I literally fell asleep in the lounge right after the round was over. So what am I actually thinking?
1) Time: keeping focus on the space between the notes, so that nothing rushes or drags (is too close together or too far apart). Instead of thinking about a beat of time, that stops immediately after it's counted, thinking of space gives more length to the time, so that everything connects. If I could put it visually, instead of seeing (+ + + +) I would see (+_____+_____+_____+_____).
2) Lengths: even though percussion often has short sounds and notes associated to it, the notes on the page all have specific lengths to them. Basically, thinking about everything as legato as possible, except when instructions arise for anything else, helps connect directly with your time, and your execution of articulations. This helps me stay engaged with what I just played and anticipate what's to come.
3) Movement: This is what helped the most in between pieces and moving around instruments. By connecting with the movements of the body, I make sure that I am not over exerting, or over/under doing any motion as I play. I stay as fluid as possible, making sure that I do not stop a movement before or after it starts, until the last note has completely sounded. And even when I have hit the last note, I cannot stop thinking about my body, because I have to pick up a new set of mallets, move to another instrument, and prepare to play another piece that's completely different! So, I stay engaged with the movement of my body throughout that process, which means, I stay engaged with my body the entire time I'm on stage (specifically during auditions). You can see why I was exhausted after the Cleveland audition.
4) Rhythm/Melody: For percussionists rhythmic integrity is the biggest test of our skill and maturity as musicians. Phrases are really hard to create when the rhythm isn't right, and everyone can tell when a drummer isn't grooving. Similarly, it's hard to play Bach when the notes either don't connect to create the phrase, or are out of tune. In both cases, I literally sing either the rhythms or melody in my head, or commonly called "inner ear", as if my brain was creating the sound that my hands were making. This worked for two reasons, I think: one, it keeps me engaged by focusing on each note separately, and two, by focusing on each note separately, you can monitor everything about that note (pitch, quality, how the body felt during that note, length, articulation, color, relationship to the previous and future note).
5) Sound: This one is more general. Each space we play in will effect our playing in one way or another. Generally, our ears, brain and body are smart enough to adjust to these differences in space and sound reactions without us having to "think" about it. So, I let the sound that I hear guide me and let go of anything else. This is probably the most vulnerable of the list because you literally are not doing anything but listening to your sound consistency and projection. Is it clear enough in the hall? Does the color change during the piece? How soft/loud is too soft/loud for the hall? All of these hypothetical questions are never "answered" but adjusted to. The catch with this one is that it tends to lend itself to a desire to drag the tempo, which is why I couple it with either one or two other numbers. Here's where the bad outcome arises, for me.
If you know the story of the movie "Inception", one of the main plot threads is the necessity to differentiate the dream world from the real world. For me, discovering these type of ways to think about music and playing was a Godsend and incredibly exhilarating and enticing. I'd practice for hours on end with no breaks, just to see how long my mind could withstand being in that head space. I'd over rehearse, trying to hear every ounce of space between notes, or examining the colors between left hand and right hand notes on xylophone one at a time. Eventually, this did not leave the practice room. I'd examine how I was picking up a cup, whether or not I was engaged the entire time between it leaving the table to touching my mouth....Yea, it got really out of hand. It was like entering an endless void. I think, with anything, going to that extreme is dangerous, because once you come out, you probably will realize you can't go that far again. If you do, you'll have to go deeper in in order to have the same feeling, and who knows if you'll come out next time. I attribute this to a person like Glen Gould or Bobby Fischer (just watch any documentary on either of them and you'll see what I mean). Luckily, I did arise from this void of internal thought, and can manage it effectively. I promise I'm not analyzing my posture and connection to the keyboard as I type this blog, promise!
In any case, thinking about a couple of those points will keep your mind occupied, so occupied that you won't have time to think about anything else. And whenever something does cross your mind, you always have a backup item to put your focus on. It is not an escape from your thoughts or the realities of the current moment, but simply an objective manager of them. If your sound isn't consistent, you will notice, and then you can fix it instead of attaching a subjective thought to it (my sound isn't consistent, I suck, I'll never win anything). It takes time to, essentially, relearn how to think, but doing a little everyday goes a long way.
Start with something simple, like scales. Find what's easy to listen for, let's say pitch, and really engage your mind to that. Is each pitch accurate to the one before and the one after? Then, focus on a less easy thing, maybe time? Is each note still in tune, but now in time with the previous and future note? Keep going until the most difficult item is easier to hear, for me it's the tuning of pitches above C7 and below G2, and hearing sixteenths at quarter note at below 30 and above 218. Slow practice is a good exercise for this, because you can work on small sections with these things in mind, so that when they are in tempo, you've already heard what they "should" sound like. It does take time, and a lot of brain power, so don't try to do too much too soon. Go at your pace, and eventually you will get the hang of it and you'll even discover which ones work better for you in different circumstances.
I hope this gives you some insight to why at one point I said I practiced 18 hours a day. Thinking like this, it's hard not to reach that time, or longer if you forgo sleep (please don't). Nowadays, I try to get a solid six hours in, and if I feel like continuing, I will, but I don't try to if I don't feel like it. I also do not encourage guilt tripping yourself into practicing. If you are tired, rest, but also know when you are actually tired, or being lazy. It's more about being mindful about listening to your body and mind. If your practice isn't productive, take a short break. If you've been practicing 4 hours with no break, you will probably over kill any chops you have. Just be smart about how you practice and it will be more productive.
I'll end with this. The last audition I went for, I practiced everyday, and I mean everyday, for 7 months straight, and then I doubled the amount of my practice the last two months before. I had basically cut off any communication during those last 2 months, except for a handful of people. I went really deep into the void, and was only digging deeper. Little did I know that a really good friend of mine was in the hospital recuperating from something he almost died from 3 months prior. When I did see him I apologized for not texting him. He said, "It's ok, I know you're busy." Needless to say, that really hit me hard, and I decided to never let myself get to that sort of place of isolation ever again. Hopefully, my experience in the void gives you tools that will help your development as a musician, but also discourages you from going too far in the process. With that, I cautiously say, Happy practicing.
"Focus on the process, not the product that the process was meant to achieve. It's a paradox. When you focus on the process, the desired product takes care of itself with fluid ease. When you focus on the product, you immediately begin to fight yourself and experience boredom, restlessness, frustration, and impatience with the process. The reason for this is not hard to understand. When you focus your mind on the present moment, on the process of what you are doing right now, you are always where you want to be and where you should be. All your energy goes into what you are doing. However, when you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are, and you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing. In order to focus on the present, we must give up, at least temporarily, our attachment to our desired goal. If we don't give up our attachment to the goal, we cannot be in the present because we are thinking about something that hasn't occurred yet: the goal"- Thomas M. Sterner
Jojo Mayer is a master of musicality, time, drum technique and philosophy. I'll never forget the first time I saw a video of him playing. His overall sound was just captivating and his technical facility was just amazing. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had seen a lot of great drum set players, but I had never seen anything like this, except for Buddy Rich. If you haven't seen him perform, it's definitely worth the YouTube search. I bought both of his drum technique DVD's and I have to say, I am the musician I am today because of them. I learned so much from them, like relearning my basic technique and developing new stroke types for playing quickly and easily. You also can see his clapping exercise in my Uproxx mini documentary: 800-1,600 claps a day.
I recently came across a trailer for a new documentary: "The Jojo Mayer-Changing Time"! I wanted to share it here to get more traction for him and just to support this in general. With the likes of the movies Drumline and Whiplash, there are very few honest and realistic accounts of what musicians like us are actually about and what we go through to develop/present our craft to an audience. It comes out in Switzerland September 28th and a television premier in October. I will definitely post any and all information that I find on it. I am very very very excited to watch it when it finally comes out!
Almost four months ago I posted my summer routine for people to look at and use, because, after the documentary came out, a lot of people were wondering how I practiced for so long and what I did to fill in the time. Honestly, it's been a while since I've been able to do that exact plan during the summer, because of festivals or summer jobs/gigs, but in college, and even high school, I did go through everything on that list each summer. I won't say that people have to work specifically on that blueprint, but there are elements within it that are always a must in practice: time and phrasing.
My process of how I came up with that list was based primarily on wanting to achieve musical effects through a technical means. What did I have to learn to do in order to make the sounds I wanted? First of all, time and rhythm have to be solid, or else the phrasing, colors and technical facility don't matter. Constant work with a metronome on different rhythmic combinations are always in my daily routine. There's not really a specific page of a book or pattern, but some sort of work with developing my time and rhythm is present. I personally play quarters, sixteenths, triplets and dotted rhythms everyday during my warm up, not just to warm my hands but my ears to the time and placement within it.
Time is the easy part, but phrasing has a lot more to it. We have to think about style, color, dynamic contrasts and ease of executing all of that, in time. For percussionists, all three can be accomplished at some level through changing our stroke. Generally, full strokes give you a fuller sound, down strokes give you a darker sound with more attack, and up strokes give you a brighter sound with less attack. Developing fluidity between these will already put you in a good position to create colors suitable for your piece, and experimenting with subtle changes within each will help expand it. I think style often will dictate the color, so those two problems can be solved with a simple tweak of the stroke type. Dynamics within that style and color are where we have to practice the most.
I personally take my warm up and practice different rhythms, with different stroke types, at different dynamics. Doing each one alone at separate volumes is relatively easy, but going between or through different dynamics is the tricky part. Take for instance if you were to go from piano to forte using up strokes. The tendency is to get heavier as we get louder, which makes the color change, so we have to practice going up through the dynamics, making sure that our stroke stays the same, relative to both the height of the sticks and the velocity with which we're striking the drum. Generally, the louder we want a lighter sound, the more we have to lift upwards after the stroke. With down strokes, getting louder means more bounce at the point of contact along with a slower speed when the sticks are higher. And full stroke have to be an balance of speed, height and lift, both going up and coming down. Practicing subito dynamic changes introduce another element as well, and working these ideas into your practice will definitely give you more options in your musicality.
Everyday during my warm up, I turn on Pandora and just do whatever stick control that comes to my mind. More often than not, it's the eight on a hand routine, but I try to play it the way the music sounds. I'm basically improvising on whatever is playing at the time, and doing this tackles time, rhythm, color and style at the same time because I'm matching the character and tempo of the song. After that, I can choose to do dynamics if I want, but generally I keep my warm up simple, so I'm just playing at a comfortable dynamic to get my hands relaxed and my creative juices flowing. I realized early on that warming up isn't just for your hands, but also your mind. How do the sounds I'm making actually sound? Am I in time? How's my rhythm? How's my fluidity from loud to soft? Can I make the color changes easy after I've warmed up?
Eventually, all you will have to do is simply just warm up your hands and afterwards you'll be able to do all of the above, but even though I can somewhat do that now, I still take the time to work on them during my warm up and practice time. We can always keep developing our technical facility to make music, even in those simple ways, so why take them for granted? Being aware of the sounds you're making and how you are getting them makes for a more musical interpretation of anything you play. So rather than work on a specific measure, hopefully through practicing with this in mind, you'll come to a bar and already know how to execute the phrasing you want. What's even more enticing about this is that you can change on a whim if these techniques and options are readily available to you. So rather than mapping it out, or having to go group by group, you'll be able to go, "Oh, this note sounded different, let me make sure my stroke stays the consistent through the phrase while I crescendo/decrescendo." This makes you more aware of what you're doing while also making the time you spend on pieces more efficient.
I often look for new ways and techniques to accomplish sounds because I'm a geek, and I love technique. I think it's similar to why body builders love going to the gym, there's something about working towards that new level or that new muscle you didn't know existed until you saw someone else doing it. All of the techniques we learn have a musical application and rooting our practice in that foundation of our playing will make our lives easier when we go to play new or old music. Why work on one piece when the technique work will tackle all pieces we come across. Of course there will be specific things in the pieces that are tricky, but staying grounded in the basics will lessen those instances in for sure. So don't forget your base techniques, develop the fluidity of their execution and experiment with changing their styles and colors, and that by itself will make you ready to take anything on in the future. Happy Practicing!
Whenever I clean my room, I feel weird. Clean feels static and uneventful, too good or too perfect. Something always has to be out of place for me to feel at ease. It's similar to how we play I think. If you play exactly what's on the page, it's actually wrong. There have to be differences, things played "uneven" to make phrases and make the music interesting. Now, of course it has to be clean, but in it's own way, and each of us have a different interpretation of that. I play very precise things differently than other people, because my personality and way of organizing music is different than theirs. It doesn't mean that either of us is wrong, as long as we can accomplish the character of the piece accurately.
My practice habits are very irregular and very spontaneous, but that's how I function. Other people have set times and plans written out and that works for them. My practice "journal" is comprised of quotes and that inspires my work that I do. Other people have specific goals for each day or big goals for several days. One uses a computer, another uses a small journal, someone uses black ink for technical issues and red for musical issues, etc. No one is wrong, but no one is right either. The same is true for how we play music. Some people don't like the way Hilary Hahn plays Bach, but I actually love it. Others love Joshua Bell's Bach, but I don't. It's all a matter of taste and preference. Find what works for you as a person and a musician, learn from others' experiences and ideas and see what works for you. As long as you get to the goal and can accomplish it, your process is fine. We can all learn a thing or two from each other, regardless if we have figured out a workable system, so always keep an open mind.
I recently did a clinic at the Downriver Day of Percussion on relaxation and rebound. These are my notes that I used and my exercise sheet will be posted on Inside the Perc Studio page. Hope both help and enjoy!
Relax and Rebound
As we play a lot of things are going on. We are either constantly moving from one instrument to the next, or playing complicated rhythms. In any case, relaxation is key to making it easier to accomplish the things we want. Therefore, removing any unnecessary movement or tension will help streamline your playing.
Common Tension Areas
Relaxation helps maximize the rebound of the stick, and unnecessary tension in any part of the body will hinder it. The Free Stroke is our example of how much rebound there actually is. We must become familiar with this feel and generate all of our strokes from it, going for as much rebound as possible, letting the stick do all the work. Our hands are merely guiding it to a certain destination at a certain speed and time.
The Free Stroke
What is the most comfortable, natural, easiest way to move? Throughout each part of the stroke, finding the path of least resistance makes playing easier, allowing the rebound to be exploited. This can also be a way to find and stop habits that could be detrimental in the long run. Unless we allow the stick to rebound and do the work, our body will absorb it and we will overwork, causing multiple problems (i.e. tendonitis, carpal tunnel, etc.)
By simplifying our movements, removing unnecessary tension, and allowing the stick to rebound and do to the work, not only will our technical facility improve, but our careers will last longer. Stay loose, throw the stick, let it bounce, follow it through, repeat. Doing these things will make anything we play that much better.
Getting ready for college we all thought, or are thinking about, what equipment we need. As high school students, and even in college, we may not have the funds to get the so called "latest and greatest," so what will get the job done without making us spend more than we have? People have suggested that I talk about keyboard mallets for this. I'm just going to look for certain qualities, not brand names, that the mallets should have to sound good, and search Steve Weiss for them. I'm looking to save money, but also looking to not purchase something I haven't seen used before, so I know they will work, and something I'm willing to invest in, because it is an investment, no matter how much or how little you spend. Anything that I list is just a suggestion based on the qualities that I'm looking for, and if you find things that meet the same qualifications, it should be fine as well. I'll also round a bit to try and account for tax/shipping. Let's see what we find.
Starting with glockenspiel, we need to take into consideration that there are different types of glocks out there, and a mallet that sounds good on one kind might sound really bad on another. This means that we need a back up just in case we come across it. This also means that we will have more glock mallets in this list than xylophone ones. I personally think that rattan or fiberglass handles are best for this instrument, because their natural bounce helps avoid harsh attacks and worse frame/box sound. Rattan handles are a little more expensive, but they will give you a more fundamental sound because of the weight. Fiberglass, however, works for any glock you come across and is very agile. Brass is very warm but cuts and projects a lot; aluminum is brighter, does project, but is a little softer than brass. For rattan handles, Vic Firth's Orchestral Series Brass or Aluminum, at $22.75 each, and for fiberglass handles, Dragonfly Percussion's 7/8 Aluminum mallet, at $19.95 each, will work for most of the loud excerpts you come across. I recommend purchasing two of each.
For softer excerpts, we have to really consider the contact sound. If there's too much, there will be a lot of front and attack to the note, obstructing the tone. It's more of a problem on larger bars, so finding a mallet that works for those especially is important. My favorite soft mallet is the Innovative Orchestral Series OS6 at $24.95. I've used this mallet for almost all of the light/articulate soft excerpts on both large bar and regular size glocks. For even less contact sound, with a warmer tone (specifically for Sleeping Beauty) a Lexan material mallet is my go to. The Salyer Performance Collection 1" Lexan, on rattan, is a good option, also at $24.95. Lastly, a brighter option to contrast the Lexan material is a Clear ball, and Dragonfly's 1" Clear Bell mallet, at $19.95, is something that I've used. Finally, my other favorite general mallet for glock is the Musser 215 phenolic on rattan, and unfortunately, while writing this blog, I could not find it on Steve Weiss and possibly has been discontinued. If you can find it, get 2 pairs if you can (last I checked, it was $24.50). Still, the show must go on, and the next mallet I would and have used, with a similar sound, Dragonfly Percussion's 1" Black, at $20. (Glock total about $140)
Xylophone is a lot easier to figure out. Here, I think rattan is the go to handle for any xylophone instrument. It's agile and minimizes frame noise because of its natural bounce. First up on the list is every percussionist's go-to mallet, the Malletech "Browns," the OR39R at $28.95. You can use this for most if not all your loud excerpts if that's all you had, an I do know a couple who did use just this mallet for them and won, so it's a legit choice. For soft playing, we need a warmer sound, softer attack and a good weight to get the fundamental sound. Encore's 92R unwound series, at $24.95, is a solid option for softer excerpts and ragtime pieces. For the loudest excerpts, we definitely need a weighty stick to get lot's of tone and to mellow out the bright attack (I personally wouldn't use plastic on the xylophone, and phenolic is a safer option for the instrument). Salyers Performance Collection Phenolic, at $25.95, fits those qualifications. For the light and bright, a smaller mallet head and good weight is needed, and another go to for a majority of percussionists is the Innovative Orchestral Series OS3, at $28.25 (I literally just bought it. I was like, "Why don't I have this yet?"). (Xylo total about $120)
Marimba is another instrument that can differ based on the way it's made. In most cases, we won't need too soft of a mallet for excerpts or for Bach pieces, so a hard/medium hard or medium mallet should be perfect (again I would buy 2 pairs). Marimba One's Round Sound Medium and Hard, both at $34.95, have been a great option across all the marimbas that I've come across and are very versatile for any piece you come across. Articulate without being crass, and very warm even on the highest registers. (Marimba total about $75-$150) Vibraphone is last on our list and is probably the easiest one to do. Though vibes may look different, the majority of them will give similar sounds from the bars. So mallets that work on one probably will work on any vibe, and here we have two other go-to's for percussionists: Balter Blues and Balter Greens, both at $32.95. (Vibe total about $70-$140) Grand total $550.
Had I known what I know now about what works on instruments, what's appropriate for pieces, and what is probably the best choice for certain if not general things, I would've saved a lot of money. I probably have over a thousand pairs of mallets and I definitely don't use them all, so some of those purchases could be seen as a waste, but in the best case scenario, I now have another sound and feel option for situations I come across. As you go along in your career, you will probably try tons of mallets, either from friends or instructors, and from a base set that you know will work, you can branch out and see what you like better, or don't like. The options are out there, which is good, but there are a lot of them and that can confuse us or make us feel like we need to keep buying more (I've definitely felt that way and have done that). Still, if you go with this general list, or mallets that have the same qualities, you will be fine for the long haul if you want to save up for bigger instruments in the meantime. Hope this helps and happy practicing!
At Interlochen last summer I did a class on the relationship between snare drum technique and accessories. In our education, these instruments are often the hardest to get used to and I thought that relating them to snare drum would make it easier to figure out. This is the outline that I used. Hope it helps!
Understanding Accessories 1h 15m (45min of Playing Opportunity)
Accessory Instruments’ Relationship to Snare Drum
A. Snare Drum Concepts That are Directly Related to All Instruments (30min.) “You won’t understand the feelings unless you go through the steps”-Monse Wisdom
Practice is an essential part of our growth as musicians, and during that time our minds can be on a number of things. The real skill of practicing is to narrow our thoughts to work on specific aspects, one at a time, until the entirety of the work has been dealt with. Many of us may have not been taught how to practice, but rather have gone to lessons and been given an assignment to work on for the next one. How do we then take the assignment and work on it? Everyone's approach may be different but I think we have similar goals in common. Things like precision, execution, rhythm/tempo, consistency, sound production, and clarity are all something we inevitably work on, but how do we diagnose the issues, and more importantly, how do we fix them?
Execution and consistency are very similar. Are we meeting all of the necessary requirements, achieving the demands of the music, and is this accomplishment done the majority of the time it's attempted? The hope is that practicing will make anything we work on "stick" to the point that we can automatically execute and perform the piece with little to no issue. The more we practice, the more familiar it becomes and the easier it will be to execute. This is also where bad habits can be formed if one isn't careful. If we are practicing something incorrectly, we may very well learn a incorrect note, etc. So taking things slowly and being very thoughtful about how and what you are practicing will help prevent mistake in the learning process.
As a drummer, the first thing that I hear and listen to is rhythm and tempo. Metronomes will blatantly tell you whether you are rushing or dragging in the piece. If you hear the tendency to do either in certain sections, really isolate them to examine why. Often the reasons for either could be the ease or difficulty of a passage, so really paying attention when they come up will keep you grounded. Rhythm has a lot to do that as well. Perhaps certain things are compressed, and that causes the rushing, or the opposite (wide rhythms for dragging), but the precision of the rhythm is key when keeping a steady tempo. Really make sure that the notes have their full length and that will ensure a precise rhythm.
Sound production is the weird one. This is where we really need to take a step back and think about what we are doing that creates different sounds. As a percussionist, I know the main variables that will produce different tones: lightness/intensity of touch, length of time that the stick is on the surface, velocity of throw, weight given to the stroke. This could be translated as thinness or thickness of air, light or heavy bow pressure, air or bow speed, weight given to the bow, etc. Any combination of what creates your general sound will produce a different one, and really experimenting, finding out what is possible on your instrument and gets you comfortable with your instrument as well, even the bad sounds that it can make. Finding the sounds that you can use on a regular basis, memorizing them, and being able to execute them in any situation will give you more flexibility within any piece you play.
Clarity, I feel, is a combination of sound production and precision. If we are executing the notes at the correct lengths, the rhythm and tempo will be good, but if the sound we are using is not appropriate, the audience may not be able to hear anything you are doing. It could also be a case where the sound is beautiful and appropriate, but the lengths of the notes are not precise, things will not be clear to the audience either. So, making sure the sound is appropriate (if your playing a scary, soft piece, let the sound be dark and full but very quiet; not bright, thin and semi-soft), and making sure you can execute those sounds while giving the appropriate lengths and steady tempo, will make the audience hear everything you are doing. Spoon feed the audience the music.
There's probably a lot more that you can go into as far as examining yourself and your practicing, but I think this is the basic format that will get you to a very good place very simply. It takes time to develop a mind that can think of all of these things habitually, and also a method of taking things apart to deal with each of these problems, but take the time now. It can be frustrating, especially when you feel that you should be able to do these things already, or when you can do them only in certain circumstances. Really find out why they do, and what circumstances bring out the good and the bad. Only then can you dissect them and either recreate good moments, or get rid of bad ones. It takes time and even more patience, but if you take the time now, and stay level headed, not getting too frustrated, you will achieve the goals you set for yourself.
This is a bare bones view of what I do every summer, and my daily practice routine is basically a condensed version of this routine. I hope this can inspire things in your own personal practice as well!
1) Stick Control [Time 4 hours]
a. Singles (Up, Down, Full, Tap, Finger, Accent Strokes)
b. Time Exercises
e. Moeller Stroke
i. Soft (a-g)
j. Dynamics (ppp-fff, crescendo, decrescendo, subito f/p)
2) Mallets [Time 3 Hours]
a. Scales (Major, Minor, Chromatic; Up/Tap Strokes, Grace Notes; 1i, The Crazies)
d. Double Stops (a,b)
f. Four Mallets (Lateral/Independent, Up/Down/Full/Tap Strokes)
h. Solos (Bach)
3) Timpani [Time 2 Hours]
a. Ed Stephan Remix (Time, Dynamics, Rolls, Double Stops)
b. Neilson Tuning Exercises
4) Complimentary Instruments [1-2 Hours]
a. Triangle (Up/Down Strokes, Rhythm)
c. Tambourine (Up, Down, Full, Tap Strokes; On-Knee Strokes)
d. Thumb Roll
e. Pandeiro Strokes
f. Shake Roll
g. Knee Fist
h. Bass Drum (Up, Down, Full, Tap Strokes)
k. Cymbals (Up, Down, Full, Tap Strokes)