We’re Not Teaching Our Young Percussionists to Be Musicians

Most children in South Florida, where I grew up, don’t learn percussion until they are eleven years old, or in the sixth grade. This is usually experienced in an orchestra or wind ensemble situation rather than in a room with several percussionists. With a beginner stick bag, snare drum, pad, and beginner bell kit that they have probably leased, an enthusiastic percussionist is ready to do what every instrumentalist is there to do: learn how to make music.

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Or so they believe.

A typical band director has all the equipment and training necessary to get the most sound out of their wind musicians. In order to prepare them for playing as a group, they provide them posture instruction and dedicate time to practicing breathing exercises. After that, they all start focusing on their audio. That is, except the percussionists. A scale pattern designed for wind players and possibly a snare rhythm to go along with it can be learned by percussionists. Band directors frequently concentrate their efforts on assisting wind players concentrate on proper posture and breath control, as well as listening to the sound they’re producing and integrating it with their section. The sounds that percussionists are producing are frequently disregarded, even if they are fortunate enough to participate in these rehearsal segments.

Consider the following typical scenario:

The first band is supposed to play a half-note Bb scale. The percussionists take out their beginner set of mallets, get on the closest xylophone, and start playing half note rolls on every note up the scale. The rolls sound unappealing. The mallets are not the same. They might or might not be hitting the bar anywhere, disregarding the appropriate zones for play. When the wind players are working to produce solid sounds, they may receive feedback on dynamics (i.e., they are playing too loudly), but more frequently than not, they are advised to stop playing.

I can understand why this happens to some extent. Typical percussion instruments give off a quick feedback. When you ask a kid to play a Bb, they instantly hit the correct pitch. Since wind players require more effort to produce fundamental sound, they receive more attention, and this pattern frequently persists throughout their middle school band career. There could be several problems: the sticks might not match, the head might be dead, the snare might not be tuned, and the bells’ mallets might swap every run. But most band directors marginalize percussionists and overlook important aspects of their preparation due to more pressing worries about wind problems, which puts percussionists at a severe disadvantage.

There is yet more to the issue. Finally introduced to larger keyboard instruments, percussionists entering high school will receive specialist instruction for the first time. Regretfully, marching band takes up the first half of the year, which is a shame because this might be a fantastic opportunity to lay a really strong musical foundation. Marching band is something I adore, so this stinks! However, the cruel truth is that marching band students often end up with a technically sound but musically lacking education due to the typical keyboard curriculum.

The majority of young adult gamers consequently face the following difficulties:

When they start college, this changes for a lot of kids. Their perspective has expanded. They meet new peers from diverse backgrounds, have ear training as part of their course curriculum, and noticeably improve the standard and viewpoint of the educators they come across. On the other hand, the “introductory” levels should be improved. What then are our options?

Here are some recommendations:

How did you find the situation?

If you had the good fortune to get a strong foundation in music education throughout your elementary school years, what strategies did your teachers employ to assist you develop into a musician rather than a technician?