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Suggested Reading

1. Rehearsal Rooms

Struggling to improve the acoustics in your band room? Check out how the Medan Band did it.

2. Concerned about playing swing music properly?

Check out my guidelines

3. Ear training exercises for bands

Unlike piano players, ear training is essential for wind band performers. But how many band directors bother to give their bands suitable exercises?

4. Intonation problems

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance. 

5. “Blowing” a wind instrument

A common misconception among wind players is to believe that the air moves through the instrument in order to produce the sound. This is simply not true. 

6. Conducting – suggestions for home practice

The best way for a conductor to improve is in front of a live ensemble. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this is not always possible. Aspiring conductors therefore have little choice but to find other ways of honing their skills.

 

Other Percussion Instruments

There are, of course, a large number of other instruments used in the percussion section.  A short list would include the tambourine, the triangle and the castanets.  Latin American rhythm instruments such as the maracas, woodblock, bongo and cowbell are also popular. 

Tambourines are held steady in one in one hand and struck with the other using either the fleshy part of the fingers, the heel of the hand or the knuckles.  The rim may also be struck with the fingers, timpani sticks or snare drum sticks.  A tambourine can also be shaken or even muted with a handkerchief.

Size determines the general pitch of the triangle. A triangle can be struck with a variety of beaters, including wire coat hangers and even heavy nails.  Most of the time, however, it is more appropriate to use the metal beater specially made for the purpose.  Most playing is done by placing the beater inside the triangle and then striking the base.  The sides may also be struck in faster rhythms.

Cymbals

Often regarded by school music directors as mere noisemakers that anyone can play, cymbals are rarely given their due.  As a result, the sound produced is frequently disappointing. 

Cymbals do not produce a single dominant pitch.  Instead, the best ones produce clashing overtones.  Even so, a certain amount of pitch does help to produce a musically pleasing effect.  Typically, pairs are manufactured in such a way that the pitch produced by one is a second or a third higher or lower than the other. 

Size has a direct impact on tone.
Somewhat surprisingly, size does not determine pitch.  Large cymbals, for example, can produce a higher pitch than small ones.  However, size does have a direct impact on tone, with larger cymbals producing more tone than smaller ones.  Tone quality is also influenced by the choice of materials, with beaten brass preferable to coiled wire. 

Cymbals come in a range of weights and thicknesses.  Medium to medium heavy cymbals are probably best.  A light cymbal may sound better at close range, but it usually lacks the overtones and carrying power of the heavier instrument.  Even so, a range of sizes does give the percussion section an important element of choice when playing different kinds of music.  Avoid wooden handles.  They may be convenient for the player, but they also tend to deaden the tone.  Leather straps are far better.

Linda Pimentel suggests the use of three crash cymbals of varying timbre.  One pair should be 18 inches in diameter and of a dark, Germanic timbre. The second pair, also 18 inches in diameter, can be of a contrasting, light, Viennese timbre. The third pair should be smaller, no more than 16 inches for easier handling in performances of long duration, and can be either dark or lighter in timbre, depending on the conductor's preference. [Linda Pimentel “Percussion Tips” in Bandworld Vol. 2 No. 1 August-October 1986].

A straight blow should be avoided.
Playing the cymbals involves holding the left hand stationary while the right cymbal is moved against it. [Left-handed players are free to reverse these instructions].  A straight blow should be avoided in favor of a slightly glancing one.  Attempting the former will compress the air between the two cymbals and produce a muffled sound.  Hold the right cymbal a little below the left.  The right cymbal then moves upward to meet the left, striking it at a point about three inches from the top of the right cymbal.  It is not necessary to hold the cymbals too far apart at the start in order to obtain a loud crash. 

In most cases, the cymbal tone should be allowed to ring until it dies by itself.  If the music demands a series of short sounds, then the tone can be muffled after each crash by placing the edge of the cymbal on the upper chest. 

Suspended cymbals should also be hit with a glancing blow rather than a direct one as the latter could warp the edge.  Apart from that, however, they can be struck with a wide variety of objects in order to produce various types of sounds.  A suspended cymbal should not be screwed too tightly to its holder.  Otherwise it will not be free to vibrate and might actually crack around the center hole.

Chimes

Chimes consist of a set of long, tubular bells suspended by a gut string.   They are struck at the very top of the tube.  Chime mallets are often too hard.  In such cases the rawhide at the striking end may need to be softened by making cross cuts or covering it with soft leather.  Some chimes come with a damper pedal, which is used on chord changes.  Sometimes, melodic parts can be allowed to run together to accentuate the instrument’s normal clanging sound.  In general, however, the hand is used to dampen the notes.

Bass Drum

 Together with the snare drum, the bass drum is among the most frequently used percussion instruments.  The player should not stand directly behind the drum, but rather slightly to the right, assuming he is right handed.  In any event, the drumhead should face in the direction the sound is to be projected, which is not necessarily towards the audience.  The beater is held with the same basic grip as the snare drum, with the wrist relaxed and the arm flexible. 

A direct blow to the middle of the head produces a staccato-like sound.
The most common blow is a slightly glancing upward stroke, just off center.  It is used for fast tempos and on the march.  The extreme glancing blow and the direct hammer-like blow should be reserved for special effects.  A direct blow to the middle of the head, for example, produces a staccato-like sound with maximum tone. This implies that rhythmically active passages should be played closer to the center of the drumhead, so that the sound will be less muddy. Accents should also be played close to the center.  Various kinds of beaters and muffling effects add to the bass drummer’s repertoire of sounds.

Because the bass drum is a sluggish instrument, the performer has to be particularly careful about playing on the beat.  This implies that he must actually anticipate the beat slightly or risk being just a fraction behind it and thus incurring the wrath of the conductor.

Keyboard Percussion

Introduction
he Basic Stroke

Mallets
Beating Area


Introduction

The major keyboard percussion instruments are the xylophone, the glockenspiel, the marimba, and the vibraphone. [Strictly speaking, the piano is also a percussion instrument. However, it is rarely used in the secondary school band].  Most keyboard percussion instruments used in the typical college or secondary school band consist of a row of suspended bars made from rosewood, carbon steel, aluminum alloy or some synthetic material.  These bars are arranged in the same order as piano keys, except that they are all of the same colour.  Most also have metal tubes called resonators beneath each bar.  These are designed to give maximum clarity to the pitch and timbre.  Because the xylophone sounds an octave higher than written, its resonators are shorter than those of the marimba or vibraphone.  The vibraphone is an electric instrument with the sustaining power controlled by a damper pedal. 


The Basic Stroke

The mallets are held and played in a manner similar to timpani sticks, although in the case of keyboard percussion there is no natural rebound.  Hold the mallets between the thumb and the curved joint of the first finger, with the thumb on the side of the stick and the other fingers well turned under. 

The keyboard should be about six inches below the player's waist.
Generally, the stroke is executed with the wrist rather than the forearm or shoulder. [The forearms are sometimes used, but the shoulders should never move]. The hands should be held level, with the palms down.  The angle formed by the mallets when positioned on the bar should be approximately 90 degrees.  The player stands near the center of the instrument, a few inches from the bars.  The height of the keyboard itself should be adjusted so that it reaches about six inches below the player’s waist.  If it becomes necessary to move to a different register during a performance, the player does so by shuffling.  He or she should not move by crossing over both feet.


Mallets

Xylophone mallets are made of hard rubber or acrylic.  This enables them to obtain the crisp and brittle sound characteristic of the instrument.  Softer effects can nevertheless be obtained with medium to hard mallets.  Marimbas, on the other hand, should not be played with very hard mallets at all because such mallets do not produce the characteristic marimba tone and may actually damage the wooden bars. Use medium or soft mallets instead. Although the bars of both the marimba and the xylophone are made of rosewood, the xylophone is made from the hard core of the log and the marimba from the softer outer section. 


Beating Area

For most purposes, it is best to avoid striking keyboard percussion instruments on the node.  The node is where the rope passes through the bar or where the bar touches the frame of the instrument.   This point lacks the fundamental tone and is apt to produce a very muffled sound.  For the best sound, strike at the center of the bars.

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