Percussionists

Percussion: Exercises and Listening Questions

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Tone and Technical development (25-30 min)

Tone

It is important that during every practice session, your sound/tone is always your highest priority. If you do not make the quality of the sounds you produce an important part of your playing, then you cannot expect others to do this for you. So this portion of the practice session is vital. Since this practice session will be a build-up process, tone development is placed at the beginning of your practice session. Once your sound is exactly as you want it, then you can carry that into all other portions of the practice sessions. Using a mirror to check your heights during this part of practicing is an excellent way to see if your hands and arms are set correctly.

Technical

When moving into the technical portion of your practice time, recalling and referring to the tone development portion is essential. Displaying technical ability without a good sound is very unimpressive to educated listeners. Your tone should still remain your highest priority.

This portion of your practice will help in developing strong technical facility over your instrument. Keeping a quality sound throughout all rhythms is key to success on your instrument. One common misconception of technical studies is that they must always be performed at fast tempos. While this may be a long-term goal, performing these exercises at a tempo that you can play them correctly should be your first priority. From there you can develop proper technical facility over your instrument that has a great deal of clarity.

Exercises

Choose 3 or 4 (it is not necessary to perform all of these during a practice session)

  • Rebound exercises
  • Multiple bounce exercises
  • Flam Study
  • Roll exercises
  • Shifting rhythm exercises
  • Diddle Exercises
  • Tempo control exercises (slow and fast)

Self-guided Listening Questions

(During each of these exercises you should be asking yourself these questions.)

  • Am I standing with excellent posture? Am I holding my sticks correctly? Do I have correct hand position every time I play?
  • Do I have a concept of what I want to sound like? Am I using the correct amount of stroke and motion possible to create the desired tone and intensity?
  • Is the rest of my body still when playing?
  • Is my sound/tone of my instrument of great quality on each note?
  • If not, is it caused by maladjustments of the snare drum hardware or it is the style I am using to play?
  • Am I using a metronome?
  • Is my sound the same throughout all tempos and rhythms? Can I hear each individual note of the exercise very clearly? Or, do some notes sound fuller than others? Do some notes not speak at all?
  • Is my left hand and right hand consistent with each other in stroke, dynamics, and quality of sound?
  • How consistent is my stroke and control? Am I using the proper motion to achieve the best sound regardless of rhythms and tempo?

In answering these questions, you can better understand what types of things you should be practicing during this portion of your session. This will also help guide your ears in knowing what to listen for. Two of the most significant improvements you should make this year should be the quality of the sound you produce on your instruments and consistent tempo control.

Again with anything that is technically demanding, clarity becomes one of the most important aspects to focus on. The quality of sound, especially on fast technical passages, is the highest concern for creating that clarity. Practicing technical passages slowly allows your ear to hear the details in the questions asked above. As you slowly speed passages up, you can still focus your hearing to the same questions. Do not lower your standards, or let certain questions slide as you approach faster tempos. Keep these ideas in mind and work your way up to actual tempo. When working up technically demanding passages, it will be necessary to repeat the process of starting slowly and gradually speeding on several different occasions.

Sight-Reading (5 Min)

The ability to read music correctly the first time you see it is an asset to any musician. The ability to read music better will allow you to start at a higher level whenever beginning work on a piece. Imagine being able to read any piece of music correctly with regards to rhythms and notes the first time you play it. This would allow you to work on other aspects of the music sooner in the development of that music. You could focus on dynamics, phrasing, and style while others are developing the correct notes and rhythms. Even though sight-reading will not be an “every day” part of your year, increasing your ability to read music the first time you see it will allow you to have more control over your instrument.

The only way to develop your sight-reading ability is to do it daily. Over the year, you should make it a goal to read one new excerpt of music or exercise every day, whether from a book, literature from class, etc. When doing this, you should set the metronome at the appropriate tempo, and then play the piece from top to bottom without stopping. If you make a mistake, just keep moving. You can go back after finishing the piece and see what you messed up; However, the ability to look ahead and recover from mistakes will be essential in your proficiency with regards to sight- reading.

Exercises

Sight-reading books – books are available that discuss and breakdown sight-reading skills. We even have some in the band room you can borrow!

Use method books – start reading music that is at a lower level than your current playing level, then slowly increase the difficulty .

Self-guided Listening Questions

(During each of these exercises you should be asking yourself these questions.)

  • Am I using the correct hand position and playing position?
  • Is my sound quality at its highest performance level
  • Am I keeping my eyes looking ahead in the music?
  • Do I get caught up with simple mistakes?
  • Am I able to recall the mistakes I made while performing the excerpt? Or, is the excerpt too long?
  • Am I paying attention to details such as style and dynamics? Or, am I just playing notes and rhythms?

When sight-reading, you should make an effort to perform all aspects of the music. Dynamics and style should not be disregarded simply because this is the first time you have seen the music. Look for items that repeat themselves such as rhythmic note patterns. The excerpts that you perform should be relatively short. This will allow you to perform the excerpt and be able to remember your errors. Once you have read the excerpt, go back and look for 3 to 5 things you can correct or improve on. After this, play the excerpt again to improve on the performance. After playing the excerpt twice, move on to the next excerpt.

As your sight-reading abilities improve, the excerpts should increase in difficulty, responsibility, and length. The excerpts should have more rhythmic responsibilities, as well as more style responsibilities. The length of the excerpt should also increase. Keeping tone quality a high priority and the ideas discussed above in mind should help to develop strong sight- reading skills.

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Music Studies (20-40)

Many times, this portion of our practice session is the only part of the student’s practice session. Many musicians pull out their instruments and immediately begin to play through their music. You’ll find that by practicing the first three sections of this practice guide first you will be more prepared to practice and perform your actual music; however, this portion of your practice might possibly require the most organization out of all of the parts of this practice guide. Many people simply play through their music and never truly break down music to perfect it. This session could most easily be described as “quality over quantity.”

The mental part of all practicing is as important as the physical part.

Since repetitions and thought take time, choose two or three portions of the music you have and put a great deal of effort into perfecting every aspect of that part of the music. Since you could never make it through all of your music just practicing small portions of your music, it is essential that you practice regularly and often. This will allow for in depth study of your music and the ability to practice all of the music.

Keys to practicing/perfecting music

  • Plan the exact places to practice – know the places in music you are going to practice, and the concepts or ideas that you plan to implement on those places
  • Practice small segments of music at a time – perfecting a 24 to 36 measure portion of your music in a practice session is more productive than playing through all of your music
  • Increase your standards for that place – practice to perfect every aspect of the music you are working on
  • Use a metronome
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Self-guided Listening Questions

(During each of these exercises you should be asking yourself these questions.)

  • Do I have correct hand position and playing position? Does my stroke have good motion? Is my sound at its highest quality? Is the sticking correct?
  • Do I have a goal behind practicing this segment of music? Have I accomplished that goal?
  • Can I correctly count this portion of the music I am practicing?
  • Can I play those rhythms accurately?
  • Does each note get equal emphasis? Are some notes louder or softer than others? Is the line of music smooth and flowing?
  • Can I accurately perform this segment with and without a metronome? Am I pushing and pulling the tempo unknowingly?
  • Do I have control over my sound when performing dynamics? Does my sound or response change with the change in dynamics? Do I know where the peaks and valleys of the dynamics are?
  • Can I consistently perform this segment? Can I correctly apply all of the concepts above to this segment several times in a row?

Constantly keeping these questions in mind during practice sessions will help to better guide your listening. With a great deal of honesty and patience, you should slowly begin to hear many more mistakes in your playing than you first thought were there. Your standards should rise with this awareness. Taking the time to work out these imperfections will result in a much more consistent and accurate performance of all of your music.

You may have to fight the urge to simply play through music without critically listening to yourself. This is an easy, feel-good way to practice that will lead to frustration down the line. Taking the time to be a problem solver and working out each portion of your music will result in a much more refined and polished product in the end. So it is important to always keep the end result in mind when planning your practice. Then it becomes a matter of sticking to the plan and patiently increasing the level of your musicianship.

You may find it easiest to organize your practice if you put it down on paper. Planning out the week before it happens, and the ability to look back and see what tasks you have focused on can help create a more balanced practice time. Chose a format for documenting your practice session, and keep them fairly accurately. Remember, planning is one of the most important aspects of your practice time. During the year, you will need to document what you practice because there might be a day or two between practice times depending upon your schedule and other unforeseen incidents.

Remember, quality and quantity of practice time directly impact your ability level on your instrument.

Make long and short term plans with regard to your practice time!!

Could you explain what you will and did accomplish during your practice time to other musicians? Or to your parents?

Make sure you can perform specific items up to your standards several times on a consistent basis.

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