Photo by Scott Pickering

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Thumb Roll Made Easy

If you've ever tried to play a thumb roll on the headed tambourine, you know it can be dangerous.  Your thumb might slide around without producing a roll. Yikes!!

Check out the Roll Ring from Grover Pro Percussion!

Get one of these and never fear the thumb roll.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Natural Acoustics Lab Shaker Demo

Lots of shakers in my collection--different shapes and sizes

Check out this demo of a shaker from Natural Acoustics Lab


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Cowbell and Tambourine

Short tutorial on playing cowbell and tambourine at the same time.

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Percussion Tip Tuesday

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why Percussionists Need Drum Set Skills

The door opened and Mr. Congiardo walked into the practice room. My friend and I had been taking turns exploring the drum set. Our band director had probably heard enough of those feeble attempts to play a groove. Although his primary instrument was the saxophone, Mr. C sat down at the drum kit and proceeded to confidently demonstrate a simple rock beat. His brief presentation was accompanied by some incisive advice to begin practicing his example. It was a major moment in my musical journey.

While I had played percussion in school band for a few years, my studies had not included instruction on drum set--until that day. Further study and practice led to playing drums for jazz ensembles, pit orchestras, big bands, praise and worship groups, and symphony orchestras during the ensuing decades. It is hard to imagine my percussion life without the fundamental abilities to play drum set and understand its workings within an ensemble.

Drum set proficiency is an asset whether I am actually sitting behind the kit, standing in a percussion set-up, or transcribing a groove. Read on and I will state my case for the importance for making “drum set know-how” an essential element of your percussion life.   


Percussion frequently requires multi-limb coordination. It can be simply playing a single line between your two hands, but there are moments when each hand is rendering a separate rhythm on a different instrument. Perhaps you decide to toss in a foot tambourine to further complicate the situation. Now you are synching up three limbs!  Playing drum set requires four-way coordination; all limbs are working independently.  Few instruments other than organ and pedal steel guitar so regularly require that multi-limb skill set. The independence gained from playing drum set carries over into those moments when two or three limbs are being employed on a percussion set-up.  Juggling a sixteenth-note shaker pattern along with a few syncopated eighths on a cowbell can seem like a piece of cake after you have been practicing a dense four-part fusion lick on the drum set.  

I highly recommend these classic books to build your multi-limb independence:

Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer by Jim Chapin  Alfred Publishing
4-Way Coordination by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine   Alfred Publishing


Experience with the drum set is beneficial when transcribing a groove. When working in a situation without a kit player, a percussionist might create a part that is based on a drum set groove. When I play in the ‘no drum set’ situation, my set-up is often centered around a cajon. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will often borrow ideas from a drum set groove and orchestrate portions onto my cajon-based set-up. Kick and snare parts easily transfer to bass tone and corner slaps on “the box.” The ride cymbal and stick-played high-hat lines can be implied on the corners of the cajon or ghosted on the bass tone area. I believe this transcription and orchestration process is made easier when you have experience transcribing and playing drum set grooves.  


It is crucial that the drum set and percussion parts mesh properly to form a solid groove. Timbres and rhythms should combine and complement rather than collide and confuse. It is a delicate interaction. As the percussionist, I generally allow the drum set player to take the more dominant role in establishing the basic framework of the groove and I weave my parts around that framework. A background in studying the drum set informs me as I analyze the drummer's rhythms and timbral choices so that I can find appropriate rhythmic and frequency areas to contribute my ideas. My ‘drum set sense’ helps me to anticipate the musical moments where the drummer will play a fill or a set-up cue so that I can phrase accordingly to forestall cluttering the groove. 

Pinch Hitter

There I was, blissfully minding my own business as I waited to play a simple shaker part for the close of a worship service. Suddenly the drummer got word that his child had been injured. He left church immediately leaving me to play the kit on the closing song.  A sense of relief poured over me when I realized that my duty would merely require laying down a groove that I learned back during the Nixon administration.  

Things happen. People get sick. Tires go flat. Alarms fail. 

Over my years as a church musician, I have abandoned my percussion set-up several times to substitute for an absent drummer.  Would you be ready to knock out a simple pattern if the situation arose? Think about it.  

Increased Opportunities

Adding drum set abilities to your arsenal of percussion skills increases your playing prospects. As I survey the ‘gig landscape,’ it seems there is always someone searching for a kit player. In many styles of music, a drum set player is a necessity while a percussionist rates as an added luxury.  

Of course, make sure that you are up to the gig before you agree to the job. You can't hide when you play drum set!

To further assist you in developing your prowess on the traps, allow me to recommend a valuable resource. Carl Albrecht's Drum Grooves for Worship DVD presents seven essential types of patterns used in modern worship. You can order from 

Get the DVD and learn all seven grooves. 

I did!

I'm still practicing drum set.  

(c) 2018 Mark Shelton Productions / Percussion for Worship

 Previously published in Worship Musician  

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Parts Of A Drum Stick

The various areas of a drum stick have names.  Get to know them with this short tour of a drum stick with Mark Shelton

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Claves: Get Clickin'

Claves: Get Clickin'
by Mark Shelton

Dynamite comes in a small package.

Within the percussion family you can find small instruments capable of holding their own alongside their bigger brothers and sisters. The jingle and pop from a headed tambourine can punch through a dense mixture of larger drums.  A single triangle ‘ding’ has the power to sit atop the sound of an orchestra comprised of winds, strings, and a pile of percussion. 

Among those petite powerhouses of percussion are the claves. Weighing less than a can of soda pop and just a bit longer than a pencil, the distinctive tone from a pair of hardwood pegs can be clearly heard within a salsa rhythm section crackling with congas, bongos, timbales, and cowbells. 

The traditional Latin American claves are straightforward, equisized dowels. Differing slightly, African claves consist of a ‘receiving stick’ featuring a scooped middle area and a smaller striker peg. This article will focus on the traditional Latin American claves.

Although synthetic models are available, Latin American claves are customarily constructed of hardwoods such as grenadilla, rosewood, maple, or ebony. The dowels range in length from around 8 to 10 inches with a diameter of about an inch. The small dimensions combine with the resonant materials to produce a short, crisp, and high-pitched tone. 

The Traditional Tone

The proper holding method is a crucial part of producing a traditional claves tone. One member of the pair will strike the receiving (stationary) clave. To hold the stationary clave, curl the fingers of your non-dominant hand in towards your palm with the thumb resting against the side of the index finger--resembling how it would look if you were going to knock on a door. This forms an echo chamber for the clave to resonate. Lay the clave over your echo chamber so that the stick rests on your knuckles and the fleshy area just below your thumb. Grip the striker clave in your dominant hand (similar to a loose matched grip). Try a few clicks.

Check out my short video tutorial on the claves

Gripping either clave too tightly will choke vibrations. Your grips are correct when the claves sound with a clear, resonant tone.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chorale 62 J. S. Bach

"If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee" Chorale #62 
by J. S. Bach 

Played with single strikes instead of rolls

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ten Ways to Expand Your Suspended Cymbal Sound Palette

Ten Ways to Expand Your Suspended Cymbal Sound Palette
by Mark Shelton

A suspended cymbal is a frequent companion when I am playing percussion with an ensemble. It is amazing how a metal disc can produce such an abundance of tone colors. If your suspended cymbal sound palette has been limited to perfunctory striking and rolling, you’re missing out on a lot of tonal possibilities. I have gathered together several methods for manipulating the timbre of a suspended cymbal.  

When experimenting with these tone production techniques, I suggest using an authentic suspended cymbal. Some manufacturers will print the word "suspended" on the top surface of the plate. The usual choice for classical music applications, these special cymbals are created for quick response and easy rolling.    

The bell (or dome) of the cymbal has a ringing brightness that can penetrate a dense mix. Use the brilliant timbre to add coloristic shimmers to an ambient moment or to attach some rhythmic sparkles to a groove. Experiment with bead, shoulder, and butt of a drum stick to excite different timbres from the bell. 

Edge and Bow
Begin tapping with the bead of a drum stick at the edge of a cymbal. Listen carefully as you move your tapping from the edge slowly toward the bell. The area between the bell and edge (the bow) contains subtle shadings of tone. Although the edge gets to log a lot of playing time for crashes and rolls, you should explore the sounds found in the bow to gather ideas for your suspended cymbal work.

Employing various striking implements is one of the chief methods for changing tone colors on any percussion instrument. Tap the cymbal with coins and metal knitting needles. Bring out subtle sounds with brushes and bundled rods. Use various yarn-wrapped mallets to excite different harmonics and make sure to explore the  timbral differences between striking with a wooden drumstick bead and a nylon tip.  

The scraping timbre is very effective in a soft and peaceful texture. (I think the sound resembles a sigh.) You will need a plate with a traditional finish as opposed to a "bright" or "brilliant" finish. The traditional finish will have the grooves and ridges available for scraping. A triangle beater is my go-to implement for cymbal scrapes, but a coin or metal washer are worthy alternatives. Start a scrape where the bell meets the bow and rake downward toward the edge. You will hear a slightly different sound when you reverse the motion.     

Edge Harmonic
Hold a drum stick or triangle beater perpendicular to the edge of a cymbal and gently strike the instrument. Master this one. It's delicate, elegant, and tasteful.  

Drilling holes into a cymbal and inserting rivets will give you that great sizzle sound, but there are other methods for obtaining some "hiss and fry" without installing permanent pieces of metal. There are a number of "sizzle devices" on the market including the Cymbal Sizzler by ProMark, the Cannon Cymbal Sizzler, and Meinl's Cymbal Bacon (best name award!). In the DIY category, try the old-school methods of draping a small chain across the plate or using adhesive tape to attach several coins to the top surface of the cymbal.

Roll Types | Roll Speeds
While most suspended cymbal rolling is produced with soft mallets, sticks can also be employed. Check out the sounds created by a single stroke roll versus the double stroke version. Roll speeds can be used to produce subtle shadings. Listen how roll speed (using any implement) can generate either tension or relaxation.  

Combining Cymbals
Every tonal manipulation in this article can be accomplished with a single cymbal--except this one. Modify your suspended cymbal tone by combining it with another cymbal. You can simultaneously strike or roll on another standard suspended cymbal or mix in the sound of an "effect cymbal" such as a splash, Chinese, or perforated plate.

Laissez vibrer (or l.v.) is a common marking in classical music cymbal parts. The English translation for this French term is "let vibrate." Although we often follow a cymbal strike or roll with "laissez vibrer," do not forget about the "choke." The choke technique allows you to control the length of the note. Simply grab the plate with thumb above and fingers below to stop the vibrations and thus the sound of the cymbal. Mastering the choke will assist you in matching note lengths with other instruments in an ensemble.

Alter the sound of a cymbal by applying some muting material.  This simple process will reduce the sustain while changing the overtones.  Meinl's Cymbal Tuners make use of strong magnets to attach to a plate's surface. Moongel Resonance Pads can also be used to mute a cymbal--as well as good ol' adhesive tape.

Bonus: Bowing
It’s doubtful you’ll use this sound on next Sunday's opener, but you never know when it might come in handy. Percussionists have long utilized bowing technique on gongs, vibraphones, and other instruments (including cymbals). Drawing a bow across the edge of the cymbal will produce some unique timbres--without the characteristic attack of a striking implement. Try it.

With a little experimentation, you can discover additional cymbal sounds. Search for other timbres and apply them with taste.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
                                                                                                    Psalm 150:5 KJV

2018 Mark Shelton Productions Percussion for Worship

Previously published in Worship Musician! magazine 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018


by Mark Shelton

J.S. Bach took a break from his worship leader job to listen to the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. Since the invention of the phonograph was about 170 years in the future, Herr Buxtehude had not cut an album--plus he lived some distance down the road from Bach.  
No problem; Bach walked to hear Buxtehude. 

250 miles! 

Bach was really determined to get in some listening.

Listening to music is an essential part of our musical development. Musicians invest countless hours in practicing, performing, and songwriting, but active listening often takes a backseat. There is a difference between the passive listening to music (while washing the car or cleaning the house) and active listening, which requires more focus.

For most of the people reading this article, listening to music is convenient. No need to take a 400 kilometer hike to check out a great musician. We’ve got Spotify, iTunes, and motorized vehicles. Take advantage of the easy access and dive into active listening. 

Listen to your favorite music--with a different perspective
While listening to your preferred type of music, search for details that have escaped your notice during casual listening. Is that gated reverb on the snare drum? Does the electric guitar double the bass line on every chorus?

Listen to unfamiliar music
Venturing outside your musical comfort zone is a great way to pick up new ideas for your sonic arsenal. Classical, jazz, blues, art rock, electronica, salsa, Celtic, and klezmer! A myriad of genres and sub-styles awaits your exploration. Listen carefully to what makes each type unique.

Listen to percussion-packed music
Immerse yourself in West African drumming, percussion ensembles, marimba bands, and drumlines. The world of percussion abounds with interesting instruments and rhythms.

Listen to percussion-less music
Bask in the beauty of a slow movement from a string quartet. Study how bluegrass grooves without a drummer in the band. Listen to unaccompanied solo guitar.

Listen to live music
We listen with our eyes as well as our ears. Experiencing music in a live setting is special. Attend concerts and enjoy the beauty of the real-time moment.

Listen to virtuoso performers
Whether it’s Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Wynton Marsalis playing trumpet, or Phil Keaggy picking the guitar, extraordinary musicians are EXTRAORDINARY. Listen carefully to their tone quality and subtle nuances in phasing. Hearing amazing percussionists such as Giovanni Hidalgo on congas and Glen Velez on frame drums can be an “imagination catalyst.”

Listen to assigned music
Whether playing in the worship band, jazz ensemble, or symphony orchestra, study recordings of the repertoire before the rehearsal. Pay attention to how the performer on the recording phrases the part that you will be playing. Take note of spots in the music that can function as cues. Pre-rehearsal listening is a confidence builder. 

Listen to yourself
Hit the record button and lay down a track of yourself playing a musical passage or exercise. Listen, critique, improve, record again, listen, critique, improve.  Keep repeating until happy or exhausted. Listening to recordings of your playing is a healthy reality check.

Active listening educates and inspires. Bach was probably seeking both when he made his epic journey. My eclectic listening suggestions (see next page) will provide you with over an hour of creativity-stimulating music. You can find the entire playlist by going to Spotify and searching for Worship Musician Percussion Listening. All the recordings are available on iTunes. 

I made sure to toss in some Bach and Buxtehude. 

(c) 2017 Mark Shelton Productions / Percussion For Worship

Previously published in Worship Musician! 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Here Comes Your Solo!

Here Comes Your Solo
by Mark Shelton 

“After the second chorus, there will be a solo section. Drum set, take the first eight bars and let percussion have the last eight. There’s no time to run it. It’ll be fine.”

When the directive to take a solo is given, will you be ready?  Allow me to share some advice for playing a solo break on indefinite pitched percussion.

Invest time in practicing improvisation. Capture the licks that you like by transcribing them onto paper or “going red” on an audio recorder. Those chosen fragments are vital parts of your “lick arsenal.”

Study recordings of soloists. Pay close attention to percussion breaks at live performances.  

Practice with a metronome. Learn to play your licks at a variety of tempos. Work on improvising over loops.

Improvise in various time signatures. Are you as comfortable in 12/8 as you are in 4/4? Venture into odd time signatures such as 5/4 and 7/8.

If you have the freedom to pick which instrument(s) to play for a solo, choose wisely! Some instruments are better than others due to volume capability and possessing timbres that will cut through the accompaniment. If it can’t be heard, you might as well not play it. 

Practice improvising solos in various lengths. Can you say something in one bar? Two measures? Be prepared to “trade fours.” Do you have enough in your tank for 32 measures or an open-ended solo break? Learn to phrase so that you can land the ending on any beat (or subdivision of a beat).

Know the style and solo in that style. (There are big differences between rock and ragtime!) Your choices of instruments and rhythms should reflect the style of music surrounding your solo.

Human beings like repetition. This works to your advantage when taking a solo. Don’t be afraid to restate a lick. Use dynamics to provide variety on a repeat of a rhythm or spice up a reoccurring lick by re-orchestrating the rhythm onto different instruments. 

A solo does not have to be wall-to-wall saturation of sound. Space and longer note values can be a welcome relief. 

Record yourself playing a solo. Give it a listen, improve it, and record it again. Keep repeating this process until you really dig your solo. Memorize your creation and keep it ready.

It’s okay to compose a solo instead of improvising it. I’m giving you permission. Send any complaining purists to me. Try to make your written solo sound spontaneous when you perform it.  

Your solo does not have to include displays of speed and technical virtuosity. 

A solo break can be used as a transitioning device. Your solo might be the means to shift from a swing style to a straight eighth feel, change the tempo, or introduce a different time signature. Imagine those situations as you practice soloing and be prepared when a transition is required.

Develop your ability to play rhythmic themes and variations. Practice by playing a short rhythmic theme several times and gradually add slight variations. Keep the theme in mind as you continue to improvise new variations. This is a powerful tool for improvising. Experiment with stating the main rhythm of a song’s melody at the beginning of your solo and going on to improvise variations. The groove from a song can also function as your rhythmic theme. Try spinning out variations using something from your lick arsenal for the main motif. Check out this video to hear a short tambourine solo using theme and variations: 

Solo for everybody--not just the cool musicians in the band.  ‘nuff said.

Don’t be shy. Playing with timidity communicates insecurity. Project confidence, own every note, and play musically.  Enjoy your solo. 

2017 Mark Shelton Productions / Percussion For Worship

Previously published in Worship Musician!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Prelude To The Moment for solo marimba

Here's a recent web performance (live streamed on Instagram) of one of my compositions for solo marimba.   

Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Shuffle Tambourine

Here's a method to play a shuffle on the shake tambourine.  
Let gravity help.

More percussion video tutorials at  

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Caxixi Tips

Short video tutorial on the Caxixi

Check out more percussion tutorials on my YouTube Channel

Monday, August 6, 2018

App Advice for the Worship Percussionist

App Advice for the Worship Team Percussionist 
by Mark Shelton 

The electronic percussion unit was not cooperating. The rehearsal was about to start and the plan for me to play an "electronic toms" line on a song was in jeopardy as the sampler was down for the count. Pondering the situation, I suddenly remembered an app that might solve the problem. After opening the iKaossilator app on my iPhone and plugging in my earphones, I settled on an appropriate patch. The vintage drum machine sounds fit the vibe for the song and I played my iPhone during two services that day.  
I had to wonder if anyone in the congregation suspected me of texting during the opener.

An app came to my rescue that afternoon.  As the universe of touchscreen helpers continues to expand, I discover clever apps that can assist me as a musician. Read on for several recommendations for the worship team percussionist.

“Let's try ’10,000 Reasons’ with a merengue groove this morning."  Would that directive from the worship leader freeze you in your tracks wondering what to play?
Download PercussionTutor and be ready to easily access notation and recordings of South American, Caribbean, and West African grooves. Study from a library of world rhythms played by first-rate percussionists.

If the percussion score requires timbales, you might start setting up the shallow-shelled drums associated with Tito Puente and salsa music. But wait!  “Timbales” is also the French word for TIMPANI. Confusing? Percussion terms can be tricky. Download Percussion Pocket Dictionary and you will have quick connection to the names of dozens of common percussion instruments in English, French, German, and Italian.  Consult this resource and you can spare yourself the embarrassment of shaking a tambourine when you should be pounding the “tambourin de Provence.”  

Tempo & Tuning 
Back in the tick-tock pendulum days, you might get a pass if you didn't have quick access to an exact tempo--and those old-school devices did not have a tap-tempo feature! Nowadays there’s little reason to be caught without a metronome. Both the Pitchronome and The Metronome (Soundbrenner) live on my smartphone. Not only a dependable metronome, Pitchronome also includes tuner and drone features that might be of service at a timpani gig.  

Capture & Create
The brilliant song lyric or infectious groove that just came to you could easily escape your hippocampus. When the creative moment strikes, open a recording app and document that snippet of genius. Voice Memos (comes with iPhone) has been my go-to app for grabbing my ideas before they slip my memory. There are several other simple recorders to choose from and you can also use a camera app to shoot a quick video of your fresh ideas.

Keezy Classic is a super-simple sampler app that allows you to record onto the eight on-screen tiles and play back rhythmically by tapping the tiles (or holding down a tile to loop). Another recording feature in the app makes it easy to capture a creation and share it through email, text, or Air Drop. I love the straightforward design of Keezy Classic.

Percussionists will have this one up and cookin' within a few minutes. Keezy Drummer is a drum machine app that combines aspects of a sequencer and a looper. With twelve percussion sounds and up to nine tracks, you can stir up some interesting grooves without a lot of learning curve. Super fun!

Do you need to transcribe a melodic hook so you can play it on glockenspiel? Having access to a pitch source might help. A basic piano app will fit the bill. My choice among the many available is The Piano Free. It sounds like a piano—and it’s free!

A quick search will uncover plenty of apps that can deliver percussion sounds. One of my favorites is Rhythm Pad with an uncomplicated design, low latency, a metronome, and an in-app recorder. The aforementioned iKaossilator is the app cousin to the Korg Kaossilator.  A cool X-Y interface controls a variety of percussion sounds and drum loops along with a wide range of synthesizer sounds.

Required Reading
If you are carrying your smartphone around, you can easily bring along over fifty English language versions of the Bible. No excuses. Make sure you include a convenient container of the Word on your device—and read it. Every day! My personal choice is YouVersion with an assortment of languages, versions, reading plans, and handy features. 

Readers can access Worship Musician! by typing the URL into a browser or using the convenient Worship Musician app. If you don't have this free app, download it now and you'll have quick access to current and past issues with inspiring and educational articles. Make sure to read the scintillating writing about drums and percussion. 

2018  Mark Shelton Music / Percussion for Worship

Previously published in Worship Musician magazine