Photo by Scott Pickering

Monday, December 27, 2010

Session Prep Pays

Hey Mark,

What would you charge me for recording at my studio for:
A one hour session
A two hour session

A three hour session?

The question came in an email from a producer for whom I had played a couple of live events. After my reply regarding rates, we set a time for recording percussion at his studio.

Later in the week, the producer emailed a “rough recording” of the song. After downloading the tune onto my iPod, I listened to the song several times. The “rough” contained no vocals but as I listened, the form and major melodies began to become apparent to me. It was then easy to make a “skeleton chart” of the song on manuscript paper so that I could mark the measures where the major sections of the song began and ended.

The tap tempo feature on my Boss Dr. Beat DB66 metronome ( informed me that the song was recorded at a consistent bpm of 95. I set my Beatnik Rhythmic Analyzer ( ) to 95, grabbed some sticks, and began to warm up. (I wanted to ingrain that tempo and subdivisions into my brain and hands.)

Listening to the recording several more times with the “skeleton chart” and pencil at the ready, some ideas about instrument choices and parts sprang to mind and were added to the paper.

The session was scheduled for 1:00 P.M. so I left my home in time to arrive at the studio by 12:30. The producer seemed grateful that I was early and impressed that I had concocted a chart.

My chart also contained approximate times (min/sec) where major sections started. With this information handy, it was easy to tell the producer/engineer to skip ahead to certain min/sec areas as we recorded, thereby saving time for everyone.

The producer wanted to record parts for several instruments and choose segments to use later as he mixed. The time spent in preparation paid off as we recorded parts for congas, tambourine, shaker, rhythm triangle, Chinese bell tree, suspended cymbal, and more in about 1 ¾ hours.

Certainly there are studio situations when there is no recording (or chart) to study before the session. However, when such materials are available, take advantage of the opportunity to prepare thoroughly.

I think this guy might call me again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mastering The Tables Of Time

On the shuttle ride to the airport, a piece of luggage fell and struck me. (No harm done!) However, the incident started a conversation with another passenger, David Stanoch, author of Mastering The Tables Of Time. Upon departing the bus, David presented me with a copy of his amazing book. Whether beginner or pro, drumset player or percussionist, material abounds to challenge and improve your skills. You’ll find exercises with applications for playing time, coordination, polyrhythms, and soloing.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How can I play all myself ?!

With Christmas just around the corner and those cantatas and spectaculars looming, you might find yourself looking at a percussion part that was intended to be played by a section and instead…it’s just YOU ! Aside from growing an extra set of arms from your stomach, your next best choice is to figure out what to play and what to delete. You might try to ask the conductor (who is still pre-occupied with that near-mishap with the flying angel at the tech rehearsal). Asking the maestro will sometimes yield a quick, “Just try to play as much as you can.”

Make plans and mark the part before the rehearsal but stay open to any in-the-moment directions from the leader during the rehearsal.

Some parts may be doubled by other instruments.
EX. The timpani line covered by the string bass and /or tuba
EX. Glockenspiel or xylophone playing unison with woodwinds
Those percussion parts are good candidates for deletion.

Certain parts may be providing the driving rhythms.
Try to include these.

Cymbals and triangle give an ensemble sparkle and ring.Look for spots that need that effect.

Some instruments help to set the mood or establish a place.
A tambourine would take precedent over bass drum in an “Eastern European” sounding passage.
If you are playing an arrangement of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” and there is a part for chimes... Play that before anything else.
Nothing gives a military feel better than the snare drum.

To cover multiple instruments, be ready to make some sacrifices.
Play drums with hard plastic mallets so that you can move quickly to that glock lick.
Substitute suspended cymbal for crash cymbals and you can combine that with the snare drum part.
It only requires one hand to play the MOUNTED tambourine; the other is free to play another instrument.

Take care to devise a set-up that will allow you to move quickly and GRACEFULLY from one instrument to another. Sketch the set-up so that you can recreate it at the performance.

Friday, November 19, 2010

God Be Praised / Gateway Worship

God Be Praised (Deluxe) from Gateway Worship is currently #7 on the iTunes Christian & Gospel chart. Thomas Miller, Walker Beach, and the team from Gateway have produced a “live” album with a “really live” feel.

It is an honor to be a part of this recent release. There are ample amounts of percussion from  my percussion colleague, Mark Levy and lil' ol' me. Click the  widget below for more info (including some samples).


 Listen for the rainstick in a couple of spots in “O The Blood.” …that’s me!

Monday, November 15, 2010

PASIC 2010

The Percussive Arts Society International Convention took place last week in Indianapolis. It was four days full of new gear, old friends, networking, inspiring performances, and the fun that can come from a few thousand drummers getting together.
Here I am with Bart Elliot (Nashville drummer and purveyor of

Since the early 80’s, my headed tambourine of choice has been manufactured by Grover Pro Percussion. Click this link ( ) to find me at the Grover booth with the Heat-Treated Silver Dry 8” Tambourine.
Neil Grover (percussionist with the Boston Pops & owner of Grover Pro Percussion) and lil’ ol’ me.
And...I got out of bed and made it over to the 7:00 A.M. Breakfast Meeting of Fellowship of Christian Percussionists. 
PASIC 2011 will be held again in Indianapolis. For more info:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mark Tree

More than a one trick pony…

Aren’t you glad that studio musician, Mark Stevens invented the mark tree back in the late 60‘s? Also know as bar chimes, the mark tree can help set an ethereal mood, wash into a half-time section, or sweep the music into a modulation.

The instrument is capable of more than the oft-used stereotypical high to low glissando.
 You can…
  • Glissando low to high
  • Glissando using a light touch with a triangle beater
  • Start in the middle with both hands and move outward in both directions slowly
  • Produce a burst of sound using both hands to quickly set all the cylinders in motion
  • Create a wind chimes effect ---gently moving the cylinders into one another
Resist the temptation to overuse the mark tree. Keeping this timbre rare maximizes the effect of its shimmering beauty.
When you invest in a mark tree, get a long one …and a supply of replacement ties!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Legato Shaker

During a recording session, I was using the Soft Shake from Latin Percussion ( I had been playing it in a conventional manner. The producer suddenly asked me to turn the shaker so that an end was toward me (as shown in the photo). Though slightly skeptical, I complied and immediately heard the difference. There was less attack in the sound and more length to each note. The length of this particular shaker is rather short so that you can control the rhythmic flow of the fill (beads) in this position. The “more legato” sound fit well in the song we were recording and I continue to use this technique when appropriate. This is one that requires close proximity to the microphone.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Which backbeat to play?

...2 or 4?

Doubling the snare drum back beat with a single strike on the tambourine is quite common and can give some variety to the groove. I usually choose one backbeat or the other; seldom do I play both 2 and 4. Less tedium and greater variety occurs when the snare drum is heard alone on one of the beats and the doubled sound on the other. Sometimes my choice is arbitrary but often I make a studied decision based on the lyrics of the song.

Listen to the phrasing of the lyrics and you will often find less vocal activity around either beat 2 or beat 4. Playing on that back beat allows the tambourine’s tone color to do its job without competing with the vocals.

Both lyric and tambourine get their space.

Friday, September 24, 2010


What are those things?


A staple of Andean folk music, the chajchas consist of goat hooves sewn to cloth loops. The chajchas produce a warm, earthy, clattering rattle (to my ear). The loops are traditionally worn around the wrist (like bracelets) so that a player can also play a bombo (drum) and chajchas together. I tape a couple of loops together, grasp the whole clump, and play downbeats with a quick downward flick of the wrist.

                     Some chajchas ideas:

  • When the drumset is laying down an ethno-groove on the toms, try bringing out the chajchas on some simple downbeats.
  • Play the backbeat (sparingly).
  • Shake the hooves for an ethereal effect.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rock Cowbell

Tulp  Tulp  Tulp  Tulp

Sometimes that four to a bar / downbeat cowbell is just what the song needs. You hear it in so many styles...Rock, Funk, Pop, R&B. In contrast to many Latin styles where the cowbell has a more open / ringing sound, the Rock cowbell sound is generally a dry tone. I once read the tone described as “tulp.”

Grip the cowbell with the subdominant hand with the open end of the bell up and away from your body. The instrument rests in your hand so that the fingers and thumb are gripping the sides and the flat bottom rests against your palm. This grip allows you to achieve a dry sound with the palm stopping vibrations. If you need an open sound, drop your palm away from the bell (with fingers and thumb still clutching the bell on the sides).

If a consistent dry sound is needed, I sometimes grip the bell with fingers on the bottom (flat area) and my thumb on top of the playing surface. This grip allows me to apply some pressure for that “tulp.”

Strike the cowbell with the side of the stick (rather than the end) across the edge of the mouth. This seems to bring out more fundamental and less highs.

Go for the tulp!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Why didn’t I think of that?

Don’t try to tape a shaker egg to a drumstick. Stop playing the cowbell with a maraca. The Stickball from Rhythm Tech ( slides quickly and securely onto a range of shaft sizes and instantly allows you to add a shaker sound to a stick or mallet.
The video on the June 16, 2010 posting contains some Stickball playing.
Click on this link for Drummer Café (  for a video review of the Stickball. 
Invest in a couple of Stickballs
...a creativity catalyst!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Clean up the shaker attack

Do you ever notice some extraneous sound in that split second before you actually want the first shaker note to sound? You are probably giving the shaker a preparatory flick to bring the fill (beads) into the ready position area opposite the initial striking side. That “pre-attack” swish can mar the quality of a shaker track (or require some time with the digital editor).

You can eliminate most of the extrinsic clatter by simply bending your wrist so that the fill slides and settles into that ready position. If your first attack motion is away from your body, bend your wrist so that your thumb is closer to parallel to the floor and the fill in the shaker is resting right over your thumb. If your first attack is toward your body, bend your wrist so that your fingers are more parallel to the floor. When the rhythmic moment comes, use a normal shaker motion and the fill will move cleanly from its ready position and slap the striking area with a more precise sound.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Forte-piano Timpani Roll

Get Sneaky.

You can find the forte-piano timpani roll in hymn arrangements, oratorios, Brooklyn Tabernacle orchestrations, and many more church music styles.

If your usual method has been to play a loud roll and quickly bring the roll volume down, try this approach for a better tone (and less work).
  • Play a single forte stroke. The volume level of the resulting tone will begin to drop.
  • While the head is still ringing, bring in a soft roll under the volume of the ringing tone produced by the initial stroke.
  • With some practice, you can sneak in so that the beginning of the piano roll is masked by the sound of the decaying forte stroke.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Clave Rhythms

Clave patterns serve as rhythmic organizers in several Latin American and African styles of music. There are Bossa Nova, Afro-Cuban 6/8, Rhumba, Son claves and more! One of the more common is the Son clave. This five note pattern can be played in two versions, 3-2 and 2-3.
When playing in the rhythm section, it is crucial to know if a clave-based song is 3-2 or 2-3. This knowledge assists the players in selecting note groupings. Everyone should be playing “in clave.”

One way to determine the clave is to clap the 3-2 version while singing the melody of the song and repeat the melody with the 2-3 version. One of the clave rhythms will probably fit and feel better. (This suggestion comes from the book, Salsa Session by B. Sulsbruck, H. Beck, and W. Hansen.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Stay loose!

Claves may have originated with sailors using pegs from ship masts for musical accompaniment. Traditionally made of rosewood, the bright tone of the claves can cut through some dense musical textures.

Hold the striker clave in your dominant hand (in a loose matched grip). For the stationary clave, curl your fingers of your other hand in towards your palm with the thumb resting against the side of the index finger. You are forming a little echo chamber for the clave to resonate.

Lay the clave over your echo chamber and you are ready to play.
Gripping either clave tightly will inhibit vibrations. You will know when the grips are correct when the claves respond with a characteristically resonant tone. Stay loose (grip-wise)…and check back for a post about clave rhythms.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


  • Strike it.      
  • Scrape it.
  • Shake it.
  • Tap it for staccato.
  • Slide the beads for legato.  

       Lots of possibilities with the cabasa!

     Experiment with these patterns:

Saturday, July 17, 2010


"Do you have a box?"

When Robert (a Peruvian) asked that question, I knew that he was referring to the cajon.  Simple, portable, and possessing a variety of timbres, the cajon is a great choice for the "no drumset" situation.  With bass tones produced in the center of the main playing surface (front panel) and crisp highs at the upper corners, you can coax a pretty meaty groove out of the box.

  • Most cajons have screws near the corners of the front panel. Loosen the screws to raise the corners for better slap.  I insert thin cardstock to soup up the slap.
  • Mike the sound hole for good bass tones.  A desktop mike stand comes in handy.
  • A piece of foam rubber resting on the bottom (inside) may help absorb some unwanted ring.
  • Experiment with the cajon for a variety of sounds.  Use the sides.   Play with different areas of your hands, knuckles, fist, etc...  Strike and scrape it with brushes.
  • I prefer a traditional cajon sound (without the snares).  You can obtain the snare effect by placing a snare drum on its side just behind the cajon sound hole.  Face the snare (bottom) head toward the cajon. 
One Good Lick For Cajon:

This pattern outlines the 3:2 son clave.   Start on beat 3 and proceed to beats 4, 1, & 2 and you can get the 2:3  feel.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Looping Pedal / Practice Tool

Play it again…and again…and again…

Back in my grad school days in electronic comp class, we composed using loops. Those loops were actual magnetic tape loops that we recorded and spliced. We’ve come a long way!

Looping is a frequent feature in my solo percussion work and I have also used a looping device in drum circle facilitation.

A looping device is also a handy practicing tool. I use the Boss RC-20 Phrase Recorder Loop Station which is a foot-operated looping device.
  • A foot operated looper allows you to record, stop, play, and erase without using your hands. No fumbling for a button while holding a stick or mallet!
  • Easily record and play a part and practice playing over the recorded part. Example: Loop the son clave and practice playing the cascara bell part over the clave.
  • Record a loop of metronome click and record a part that you are practicing. You can listen over and over to check your timing accuracy.

  • The RC-20 has memory capability so you can store your practice loops.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Expression In Music

How to play musically…only $5 !

“Definite and specific instructions on the playing of music with expression are always needed, and such information should be sought after continually by every serious-minded player as well as by every teacher and director.”

That is the powerful (and truthful) opening sentence from Expression in Music.

Given to me by a mentor years ago, my copy of Expression in Music carries a price marking of $2. The cost has more than doubled yet this inexpensive tome contains a wealth of information on musical phrasing. Famed cornetist, composer, and educator, H.A. Vandercook gives specific directions on emphasis, interpretation, ornamental notes, syncopation, and more. Though published in the 1920’s, the ideas in the book are timeless and can be applied whether playing the lead line or accompaniment.

From Chapter Two:

“With all the high-sounding titles that may be given to it, and no matter how poetically it may be described, expression in music consists of well-placed and intelligent accent or emphasis.”

I recommend investing half a sawbuck and studying the 59 pages of musical wisdom.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Conga Thoughts: Random and Useful

Congas are usually part of my set-up when I am playing Contemporary Worship music but I usually play them sparingly.
  •  Use the basic conga tones to copy phrasing with the other instruments. If the rhythm section plays hits that are short / long / short / long / long /short…try playing slaps for short and open tones for long. A much tighter sound!
  • Avoid playing congas on top of a drumset fill. I look for a musically logical spot to stop the conga pattern before the drummer starts the fill.
  • Muffled slaps played loudly in unison with the snare drum can point up precision problems. Back off on the back beat!
  • When playing “time” on congas, pick a pattern and stick with it. Do not “improv” while the rest of the rhythm section grooves.
  • Pick your spots judiciously. Do the congas really enhance that section?
  • Tune tight for easy response and good projection. Even with amplification, you want to send a solid projecting sound into the microphone.
  • Simple can be effective!  Listen to the congas in “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”  ...The Temptations version.  You'll see what I mean.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Collaborating With Other Art Forms

Painting with Pigment and Percussion
1 Samuel 16:23

Collaborating with artists from art forms other that music has helped me to grow as a musician. Whether dance, poetry, visual art, or drama, I always learn from the experience. Earlier this year, Carlos Cazares and I worked on a project combining painting (Carlos) and percussion (me). The project, A Moment of Relief (1 Samuel 16:23), was different each time we rehearsed or performed.       You can discover more of Carlo Cazares' work at
A moment of relief from Carlos Cazares on Vimeo.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Drummer Cafe

Pay a visit…Leave smarter.

My friend (and predecessor as percussion teacher at Christ For the Nations Institute), Bart Elliot is the proprietor /purveyor of Drummer Café.

I am a Tennessean transplanted to Texas. Bart departed his native Lone Star State for Music City several years ago. Our times as percussionists in the Dallas area overlapped for a while. Since moving to Nashville, Bart has established a great source of drumming info on the web. I entreat you to read Bart’s articles, “The Fine Art of Practice” and “In the Pocket.”
Tips, Reviews, Videos…Head on over to Drummer Café.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Squeezing The Timpani Part

It calls for four drums but you only have two?

Churches seldom own (or rent) more that two timpani.  Composers and arrangers keep writing for 3-4 drums. In dozens of rehearsals, I have scribbled a few marks on a timp part and managed to perform a satisfactory version with just the 26” and 29” kettles.

Here are some pauken pointers for making do with just two:
  • Tune the 29” timpano to E rather that F. This gives you the low resonate E to use rather that just the high (less resonant) E on the 26” drum. Many charts go down to the low E.
  • Switch octaves. If the pitches are Eb - Bb, simply flip it and make it Bb - Eb.
  • Substitute another chord tone. If the chord is D major and the timpani part calls for a D but the pitch change is too clumsy with the two drum set-up, try playing the fifth (A) or the third (F#) if either is more accessible.
  • Use the nodal area. The center of the timp head is a dead zone (very little resonance or pitch). In a rapid passage, some notes can be played in the center to give the percussive sound without a strong definite pitch.
  • Alter the rhythm and /or pitches. A part consisting of four 16th notes (ex. F-G -A -Bb) could be reduced to eighth notes (F -A) or pitches doubled for the 16th effect (F-F-A-A).
  • Delete a passage. Some sections may not lend themselves to editing. Just leave it out. If it is covered elsewhere (bass, tuba, bassoon), just allow that voice to carry the moment.
    Discretion is the better part of valor.
Finally, some advice to help with those quick pitch changes that you will encounter as you reduce the part down to two timps:
  • Sit on a stool so that you can have a foot on each pedal.
  • Tuning Gauges…Get ‘em.  Set ‘em.  Use ‘em.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

As Iron Sharpens Iron... Proverbs 27:17

Tambourine, Conga, Djembe, Cajon, Shaker, Timpani, Cymbals...Hundreds and hundreds of percussion instruments that are available to use in worshipping God! Whether you play congas in contemporary praise & worship music or you are the timpanist playing on hymn arrangements in a more traditional church setting, it is my hope that this blog will be a source of inspiration and information.
As a free-lance percussionist, I have had the opportunity to play percussion in many styles of worship and learn from other percussionists, worship leaders, and producers. As iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), it is my hope that I can share some of my knowledge and gain some ideas from readers / contributors in the percussion blogopshere. May it all be for the glory of God.

Check back soon.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Hand Cymbal Rolls

“I like what you’re doing. Can you keep that going and throw in a cymbal swell on the modulation?

Playing the shaker with your right hand, you hear the music building to that big climax. If you could just continue the shaker part while adding a crescendo roll on the suspended cymbal…

There are a couple of one handed methods available to make that cymbal roll a reality.

  1. In one hand, hold two mallets using any of the conventional 4-mallet grips (Stevens, Musser, Burton, cross). Spread the mallets to 9:00 and 3:00 on the cymbal and alternate the mallets in the independent roll fashion used in marimba playing. You don’t have to roll very fast to get a good sound.
   2. With palm down, hold the two mallet shafts one over the other in snare drum matched grip with about 2 inches between the mallet heads. With one mallet above the cymbal and one below, use an up and down motion to produce the roll.

I favor Method 1 because of the better tone quality. Either way will allow you to add that roll while continuing to play the instrument in your other hand.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dynamic Control on Shakers and Tambourines

" ...a little less shaker in this section and fade it at the end of the phrase."

The ability to control an instrument throughout its dynamic range is crucial to good musicianship. Do not overlook this on shakers and tambourines. Practice playing patterns at low volume levels but with the same intensity and consistency as at louder levels. Can you fade up a roll and fade it down smoothly? Try the short exercise demonstrated in this video with tambourines, ganza, maracas, etc… Remember that the tendency is to build crescendos evenly but decrescendos are frequently faded too quickly.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Percussion And Drumset Part 1

Playing Percussion While Thinking Drumset

Much of the time when I am playing percussion in a church service, there is also a drumset player. My closest interaction within the rhythm section is with the drummer. The drumset skills developed in high school and college (I still practice drumset and play a few gigs on it these days!) serve me well when I am in the percussionist role. When I am playing percussion, I am often thinking about what the drummer is playing and trying to weave my part around his playing in a complimentary fashion. I can often predict where the drummer will lay down a fill, phrase some horn hits, or play a set up figure. This helps me avoid playing “on top” of a fill or cluttering the phrasing.

Check back soon for Percussion and Drumset Part 2

Friday, May 21, 2010

Worship Team Director DVD / Drums & Percussion

Percussion Ideas For Over 70 Worship Songs

Worship Team Director is a training and presentation tool for your worship team. This project includes video demonstrating how to play the song along with audio options (split tracks, mix minus instrument, etc…).

Produced by Gateway Create Publishing and distributed by Integrity Media, Worship Team Director has a separate DVD for Drums & Percussion. The first three volumes include percussion parts for over 70 songs (demonstrated by Mark Shelton).

I just spent several hours in the studio recording parts for the next volume.  

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Listening to a variety of music

Celtic to Latin to Rock to Gospel

Arriving early for a rehearsal (always a good idea), I sat in my van listening to the radio. Hearing the entire Carnival Overture by Dvorak, I was impressed by the great writing for  triangle and tambourine.

Listening to a variety of music to learn styles and gather ideas is so important. In today’s worship music, a set might include some Robin Mark, Salvador, Hillsong, Lincoln Brewster, and a little Andre Crouch for good measure. Do you know which instruments to reach for to handle that variety of music…and what kind of part to play? Make listening to different styles a priority.

Demo Video Solo Percussion

Here's about 5 minutes from my solo show

Rainstick Rhetoric

The right amount of rain

On a recent recording, I played the beautiful and fascinating rainstick on the intro and outro of a song. There is more to this instrument than “turn over and let it pour until it stops.”
  • You have to get a long rainstick. Don’t waste your money on a rainstick that will not rain for at least 30 seconds. My rainstick is app. five feet in length.
  • I prefer the natural rainstick made from cactus and pebbles.
  • Find the end that provides the longest “pour” and mark it. Make sure that you load the pebbles into that end before the performance.
  • Practice the rainstick. You can develop some skill with the intensity, dynamics, and controlling the length of time the pebbles are producing sound.
  • Work the mike. Stay close to the microphone but be aware that you can use proximity as a tool.
  • The rainstick is one of those instruments that should be used sparingly. Do not FLOOD the song.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Triangle Tips

Small in size  Packed with power

Listen to a symphony orchestra playing at full volume. Add just one percussionist playing one note on the triangle and hear the sparkling tone shimmer pleasantly over 70+ musicians. Be careful with that power!

There’s not much that you can do to make a triangle sound better…you can’t change the head, put on better snares, etc... You must invest in a quality instrument. One of the favorites in my collection is the 6” Super-Overtone from Grover Pro Percussion ( The instrument is rich in harmonics with a good amount of sustain and a tone that is appropriate in a variety of settings.

  • Invest in at least three different sizes of triangle beaters. Each size excites different harmonics thus affecting the tone.
  • Experiment with striking various areas on the triangle for different timbres.
  • My general striking area is the side without the opening. I play about a third of the way down from the top corner with the beater at app. 45 degrees.

    This area gives a less definite pitch with lots of harmonics and blends well with the definite pitched instruments being played.
  •  Always suspend the triangle with TWO separate loops (for safety) of thin string, plastic ties, or fishing line. NEVER use wire or heavy cord that will either buzz or significantly inhibit vibrations. Keep the loops short so that the triangle cannot spin after striking.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Roland HandSonic HPD-15

A world of percussion at your fingertips

I am a big fan of the Roland HandSonic HPD-15. This compact electronic instrument was designed with hand percussionists in mind. The unit includes a pressure-sensitive pad divided into 15 zones along with two ribbon controllers and a D Beam. There are over 500 sounds on the HandSonic including acoustic percussion samples from around the world along with vintage drum machine sounds and orchestral instruments. Those sounds are modifiable…imagine a great sounding woodblock that would be better if it could be a half step lower in pitch. With the Handsonic, it takes about 15 seconds for that adjustment!

There are several pre-set drum set patches on the Handsonic (or you can build and save your custom “user” patches). The Trigger Input Jack and HH Control Jack allows for pedals so that a percussionist can use hands AND feet to play drumset parts.

I have used the HandSonic to play chimes and timpani with a church choir and orchestra …an easier load-in!

Lots of dance/electronic sounds (including turntable scratch samples) are loaded on the HPD-15 along with multi-effects AND a sequencer!

More info on this great unit at the Roland website:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Suspended Cymbal Basics

Get The Metal Moving
  1. Use a relatively thin cymbal for suspended cymbal parts.  Some cymbals are marked "suspended" and specifically designed for easy response.
  2. Although it is sometimes necessary in a quick transition, try to avoid using a timpani mallet on the cymbal.  I prefer yarn wrapped marimba mallets for general suspended cymbal playing.
  3. Both rolls and single strikes should be played with the mallets at 3:00 and 9:00 (see photo) for balanced vibrations and quick response.
  4. Priming a cymbal (a gentle inaudible tap with a finger) gets the instrument vibrating for an easier response.
  5. Having an array of implements (sticks, mallets, brushes, dowel rods, triangle beaters. coins) expands the timbral capabilities of the suspended cymbal.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Manipulate Shaker Sound

Change Your Grip / Change Your Tone

Simply grasp the shaker with more of your hand area (or use both hands). The "highs" will be decreased and the tone will be darker.  Loosen your grip and use less hand area to achieve a brighter sound.  You might use a darker tone on the bridge of a song and move to a brighter sound as you proceed to the chorus.  Stay close to the microphone so that the subtle tone shift can be heard.

Monday, May 3, 2010

GatewayWorship Live Recording 2010

Two nights of worship captured on audio and video

GatewayWorship just concluded two nights of recording for the upcoming CD / DVD project scheduled for Fall release.  Mark Levy (photo by Scott Pickering) and I shared percussion duties.  Two ensembles of instrumentalists backed the singers.  The RED TEAM was my assignment.   Lots of new songs with (hopefully) good doses of percussion.  Getting to play some rudimental snare drum on one song was a real treat for me.   I enjoyed getting to observe Mark Levy play with The BLUE TEAM and get a few ideas from him.  Overdubbing sessions are scheduled in the weeks ahead.

No Timpani Part !

"It's #271 in the hymnal."

If you are asked to play along on timpani and the conductor hands you a hymnbook, some of the best places to add the kettles are at the cadence points.  Look at the bass line and observe the pitches at the end of the phrase.  They will frequently be either a full cadence with the fifth scale degree moving to the first degree or a half cadence with the tonic ( I ) moving to the dominant ( V ).  Below are a few examples in the key of C.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tambourine Launch Pad

It takes seconds to make, weighs about an ounce, and makes picking up the tambourine easy and quiet.

Playing multi-percussion can present some logistical challenges. Moving from instrument to instrument with only a beat or two in between can be tough. How about picking up the tambourine (or shaker) from a trap table? Using one hand to grab the instrument and bring it into playing position in a timely fashion without producing extraneous sounds can be a problem. My solution is the launch pad.

Just some foam rubber folded over and taped and you can get you fingers under the tambourine and grip it correctly with no muss, fuss, or unwanted jingling. A problem solver that’s not a problem to carry!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's okay to not play.

How can they miss you if you never go away?

As a percussionist, we have the ability to change the timbral texture of the ensemble with our variety of sounds and instruments but always remember that we can also change the sound by not playing. You can increase your impact by dropping out for a while. Demonstrate your taste and restraint with the confidence that the decision not to play IS a musical decision. Try waiting until the second verse to enter or maybe that intro with piano doesn’t need those triangle notes on top (or fewer). Sometimes…less is more.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Playing With The Click

"I'm gonna need more click in my cans."

Whether you’re synching with a video, loops, enhancement tracks or just maintaining steady tempo, playing with a click is becoming more common in church settings. Drummers and percussionists know that we are held to a higher standard when it comes to precision with the click. Also, it’s not just “burying the click” with accuracy…then comes the request to play “just behind” the click. You can improve this skill with practice. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • I have practiced with a looping pedal and microphone, recording a metronome click and then recording a block or cowbell over it, trying to match my attack with the recorded metronome and then listening back to check my accuracy.

  • Several months ago, I started working with the Beatnik Rhythmic Analyzer from OnBoard Research. The unit consists of a practice pad with a display screen and a few knobs. Set a tempo and subdivisions (16ths, 8th triplets, etc…), play along to the click, and watch the screen for a real time display of your percentage of accuracy. Cease playing and within seconds you get a graphic display of your accuracy on EACH subdivision. You can immediately see your tendency to rush the second sixteenth note in a grouping or that you are late on the upbeat. The Beatnik is a truth machine! I have described one of the many features on this great device.
The Beatnik can improve your ability to work with the click AND improve your overall sense of time. It is improper subdivision that creates rushing and dragging. The Beatnik gives immediate feedback so you can get to the heart of the problem and optimize your practicing.

Check out the Beatnik at the OnBoard Research website: .

Monday, April 5, 2010

Percussion For Worship (TM) Opening Post

Tambourine, Conga, Djembe, Cajon, Shaker, Timpani, Cymbals...Hundreds and hundreds of percussion instruments that are available to use in worshiping God! Whether you play congas in contemporary praise and worship music or you are the timpanist playing on hymn arrangements in a more traditional church setting, it is my hope that this blog will be a source of inspiration and information.
As a free-lance percussionist, I have had the opportunity to play percussion in many styles of worship and learn from other percussionists, worship leaders, and producers. As iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), it is my hope that I can share some of my knowledge and gain some ideas from readers / contributors in the percussion blogosphere.

May it all be for the glory of God.

Check back soon.