Photo by Scott Pickering

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.