Photo by Scott Pickering

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.