Photo by Scott Pickering

Monday, September 30, 2013

Creating A Percussion Part

Here's my first installment in response to John Homan's recent email (Sept. 9 post):  

Creating A Percussion Part      
If you find yourself composing a part from scratch, here are some questions that will aid the process.
When I discern the style of the music, I begin to think about the instruments that are common to that style  (while not limiting my thinking to only those instruments). 
  • Should I try to use only instruments that are common to that style?
  • Is this a situation where I am free to think outside the box? Will I be allowed to try some sounds not usually associated with this particular style?
If there is also a drum set player: 
  • Are the patterns coming from the drum set fairly standard patterns for that style or is the drummer trying something original? 
  • What instruments on the drum set are being played?  
  • What instruments,rhythms, and frequencies will complement the drum set part?
  • Where is the drummer playing a fill?  Where is the musically logical place for the percussion part to drop out before the fill? Where do I reenter after the fill?
  • Does the drum set ever drop out?  Would this be a good spot to add percussion or enter a bit later to give another element of interest?
If there is no drum set player (just lil’ ol’ me playing percussion):
  • Should my patterns be more standard or does the situation call for originality?
  • Do I need to play time throughout or are there sections where I can play “color” ...or drop out?
  • Are there highs, lows, or mid frequencies that are not being covered by the other instruments of the rhythm section?  Should I try to cover that area?
I am also listening to how the other instruments of the ensemble and the overall arrangement and orchestration.   
  • Where are the climaxes?  Are there breakdowns?
  • What percussion instruments, rhythms, and frequencies will complement the texture of the ensemble as a whole?
  • Are some fills at the ends of phrases being played by an instrument other that the drum set (bass, keyboard)?  Where are my exit and reentry points or do I play through the fill?
  • Do I really need to play in every section of the song?
  • Am I playing too much?
  • Could this song possibly work without percussion?
  • Does the music call for “groove percussion” or “coloristic percussion” or both?
  • Is my part interesting and enhancing without being distracting?
Stay tuned for Part 2

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Song Of Truth (Worship Song)

Here's a lyrics video for a song written by Jonathan Malone and me.  ...just guitar and voice (demo version)

There's no percussion (unless you want to remix).  Enjoy and worship!  God is the ultimate truth.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Drummer Cafe

Bart Elliott has been the driving force of  Drummer Cafe since the late nineties.   Bart and I were both freelance musicians in the Dallas area--until his decision to split the Metroplex and head to Nashville.

Since moving to the land of MY birth (Tennessee), Bart has been pumping out news, reviews, lessons, and other bits of percussive info on his multi-layered home on the internet.   Website does not seem adequate to describe Mr. Elliott's drum-iverse.   

There is also a new TV feature on Drummer Cafe hosted by Bart.  

Head on over and check it out at


Monday, September 16, 2013

Carolina Christian Hand Drummers & Percussionists

As a former resident of North Carolina (graduate work at East Carolina University and three years in the NC Visiting Artist program), I am happy to find out about the Carolina Christian Hand Drummers and Percussionists Facebook page!

Check it out at

Monday, September 9, 2013

What should I play?

John Homan (a faithful Percussion For Worship reader) sent me an email recently that described a rehearsal in which he pondered that big percussionist question--

What should I play?

Check out these excerpts from Mr. Homan's missive:

Hi Mark,

     Tuesday night at music practice we worked on a new song.  We were taking a Don Moen-type praise and worship song and making it really rock. It was starting from scratch. Once the drummer had determined how he was going to handle the skeleton of the beat, I tried to find where I would fit in. It was a very fast song, the drummer was doing a 2-4 rock beat--mainly playing 4 on the floor kick drum, snare on 2 and 4, and a straight high hat beat.
     I tried different things to add to this, but found it kind of problematic. I could add a cutting shaker to support the driving beat, I could add a rock cowbell on the chorus, I could add djembe beats to add more of a tom-tom/tribal sound since the drummer wasn't getting time to add much more to the that side of the mix, or I could just hang back and add a cymbal swell here and there, and find other little sprinkles to add here and there on the hand drums and other similar things.
     I asked the leader if he was looking for something particular from the percussion side and explained to him what options I saw and he agreed that it wasn't simple and I would just have to feel my way around it to see what sounded good. It's nice to have that freedom and that trust and a leader who lets me figure some things out. I'm fine with this and will figure it out.  I know I'm not the only church percussionist out there with these issues.
      What are some good guidelines when you have a song like this? What are some ways to determine when you are doing too much  or when you can almost trade beat for beat with the drummer? I'd like to hear your wisdom on this situation too.
John's email brought to my mind some writing that I have done on this topic.   I plan to post some of that writing in the weeks ahead, but let me give others a chance to contribute some opinions on this topic.