Photo by Scott Pickering

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  

Friday, June 1, 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

Set-up Strategy

Set-up Strategy
by Mark Shelton

What might it be like to play percussion in heaven? Will we be able to concoct an ideal configuration of instruments and really get it right the first time? Could it be that in the celestial city there will be no cymbal stands? No mounting hardware? Imagine never having to wrestle with those methods of positioning instruments after we are inside the pearly gates? Imagine woodblocks and cowbells floating in midair at the desired height.  Designing and assembling your percussion set-up would be much easier. In the meantime, here’s some advice on organizing your set-up within the confines of Earth.  

A multi-percussion set-up should be ergonomically (work-friendly) designed so that you can meet the technical and musical requirements without wasted motion and energy.

When dealing with a large number of instruments, consider starting the design on paper before shuffling a bunch of drums back and forth. Work from a list of the needed instruments and draw a rough sketch of the setup. If you are reading music from an orchestrated chart, you can get ideas about which instruments should be adjacent. Some placement decisions are easy. For example, since I am right-handed, I generally place my trap table on my right so that I can pick up tambourines and shakers with my dominant hand.

Study your drawing and imagine making the necessary playing motions. You can even use a bit of "air drumming” as you imagine the logistical demands. Continue to tweak your sketch until it seems ergonomically sound.


As you begin to assemble the set-up, keep the instruments close to each other for economy of motion when playing. Remember that efficient instrument positioning is both horizontal and vertical. Tone and technique can be compromised by drums that are positioned at the wrong height (and can lead to fatigue and injury).

Don’t fear being a bit unconventional. While a saxophonist cannot rearrange the keys on this horn to make a lick easier to finger, a percussionist can alter the “traditional” placement of things within a set-up to reduce some technical challenges.

Visual Aspect  
There might have to be some compromise between ergonomics and cosmetics. Remember that people hear with their ears AND eyes. People can be distracted and frustrated when they cannot see the instrument that is producing that captivating sound.  

After you assemble the ergonomic setup, take a few moments to have a look from the audience perspective and make the necessary tweaks to enhance the aesthetic elements. Raising a stand an inch or tilting that rack forward a dab probably will not encumber your technique, but it might be just the change that brings the percussive optics into the view of the curious congregant.

Access to a variety of clamps, boom cymbal stands, and instrument mounting racks can make a big difference in turning your set-up design into ergonomic reality.

 Devices such as the Everything Rack (TM) from Latin Percussion or Gibraltar’s Percussion Bar (TM) provide a convenient method for grouping blocks and bells into a convenient array.

 Conserve space and reduce the number of stands by using a cymbal stacker or mounting cymbals “bell-to-bell” with a felt washer in between.

 The Hamilton Concert Snare Drum Stand can accommodate drum sizes up to 18 inches! A floor tom can be placed in the basket and brought up to proper playing height for a standing player.   

 The Percussion Claw (TM) from Latin Percussion lives in my mallet case. This little gadget fastens onto a drum rim and gives you another option for installing “peg-mountable” percussion.

 A trap table provides a central location for sticks, mallets, and hand-held instruments such as tambourines, shakers, and cabasa (and you can park your coffee mug on it).  

 The best laid schemes of a percussionist go awry when it becomes apparent that the magnificent layout that worked so well in the practice room cannot be shoehorned into the allotted smidgen of stage. An electronic percussion instrument such as the Roland Handsonic (TM) with its hundreds of digital samples allows you to play those tubular bells and timpani parts when the "real deal" will just not fit into your sliver of space.

A multi-percussion set-up should be designed so that the musician can comfortably perform with the appropriate tone and rhythmic accuracy that facilitate musical expression. If musical expression is hindered by the placement of instruments, consider making some changes. Once the layout is in place and you are feeling comfortable (from both ergonomic and visual standpoints), snap a cell phone photo so that you can re-create the set-up in the future.  

Here’s hoping that it’ll be easier in heaven.

(c) 2014 Mark Shelton Productions

Previously published in Worship Musician!  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Pillow Practice

A blast from the past--One of my early video tutorials.   It is still relevant.  

Grab a pillow and chop out

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tambourine Timbres

Plastic shell with nickel jingles or brass…or maybe wooden shell with German silver?

Sometimes I bring 4 or 5 tambourines to a rehearsal so that I can fit the tone of the instrument to the texture of the music that I am playing and /or to give some variety. Different shell materials influence the sound as well as the makeup of the jingles. Brass jingles tend toward a darker sound and seem to give off more of the “Rock” sound while nickel jingles are brighter and might be a good choice to give some sparkle and drive to a ballad. I have even set up a tambourine with a combination of jingles and washers to get a tight “dry” sound. During a rehearsal, play along for a few measures with one tambourine and then switch to a different one. You will probably hear the sound of one of the instruments fit better into the overall texture of the surrounding music.

One of my tricks is to switch tambourines as a song modulates. Moving from a darker to a brighter sounding instrument gives the impression that the tambourine is changing key along with the band!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Art of Not Playing

The Art of Not Playing  
by Mark Shelton

Out of the eight instrumentalists in the worship band, only the two keyboardists were playing. Their sparse texture was the sole accompaniment for the entire song.  Neither my colleague playing drum set nor I on percussion allowed ourselves to slip in even a meager cymbal roll. Sure, there were moments when a tasty percussive tidbit could have worked, but we somehow fought off temptation. The art of not playing requires  discipline and is an essential element of musical maturity.  

Standing in the back of the orchestra, you can observe violinists and woodwind players processing the hundreds of notes from their sheet music into beautiful cascades of sound. Percussionists can monitor the activity around us as we continue to count the 258 bars of rests leading into three taps on the triangle. The efficient orchestrations of the great composers and arrangers demonstrate the power of percussion when scored at the right moments. As a music student and later on as a professional orchestral musician, I grew accustomed to the “forced discipline” of the printed score as I waited to play an often sparse yet highly effective percussion part.

In many styles of sacred music, we have “forced discipline” when we are reading from a chart with specifically notated percussion--along with a conductor who expects a faithful rendition. However, in modern worship music, a percussionist is frequently expected to take an active role in creating the part. When “forced discipline” is absent, “self discipline” is needed.  

 In some cases, it may be desirable to play throughout the song, but usually there are sections where percussion can take a rest.  If the drum set player is laying down the time, consider waiting until the repeat of a section to add your color to the groove.  

 The opening verse of a down-tempo worship song might seem a good spot for a sixteenth-note shaker line, but could you wait until the second phrase comes around to add percussion?

 Showing restraint also applies to “coloristic percussion.” Those dings and shings which are tasty (when judiciously administered) can become tedious and distracting when overdone. Every transition from verse to chorus does not require a cymbal roll and using the bar chimes more than three times in any song borders on excess.

Technique exists to serve our musical ideas. Developing blazing technique can serve you well when it is needed.  However, it can be tempting to apply that skill whether or not it is required. Just because you have the tambourine chops to match every accent that the drummer is playing does not mean that it is always a good idea.

 Check yourself with questions such as:
How is this part that I am playing affecting the music?
Does my choice of instruments and rhythms enhance or detract?

How can they miss you if you never leave?

Either playing or not playing affects the overall musical texture. At times, you can heighten the impact of percussion by laying out for a few moments. After hearing the same sonic material for a while, our ears enjoy receiving new information. The reentry of percussion after a period of absence can provide fresh stimulus for the listener. Simply  resting for a chorus and bringing in a stream of tambourine sixteenths on the repeat can give a needed lift to the song (and the worshiper).  

How about a trim? 

The art of not playing includes not playing so much even when you are playing.  Think about simplifying your part (deleting notes, removing a few accents, eliminating the clutter). Reducing your part a bit can give some needed space to the music and can help tighten the rhythm section as a whole. If a printed part seems to suffer from overwriting, use a bit of artistic license to edit the excess.

Can you give me more?

Although you have every intention of playing a meaningful and concise part, the music director can have a different idea and request more percussion activity than you deem appropriate. If you are asked to play more than was in your plan, go ahead and honor the request. No matter what your artistic intentions, submit to leadership and take direction.  

Are you just going to stand there?

Membership in the praise band makes you a worship leader with a responsibility to set an example for the congregation. Choosing to lay out for a section does not grant you a license to remain motionless with hands jammed in pockets while your brain journeys to Alpha Centauri.

So, what should you do if you are not playing?  Here’s an idea: WORSHIP.  Be engaged in the moment. Sing, clap your hands, look at the leader, and let your countenance reflect the mood of the music. The parts of the song without percussion will not feel awkward if you focus on worship.

As percussionists, we have great ability to change the texture of the ensemble with our variety of sounds but always remember that we can also change the texture by not playing. Demonstrate your taste and restraint with the confidence that the decision to play less is indeed a musical decision.  

LIke a city that is broken down and without walls is a man whose spirit is without restraint.                                                                                Proverbs 25:28 WEB

(c) 2013 Mark Shelton Productions  
     Excerpts from Percussion For Worship by Mark Shelton

Previously published in Worship Musician!