Photo by Scott Pickering

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Thumb Roll Made Easy

If you've ever tried to play a thumb roll on the headed tambourine, you know it can be dangerous.  Your thumb might slide around without producing a roll. Yikes!!

Check out the Roll Ring from Grover Pro Percussion!

Get one of these and never fear the thumb roll.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Natural Acoustics Lab Shaker Demo

Lots of shakers in my collection--different shapes and sizes

Check out this demo of a shaker from Natural Acoustics Lab


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Cowbell and Tambourine

Short tutorial on playing cowbell and tambourine at the same time.

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Percussion Tip Tuesday

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why Percussionists Need Drum Set Skills

The door opened and Mr. Congiardo walked into the practice room. My friend and I had been taking turns exploring the drum set. Our band director had probably heard enough of those feeble attempts to play a groove. Although his primary instrument was the saxophone, Mr. C sat down at the drum kit and proceeded to confidently demonstrate a simple rock beat. His brief presentation was accompanied by some incisive advice to begin practicing his example. It was a major moment in my musical journey.

While I had played percussion in school band for a few years, my studies had not included instruction on drum set--until that day. Further study and practice led to playing drums for jazz ensembles, pit orchestras, big bands, praise and worship groups, and symphony orchestras during the ensuing decades. It is hard to imagine my percussion life without the fundamental abilities to play drum set and understand its workings within an ensemble.

Drum set proficiency is an asset whether I am actually sitting behind the kit, standing in a percussion set-up, or transcribing a groove. Read on and I will state my case for the importance for making “drum set know-how” an essential element of your percussion life.   


Percussion frequently requires multi-limb coordination. It can be simply playing a single line between your two hands, but there are moments when each hand is rendering a separate rhythm on a different instrument. Perhaps you decide to toss in a foot tambourine to further complicate the situation. Now you are synching up three limbs!  Playing drum set requires four-way coordination; all limbs are working independently.  Few instruments other than organ and pedal steel guitar so regularly require that multi-limb skill set. The independence gained from playing drum set carries over into those moments when two or three limbs are being employed on a percussion set-up.  Juggling a sixteenth-note shaker pattern along with a few syncopated eighths on a cowbell can seem like a piece of cake after you have been practicing a dense four-part fusion lick on the drum set.  

I highly recommend these classic books to build your multi-limb independence:

Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer by Jim Chapin  Alfred Publishing
4-Way Coordination by Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine   Alfred Publishing


Experience with the drum set is beneficial when transcribing a groove. When working in a situation without a kit player, a percussionist might create a part that is based on a drum set groove. When I play in the ‘no drum set’ situation, my set-up is often centered around a cajon. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will often borrow ideas from a drum set groove and orchestrate portions onto my cajon-based set-up. Kick and snare parts easily transfer to bass tone and corner slaps on “the box.” The ride cymbal and stick-played high-hat lines can be implied on the corners of the cajon or ghosted on the bass tone area. I believe this transcription and orchestration process is made easier when you have experience transcribing and playing drum set grooves.  


It is crucial that the drum set and percussion parts mesh properly to form a solid groove. Timbres and rhythms should combine and complement rather than collide and confuse. It is a delicate interaction. As the percussionist, I generally allow the drum set player to take the more dominant role in establishing the basic framework of the groove and I weave my parts around that framework. A background in studying the drum set informs me as I analyze the drummer's rhythms and timbral choices so that I can find appropriate rhythmic and frequency areas to contribute my ideas. My ‘drum set sense’ helps me to anticipate the musical moments where the drummer will play a fill or a set-up cue so that I can phrase accordingly to forestall cluttering the groove. 

Pinch Hitter

There I was, blissfully minding my own business as I waited to play a simple shaker part for the close of a worship service. Suddenly the drummer got word that his child had been injured. He left church immediately leaving me to play the kit on the closing song.  A sense of relief poured over me when I realized that my duty would merely require laying down a groove that I learned back during the Nixon administration.  

Things happen. People get sick. Tires go flat. Alarms fail. 

Over my years as a church musician, I have abandoned my percussion set-up several times to substitute for an absent drummer.  Would you be ready to knock out a simple pattern if the situation arose? Think about it.  

Increased Opportunities

Adding drum set abilities to your arsenal of percussion skills increases your playing prospects. As I survey the ‘gig landscape,’ it seems there is always someone searching for a kit player. In many styles of music, a drum set player is a necessity while a percussionist rates as an added luxury.  

Of course, make sure that you are up to the gig before you agree to the job. You can't hide when you play drum set!

To further assist you in developing your prowess on the traps, allow me to recommend a valuable resource. Carl Albrecht's Drum Grooves for Worship DVD presents seven essential types of patterns used in modern worship. You can order from 

Get the DVD and learn all seven grooves. 

I did!

I'm still practicing drum set.  

(c) 2018 Mark Shelton Productions / Percussion for Worship

 Previously published in Worship Musician  

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Parts Of A Drum Stick

The various areas of a drum stick have names.  Get to know them with this short tour of a drum stick with Mark Shelton

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Claves: Get Clickin'

Claves: Get Clickin'
by Mark Shelton

Dynamite comes in a small package.

Within the percussion family you can find small instruments capable of holding their own alongside their bigger brothers and sisters. The jingle and pop from a headed tambourine can punch through a dense mixture of larger drums.  A single triangle ‘ding’ has the power to sit atop the sound of an orchestra comprised of winds, strings, and a pile of percussion. 

Among those petite powerhouses of percussion are the claves. Weighing less than a can of soda pop and just a bit longer than a pencil, the distinctive tone from a pair of hardwood pegs can be clearly heard within a salsa rhythm section crackling with congas, bongos, timbales, and cowbells. 

The traditional Latin American claves are straightforward, equisized dowels. Differing slightly, African claves consist of a ‘receiving stick’ featuring a scooped middle area and a smaller striker peg. This article will focus on the traditional Latin American claves.

Although synthetic models are available, Latin American claves are customarily constructed of hardwoods such as grenadilla, rosewood, maple, or ebony. The dowels range in length from around 8 to 10 inches with a diameter of about an inch. The small dimensions combine with the resonant materials to produce a short, crisp, and high-pitched tone. 

The Traditional Tone

The proper holding method is a crucial part of producing a traditional claves tone. One member of the pair will strike the receiving (stationary) clave. To hold the stationary clave, curl the fingers of your non-dominant hand in towards your palm with the thumb resting against the side of the index finger--resembling how it would look if you were going to knock on a door. This forms an echo chamber for the clave to resonate. Lay the clave over your echo chamber so that the stick rests on your knuckles and the fleshy area just below your thumb. Grip the striker clave in your dominant hand (similar to a loose matched grip). Try a few clicks.

Check out my short video tutorial on the claves

Gripping either clave too tightly will choke vibrations. Your grips are correct when the claves sound with a clear, resonant tone.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chorale 62 J. S. Bach

"If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee" Chorale #62 
by J. S. Bach 

Played with single strikes instead of rolls