Photo by Scott Pickering

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Superb Cymbal Roll

Composers, arrangers, and producers have long understood the power of a suspended cymbal roll.  A cymbal roll is equally at home swelling to a climax in Percy Grainger's "Irish Tune from County Derry" or  smoothing a transition in a Chris Tomlin song. 

The Right Gear

A superb cymbal roll starts with the right gear—especially the cymbal itself. For suspended cymbal work, choose a plate that is relatively thin so that the instrument can easily vibrate and ‘speak’ at a very soft volume level. Some manufacturers produce cymbals that are specifically designed for suspended cymbal performance. (Those are easy to identify because the word 'suspended' is stamped on the plate.) A thin crash cymbal designed for use with a drum set will also function as a suspended cymbal. For general performance, I recommend plates between 16-19 inches in diameter.  

You may observe orchestral percussionists hanging a cymbal with a leather strap from a ‘gooseneck’ stand. I prefer the stability and convenience of a conventional center-post stand. Prevent buzzes and extraneous noises by equipping the post with a plastic sleeve and felt washer. 

Drum sticks, wire brushes, and bundled rods may be used for cymbal rolls, but the more common implement is a soft-headed mallet. Specially designed mallets for suspended cymbal performance are available for purchase, or yarn-wrapped marimba mallets (my go-to) are another option. 

Technique Tips

  • Double stroke and buzz rolls on a cymbal are possible using drum sticks, but the single stroke roll is the standard performance practice.
  • Roll with one mallet positioned at 3:00 and the other at 9:00 on the cymbal.
  • Both mallets should be near the cymbal’s edge for general playing.
  • Practice your single stroke roll on a low-sustaining surface to check for evenness between the hands.
  • Monitor your roll speed for a smooth sonority. Let your ear guide your hands for the correct rate of motion.    
  • Explore each cymbal to learn its response and volume peak. 
  • Practice rolls that begin very softly and crescendo, as well as rolls that start at a loud dynamic level followed by a decrescendo.
  • The sound of a cymbal roll is often allowed to naturally dissipate, but sometimes the sound must be stopped suddenly. The ‘choke’ can be accomplished by grabbing the plate between the thumb and fingers to stop vibrations or by gently leaning your abdomen into the edge of the cymbal.  


In notated scores, the placement of cymbal rolls is determined by the composer or arranger. When the performer is expected to create a percussion part, the decision to insert rolls is part of the assignment. Transition points such as meter changes, modulations, or changes between song sections are worthy candidates for a cymbal roll.  A crescendo roll can lead up to a climax while a decrescendo roll can assist in reducing the energy level in a song. When creating ambient or ethereal textures, consider a well-placed roll. With all the possibilities, resist the urge to overuse the effect.  

Countless examples of cymbal rolls are heard in musical styles ranging from classical to rock to modern worship. Along with investing in proper gear and developing a beautiful-sounding roll, study a variety of music to develop concepts for applying this important percussion effect. 

(c) 2019  Mark Shelton Productions / Percussion For Worship

This article was previously published in Worship Musician magazine.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Click Advice

 The click is here to stay.  

               Here's some advice about practicing with a click.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Bonus Uses of Four-mallet Technique #percussiontiptuesday

In addition to performing 3 and 4-mallet keyboard percussion music, a four-mallet grip is useful in other situations.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Worship Musician article July 2020

Check out my percussion article in Worship Musician! 
July 2020 issue

Click the link below and read the article:

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Shekere: Alternate Technique

In addition to traditional shekere technique, there are alternate methods.  Mark Shelton demonstrates an easy one in this short video.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Triangle Tip: Holding Hand

The triangle holding hand does more than just support the triangle holder.  Learn more in this one-minute tutorial with Mark Shelton.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Weekly Dose of Rudiments

A little advice about rudiments in this short video!

Download a free copy of the Percussive Arts Society Drum Rudiments at

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

One-hand Cymbal Roll

No need to grow another arm when you need to throw in cymbal roll while playing another instrument.  Check out this simple solution.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cookin' With The Cabasa

Percussion instruments produce sounds by striking, scraping, and/or shaking.
The small, but versatile cabasa can function in all three areas of tone creation.

The sound producing elements of the cabasa include a ridged metal sheet wrapped around a cylinder that is encircled by strands of metal beads. A handle is attached to one of the flat surfaces of the cylinder and caps at the ends of the cylinder prevent the strands of beads from sliding off the cylinder. The tonal possibilities of the cabasa include sounds reminiscent of guiro, maracas, and shekere.   

Adjustment Tips 
If your beads of your cabasa do not slide easily over the ridged surface, try these conditioning pointers:

 Place the end of a thin rod (such as a triangle beater) under a strand wire and apply pressure to expand the strand slightly. Repeat for all the strands.

 Insert the sharpened end of a pencil under the beads and scrape the pencil along the ridged surface to lay down a coating of graphite that will act as a lubricant.

Grip and Playing Position
The handle of the cabasa can be held with either hand. I prefer to grip the handle with my dominant hand. The rotation technique feels more comfortable with my stronger and more agile hand. 

The main playing position situates the instrument slightly in front of the player's chest near the bottom of the sternum with the handle parallel to the floor. The non-holding hand remains near the cabasa for the striking and scraping techniques.

Tone production
Use the four fingers of the free hand to strike the beads. You can tap on the beads closest to the floor or strike the upper area. This is a delicate timbre, but certainly useful.

Experiment with controlling the beads as you shake the cabasa with a side-to-side motion. With practice, you can control the beads as they slap against the cylinder. This sound is similar to a shaker, but with a tighter articulation.

Place your free hand palm and fingers on a portion of the beads. You can position your hand under the cylinder or at the upper area. (Check out the video.)

Exert slight pressure against the beads with your free hand and rotate the cabasa cylinder slightly using the handle. You will hear the beads scrape against the ridged metal surface. Rotate the cylinder in the opposite direction to produce another scrape. 

Practice the back-and-forth motion to produce steady streams of eighth and sixteenth notes.

Check out my short video tutorial (on the Worship Training website) to view a demonstration of striking, scraping, and shaking methods for the cabasa.

With experimentation and practice, you will be able to produce scrapes of various lengths. Controlling the note durations is one of the major means of musical phrasing with the cabasa.

As you develop your technique on the cabasa, experiment with creating rhythm patterns in different time signatures and musical styles. Try improvising along with recordings. Build up your repertoire of cabasa licks and be ready to drop some striking, scraping, and shaking into a groove.

2019 Mark Shelton Productions / Percussion For Worship

This article was previously published in Worship Musician magazine.

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.

Follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook for 
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

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!