how to play the Percussion

Just what is the next part of figuring out how to play the Percussions?

Hopefully, by this point, you’ve bought a percussion. The next thing will be to actually learn how to play the percussions! And luckily for you, this unique part of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning the Percussions’ will allow you to get moving.

How To Play The Percussion

Snare Drum

Firstly you need the drum in the correct position. Whether standing or sitting, waist height is the optimum height.

The snares can be turned on or off. However, unless otherwise stated in the music, we play with them on. Out of the two heads on the snare drum (the batter head on top and the snare head underneath), we only strike the batter head as it is a much thicker head. If we did strike the snare head, the stick would probably go straight through it!

There are also other places we can play on the drum such as the rim. It is perfectly normal in this instance to dent and chip your drumsticks.

We want to play the drum as naturally as possible. When you are holding the drum stick between your thumb and finger and you go to play a stroke on the drum, bring the stick up by bringing your wrist up towards you. Then let your wrist fall which will bring the stick onto the head of the drum. It is really important to let the stick naturally rebound off the head immediately, almost as if you had just touched something really hot and your reflex kicks in! 

Don’t fall into the trap! Many beginners like to place their index finger on top of the drumstick. Although you will be able to get away with this, to begin with, it prevents you from allowing the stick to naturally rebound off the drum, so drum rolls and some serious fast licks will be off the cards.

Relax! One of the most important things about playing a musical instrument is to relax, and percussion is no exception. If not, you can potentially cause an injury. Whether playing loud or quiet, fast or slow – do your best not to tense up.

How to play a percussion instrument

Grip

The way we hold our sticks and mallets is referred to as our ‘grip’. Initially, we start with either French or German (also known as Match) grip. 

French grip – the palm of your hands face each other

How to play a percussion instrument

German grip –  the palm of your hands are parallel to the drum head.

How to play a percussion instrument

We tend to use the same grip across the percussion instruments.

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Tuned Percussion Configuration

If you look closely at the xylophone, you’ll see there is a pattern; the twelve keys repeat themselves in the same configuration up and down the instrument. We call this sequence of twelve keys an ‘Octave’. Learning to identify this octave pattern is crucial for finding your way around the xylophone.

To help you find your starting point, look at the upper keys. You will notice an alternating pattern: groups of two and three keys.

The keys are named after letters of the alphabet.

This configuration is exactly the same as the piano!

How to play a percussion instrument

In tuned percussion we start off using two mallets. More advanced players will sometimes use 4 mallets at once (2 in each hand) which allows you to play more notes at once as well as being able to use the full range of the instrument with more ease.

To produce the warmest tone of the instrument, we want to strike directly above the hole underneath the bar. However, sometimes if we want to play really quietly we may play at the very end of the bar. The only place we particularly want to avoid playing on is over the node (where the string goes through the note), as this will produce a very dry and thud like sound.

Timpani

Positioning yourself correctly is very important when playing the timps. It can make a big difference to where you strike the drums which in turn makes a big difference to the sound you will produce.

Finding your position; When you’re sitting on your stool, stretch your arms out so that the head of your mallet reaches above the centre of each drum (adjust yourself or the drums accordingly). Bring your elbows to the side of your body and the head of your mallets should now be in the middle of the centre and rim of the drum.

How to play a percussion instrument

Let’s get comfortable with the pedals. Different models work differently. Some you press the pedal down which makes the pitch go higher, whereas others may be the opposite way around.

Having a stool is really important when you play the Timps as sometimes we need to be able to change the notes on different drums quickly, and we can’t use both feet unless we’re sitting down. Take your time working out how the pedals operate. It should be a really smooth action.

How To Play the Percussions - Summary

By now, you should be able to:

  • Know how to position your snare drum. 
  • differentiate French and German grips. 
  • know that the notation of a xylophone is the same as the piano. 
  • know how to position yourself in between the timpani.

Now it’s time to improve your technique…

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