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Do you ever struggle to keep your percussion students involved throughout the entire rehearsal?

Are you ever concerned that they’re not getting enough meaningful instruction during rehearsal because you’re so focused on the rest of the ensemble, or because they are usually all the way in the back of the room? Here are a few ideas you can try that we’ve found to be helpful in addressing these issues. Planning and thoughtful consideration can help ensure your percussion section is not just “kept busy,” but are an integral part of every ensemble rehearsal.

1. Select the Right Repertoire

Finding music that fits your entire ensemble is an incredible challenge. When selecting repertoire, it’s important that you consider not only the number of students in the percussion section, but also whether the music truly requires critical thinking, appropriate challenges, and musical expression.

2. Got Toys? Check Your Stock

When choosing music, make sure you have the percussion instruments to cover that particular piece. Many programs have the basic instruments such as a snare drum, a set of bells, etc. but don’t have all of the necessary accessory percussion instruments, etc. required to perform the piece.

3. Double Parts—The More the Merrier

When appropriate, consider doubling the percussion parts, especially if you have an overstocked percussion section. Remember that it’s an educational experience first, and an artistic one second. When it comes to the actual performance, you can always scale down the parts to the originally-desired orchestration if you wish.

4. Keep Them Playing

In rehearsal, try to keep the percussion section playing as much as possible. For example, if you want to hear a particular section (flutes, clarinets, etc.), ask for flutes and percussion or clarinets and percussion. This not only keeps the percussion section engaged, but lends rhythmic support to the other instruments as well.

5. Double Up, Again!

Remember that mallets frequently double the winds, and timpani double the low brass, so this is a quick and easy way to involve the player. You may also find it useful to have accessory percussion instruments double difficult rhythms to help other players in the ensemble become more confident rhythmically. Professional percussionists not only need to be proficient, but also excellent multi-taskers. Having them double other parts in addition to their actual parts is a great start.

6. Have Them Ghost Other Parts

If a percussionist is not playing a written part, consider having them ghost (silently play) the rhythm of another section. This not only gives them something to do, but encourages them to listen to what’s being played around them so they can solve rhythmic challenges in the melodic parts.

7. Notate Other Parts During Long Rests

When a player has a long section of rests, consider having them chart/write on their music the entry of each section by using the lead instrument and/or rhythmic figure as a guide. This will encourage them to listen to what the rest of the ensemble is doing.

8. Challenge Yourself to Be the Authority

It’s safe to say that many band directors are not percussionists, and percussionists have a lot of different instruments and techniques to master. You don’t have to be a master player, but if you can play a good five-stroke roll or achieve a good thumb roll on tambourine, your students will most definitely benefit from your modeling. If you have any well-known percussionists in the area, bring them in occasionally for Master Classes. If you need help remembering specifics, check out the comprehensive DVDs that are integrated into Sound Innovations for Concert Band, Books 1 & 2.

These are great for not only assigning video lessons to your students, but for reminding yourself of various techniques.

We hope the suggestions above will not only keep your percussionists engaged, but will give you a renewed sense of confidence in helping them become well-rounded percussionists.

As one of the biggest selling percussion authors in the world, Dave Black is the author and/or co-author of over 30 books, including Sound Innovations for Concert Band, Books 1 & 2, and Alfred’s Drum Method. His books and music are used and performed by young people all over the world, with combined sales now totaling two million units. Currently he is the Editor-in-Chief of School Methods Strategy for Alfred Music.

Composer, clinician, and teacher Chris M. Bernotas is an active composer and arranger of concert band music. Mr. Bernotas is published with several music publishers, including Alfred Music. His music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and has appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists.

No matter what level of Sound Innovations you’re using in your classroom, all Sound Innovations books allow you to create better understanding with solid pedagogy, and a clean and uncluttered page layout. Be on the lookout for Sound Percussion (coming 2018!), a complete and comprehensive resource for teaching individual or group percussion. Learn more about Sound Innovations at

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