6 Ways Your Students Can Plan a Career in Percussion

Mike Lawson • GoodVibes • June 6, 2019

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The world of percussion is so different than other band instruments. There is so much variety and so many different career paths if your students want to become a professional performer.

There are both positive and negative aspects to this. A lot of confusion may result with your students trying to decide which direction to go. Yet there are many exciting opportunities with different career paths. Let’s explore some of these options.

Drum Set Specialist

Mastering the drum set can bring many opportunities, especially if your students live in an urban area. They can play for jazz ensembles and rock bands. Even if your student is not a regular member of a band, there are still plenty of opportunities. Many bands often need drummers to sit in for a show. Knowing a wide array of songs and styles will create gigging opportunities for your students who want to be on call as a backup. Advertising this service in a city, as well as developing a reputation for having solid time and solid skills are sure to bring in a lot of work.

Orchestral Percussionist

Being an orchestral percussionist seems to have limited opportunities these days as the major symphonies struggle to find young audiences, but it is still an option in an urban area. Besides for the major symphonies, there are many suburban symphonies and municipal bands for towns and park districts that need percussionists. Your student will need to know the standard orchestral excerpts and basic knowledge regarding how to approach each percussion instrument. To be honest, your student must be very good at accurately counting rests! There are often intervals of hundreds of bars of rest in symphony music. It is not the most virtuoso-oriented genre, but it is one that does require focus and attention. You don’t want to be that person who taps on the horn player’s shoulder in front of you and says, “What measure are we on?” (I have done that!)

Jazz Vibraphonist

In major cities, there are still gigging jazz groups. Most of them would love to have a skilled vibraphone player who can comp chords, play the jazz standards, and solo. Having dampening skills and having a thorough knowledge of all the jazz scales and being able to know your role in the ensemble, are all great skills to have as a gigging vibraphone player. Listening to a lot of Lionel Hampton recordings will help a lot!

World Hand/Latin Drum Specialist

The art of hand drumming is so unique and it is probably one of the most neglected forms of percussion in our school band curriculum. There are also many opportunities for this in urban areas. Jazz ensembles, rock bands, and world ensembles absolutely love a skilled hand drum player. Congas are the main instrument to master. Bongos and timbales are also a necessity. All of the accessories such as cowbell, wood blocks, and shakers all play in the mix. For the congas, there are many types of hand strokes. There is open tone, bass tone, muffled tone, slap, open slap, closed slap, etc. Knowing the basic hand techniques and rhythms is a great place to start!

Marimba Soloist

Even though the opportunities for this genre are somewhat limited, there are still opportunities. Working up either marimba solo standards or originals is a great place to start. Your student can play venues like libraries, coffee houses, school clinics and master classes, restaurants, and many other places where background music is needed. Your student has to be willing to be creative and look for these opportunities.

Recording Session Musician

Many artists need percussionists to play on their albums. Being a session percussionist can create a lot of opportunities for your students. There are also opportunities to perform percussion for local commercials and radio plugs. To have success at this genre, your student really has to market themselves and create a reputation for being solid and reliable.

With all of the many percussion opportunities, your students shouldn’t limit themselves to just one of these opportunities mentioned above. Although there is something to be said for a specialist, being versatile in the world of percussion will create many more opportunities regarding gigs and income for your students. Being a well-rounded percussionist who has all of these skills definitely has its advantages.

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