Concert Auxiliary Percussion

Kevin Lucas • February 2022GoodVibes • February 23, 2022

One of the most neglected aspects of percussion are auxiliary instruments. Students love to focus on drum set, snare drum, and mallets, however, auxiliary instruments play an important role. 

Claves are a unique sounding set of wood cylinders. In order to get the right sound, your student should make a fist with their left hand and place their hand in front of them with the palm towards the sky. One clave should lay loosely between the palm and knuckles, as if it is just resting. This ensures that the sound does not get muted. The other clave is held with the opposite hand and it lightly strikes the one resting on the left hand. The sound comes front the resting clave being struck and the tone rings out because it is resting and not gripped at all, allowing it to resonate. The interesting thing is that if your students switch out the claves to where the striking one is resting, they will notice a slightly different tone giving them two tones to choose from, whichever fits the song or the desired sound. The reason the sound is different is because wood always has inconsistent density. Every clave is slightly different.

The tambourine should be held right at the hole with the left hand. It should always be held at a 45-degree angle so the metal disks don’t make noise in a concert. The head should be lightly struck with either the palm or the fist of the right hand, depending on the desired sound. The tambourine can also be shaken side to side to play straight sixteenth notes, and even struck with the opposite hand on beats two and four while doing so, in order to create a back beat. There is also a “thumb roll” on tambourine. There has to be friction on the head, either because the head has a gritty surface or your student uses a little rosin on their thumb. The thumb is then pushed across the tambourine, and the friction between the thumb and the head causes the tambourine to vibrate and the metal discs to shake.

A clip with a string should hold the triangle, with the clip being held with the left hand with the student’s fingers preventing the triangle from spinning by using the fingers very lightly to keep it in place. Metal beaters of different sizes create different pitches. The triangle can be lightly struck with the beater of the opposite hand. If your student strikes too hard, the sound will be distorted, so it is important to do a very delicate and light strike. The fingers from the hand that is holding the clip may be used to dampen the triangle if a staccato beat is required. A triangle role is executed by rolling inside one of the corners of the triangle, working the rebound from the metal and have the beater make a continuous sound. 

There are different sizes and shapes of shakers. I prefer egg shakers for their crisp sound. They can be shaken quickly to create a “rattlesnake” sound. They can also be shaken in a sixteenth note or eighth note pattern. Your student has to get the feel of the beads inside of the shaker rebounding back and forth. Once this is mastered, it is easy to do this technique in tempo by moving the hand back and forth (front to back using the wrists) with the palm facing the ceiling and the egg shaker being loosely held with the knuckles and palm. 

Concert Bass Drum
Concert bass drums use different sized beaters for different sounds. Some beaters have a lot of “puff,” so there is no attack sound. It is very important to first figure out what kind of sound the composition requires from the bass drum as it will dictate what type of mallet to use. As a rule, the bass drum should be struck off from center of the middle of the head to get the best sound, usually two thirds of the way from the rim to the center of the drum. The middle of the head will produce a “dead” sound. Sometimes this middle sound is called for in the music. Playing near the rim can also create a unique sound effect for a musical situation that calls for this. The student should always use the opposite hand to dampen the bass drum when a staccato sound is required. 

Chimes also use several types of beaters. A wood beater will give a mellow sound. A soft rubber beater will give an even more mellow sound with no attack. A hard rubber beater will give a loud sound with a heavy attack. Chimes should almost always be struck on the top disc and your student should rebound off of the chime to pull the sound out. Once in a while the music will call for the body of the chime to be struck for a unique sound effect. The chimes are laid out like a piano or a set of concert bells. The dampening pedal should be used to control the ringing of the chimes as called for in the music. 

There are too many auxiliary percussion instruments to cover in one article. In a later issue I will discuss some more of them as your students continue on their quest to master the art of percussion!

Kevin Lucas

In 2016, The Huffington Post called Kevin Lucas “the most talented percussionist since Lionel Hampton, Ginger Baker and Tito Puente”. He has been nominated for 38 music industry awards for his Echoes in the Sand album, and he won the 2016 American Songwriting Awards. Kevin performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994 and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion.

 He placed second in the United States for concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997.

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