Fall Preparations for Performances

Kevin Lucas • GoodVibesOctober 2021 • October 9, 2021

Being in college, or even high school, and trying to prepare for a mallet performance has challenges. There are a lot of factors involved that we don’t always consider as educators. Having been there many times in my life, I’m going to go over some of these challenges and how to help your students deal with them.

Unless your student played in a drum and bugle corps over the summer, there is a lot of rust to shake off. Starting your students with basic stroke and scale exercises to get them comfortable on keyboards again is a great idea. Some basic four mallet and chord exercises is also a wonderful idea to get the hands moving again.

Marching season is another factor. Most students have been outside in both extreme heat and colder temperatures. This causes habits of playing with tension as well as “outside volume”. Playing through exercises and having your students relax and maintain proper playing position and looseness is key. This is especially true because marching harnesses cause tension in the shoulders and back. Remember that mallet playing is an art form and a different beast than marching percussion. It requires a relaxed mind and body. A comfortable and relaxed stroke as opposed to the outside volume of trying to fill a stadium with sound in marching percussion is very important to attain during indoor mallet playing. It is a completely different approach. Your students have to appeal to the acoustics of a concert hall as opposed to a football stadium.

A busy class schedule is also a factor in the fall. Your students will be trying to balance practice time with a full schedule of courses in a semester. Remember to have your students clear their minds and relax while they play keyboards. It should be a time of escape from the stresses of education life. It should be enjoyable, relaxed, and focused.

When preparing a particular composition during the fall, starting slow and learning little segments each day is so important. It is so easy for your students to feel overwhelmed while learning a song. They should never view the entire work at once. Even mastering eight measures per day is excellent progress. The measures will add up fast. Just remember to have your students strive for relaxed perfection in the practice room. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Your students should practice eight measures at a time and never move on until they can play the segment perfectly ten times in a row by memory. Once all of the segments are learned, practicing “run throughs” of the entire work is so important for cohesion. I am a firm believer in memorizing all solos. Your students can play with more accuracy and emotional expression if the song is memorized. Staring intensely at sheet music during a performance is just a bad idea. The music should be part of them and they should perform like they are breathing it. 

I remember Michael Burritt doing a week-long clinic for us at Illinois State University. He said something that was very awesome to hear at that time in my life and unrelated to mallets. He was a class act. He told us students “Don’t be out partying during your college experience. You are only going to harm yourself. Spend your time on positive things like making music and getting better as a musician”. I remember how great this was to hear from a professional and awesome artist like him. It was very uplifting to hear at a “party school.” These kinds of activities can definitely harm your students educational progress and well-being in any fall semester.

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. Lucas 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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