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Preparing a Multi-Percussion Work

Mike Lawson • GoodVibes • October 28, 2020

There is nothing conventional about preparing a multi-percussion work. It requires a lot of planning and organization, as well as a degree of understanding regarding the work itself. As most band programs focus on individual percussion instruments, combining many instruments at one time is a challenge for your students, yet it offers amazing musical development.

Multi-percussion works will train your students to play multiple instruments at once and it will also develop their multitasking skills. I am going to go over some ideas and thought processes that can make the process successful.

1) Work Selection It is extremely important that you and your student have a sit-down chat and discuss his or her musical abilities. Select a work that is comparable to the playing ability of the student, but also challenges and pushes the student to attain a new level of skill. It is also important to select a work that is interesting and has meaning for your student. Have your student take involvement in the selection process so they choose something that is interesting and has possible emotional meaning. As an example, in college I was going through a very emotional time, so I chose a multi-percussion work called “Therapy.” It contained movements called “Anxieties,” “Fantasies,” and “Aggressions.”

2) Equipment The first thing that any educator should consider is equipment. Make sure the band program has the proper equipment for the work and make sure the equipment has good sound quality or be willing to buy any items that are missing.

3) Diversity Make sure you select a multi-percussion work that has diversity for your student. Snare drum and bass drum-only types of compositions can be boring. I highly recommend selecting a work that has both drums and mallets in them. Works that contain other percussion instruments such as temple blocks, bells, triangle, castanets, and other percussion instruments are also highly recommended.

4) Work Study Make sure both you and your student study the work thoroughly before rehearsal starts. What meaning does the work have? What are the forms of the movements? What are the movements meant to express? I recommend finding a performance of the work on YouTube, if possible, as a point of reference.

5) Instrument Layout I cannot emphasize how important this aspect is as a percussionist. Make sure the instruments in the composition are laid out and organized in a manner that makes logistical and musical sense. You don’t want the bells to be far away from the snare drum if the student only has two beats to transition between the instruments. The layout should be convenient and easy for your student to make great music and expression when moving around the setup. Visual elements for the audience should also be considered. Percussion is a visual as well as a musical art form and it should be treated as such. Make sure the setup and even the placement of the setup on stage is conducive to both a stellar performance both from a musical and a visual standpoint.

6) Rehearsal Techniques It is important to rehearse multi-percussion works slowly and in sections. The “divide and conquer” concept is the key to success. Because there is so much more movement involved in these types of works, focusing on smooth transitions from instrument to instrument with each musical phrase is so important. Working on the entire movement after each section is mastered should be the next step. The greatest challenge for your students with these compositions is all of the movement involved. It takes a lot of practice to make sure everything is smooth, artistic, and visually appealing. I call multi percussion works “theater percussion,” because that is exactly what they are!

7) Mallet and Stick Tables It is extremely important that your students have mallet stands or tables in convenient locations around the setup. There will be times when your student will have to drop sticks and pickup mallets with very little time to do so. Having multiple pairs of sticks at different locations around the setup will make it much easier for your student.

8) Instrument Maintenance and Tuning Make sure all of the drums are tuned and the mallets are in great shape and that every instrument is making an optimal sound before practice and performance. Equipment failures in multi-percussion works are extremely common! Planning ahead can avoid these situations. Back in 1997, I was competing in MTNA Nationals for Percussion in Dallas, Texas. My stage tech put the crotales on upside-down and they sounded like I was hitting a muted tin can. It cost me a national championship. The rest of my performance was stellar, but I ended up placing second.

Here is a link to an arrangement of a multi percussion performance that I did. I remade “Africa” by Toto as a multi percussion work. This is how I define the new genre “percussion theater.” 

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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