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Our Young Percussionists Aren’t Being Taught to Be Musicians

In South Florida, my hometown, the majority of kids don’t start learning percussion until they are eleven years old, or sixth graders. Typically, one would encounter this in an orchestra or wind group setting as opposed to a room full of percussionists. An eager percussionist, equipped with a beginner stick bag, snare drum, pad, and beginner bell kit that they have most likely rented, is prepared to do what every instrumentalist is there to do: learn how to produce music.

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That is, they think.

A typical band director possesses all the tools and knowledge required to maximize the performance of their wind players. They teach them proper posture and spend time performing breathing exercises to get them ready to play as a group. They all then turn their attention to their audio. Except for the percussionists, that is. Percussionists can learn a scale pattern intended for wind performers, and perhaps even a snare rhythm to accompany it. In addition to helping wind players focus on good posture and breath control, band directors often focus on listening to the sound the musicians are making and incorporating it into their section. Even if percussionists are lucky enough to be included in these practice portions, the sounds they are making are often ignored.

Think about the common situation that follows:

A half-note Bb scale is intended to be played by the first band. The percussionists grab the nearest xylophone, pull out their beginner’s mallets, and begin playing half note rolls on every note up the scale. The rolls don’t sound very good. The mallets differ from one another. They may or may not be hitting the bar in the proper areas, depending on where they are playing. The wind players may receive input on dynamics (e.g., they are playing too loudly) while they are trying to make substantial sounds, but the majority of the time, they are told to stop.

To some extent, I understand why this occurs. Percussion instruments often provide a brief feedback. A child will automatically hit the right pitch when you ask them to play a Bb. Wind players gain more attention since they have to work harder to generate fundamental sound, and this trend often continues throughout their middle school band career. There might be several issues: the mallets on the bells might switch every run, the snare might not be tuned, the sticks might not match, and the head might be dead. However, because more urgent concerns about wind issues sometimes cause band leaders to marginalize percussionists and miss crucial components of their training, percussionists are severely disadvantaged.

The problem is not over yet. Percusionists entering high school will be exposed to larger keyboard instruments at last, and this will be their first experience with specialized teaching. Unfortunately, marching band occupies the first half of the year, which is unfortunate since this should be a great chance to establish a really solid musical foundation. I love marching bands, so this is terrible! The harsh reality is that, as a result of the standard keyboard curriculum, marching band students frequently graduate with an education that is technically competent but musically deficient.

As a result, most young adults who play video games encounter the following challenges:

For many children, this changes when they enter college. Their viewpoint has broadened. They get ear training as part of their course curriculum, make new friends from a variety of backgrounds, and notably raise the bar and perspective of the teachers they encounter. However, there is a need to enhance the “introductory” stages. So what are the possibilities available to us?

The following suggestions are provided:

How did the circumstances seem to you?

If you were fortunate enough to have a solid foundation in music instruction throughout your primary school years, what methods did your teachers use to help you become a musician instead of a technician?