Idle Hands Are The Devil’s Workshop (in the percussion section)

Close you eyes and imagine this…. You are conducting on the podium and you suddenly realize that you haven’t yelled at our percussion section all day. They are watching you intently, the tempo has been solid, proper technique is being used to create great sounds and you can clearly hear the melody because of the beautiful ensemble blend. This doesn’t have to be a dream. With the right plan and approach, you can turn your percussion section into quality musicians and motivated students that are a positive force in your band program.

Establish Goals

No situation can be improved without establishing goals that can be utilized both inside and outside the classroom.  Establishing these goals provides the directors and students with a tangible sense of direction along with landmarks for gauging improvement. While these goals are unique based upon the needs of each program, a common list of goals can look like this:

  • Inside the classroom:
    • Play in time
    • Blend within the ensemble
    • Follow the conductor
    • Improve sight-reading skills
    • Stay on task
  • Outside the classroom:
    • Positive culture and standards of excellence
    • Commitment to consistent practice
    • Motivated and confident self-driven learners

Create a Productive Environment

The first step on the journey to establishing your ideal percussion section is to create a safe and productive environment. This type of environment will allow the students the confidence they need to take risks and accept the challenges that are necessary for improving. The following strategies to achieving this environment are:

  • Create positive traditions
    • Traditions can be established at any time
    • “The way it’s always been done” is no reason for keeping negative traditions
  • Decide on a positive “brand” for your program
    • Put the “brand” on shirts, hoodies, hats, etc and get these items out into the community
    • Student pride is established through the “brand”
  • Establish standards of excellence and high expectations
    • Remind the students daily of the standard and how it applies to every aspect of the program
  • Make the program visible
    • Invite all of the community to performances
    • Create events to involve all the percussion students and provide them opportunities to be “Rock Stars”

Make The Better Musicians

The power of being good is an essential weapon in the band director’s arsenal. Having fun in band will get the students in the door but being good will keep them there. The formula for harnessing this power of good can occur in any order but generally looks like this:


Aside from golfing and downhill skiing, people are not inclined to participate long term in activities that they are “bad” at and your percussion students are no different. Making them into better musicians will strengthen their desire to stay involved in the program as well as contribute musically to the band.

Implementing a Sound Curriculum

The fuel necessary to sustain the year-to-year musical growth of your percussionists is found in the implementation of a sound curriculum. Without this curriculum the momentum of constant improvement will falter and stall. For a curriculum to be truly effective it should be built with the following guidelines in mind:

  • Establishes the fundamental building blocks of the pedagogy
  • Develops the essential skills for your students’ current and future goals
  • Flexible enough to accommodate a diverse range of ability levels
  • Built on concepts, not exercises
  • Be expandable so no student has “nothing to practice”
  • Stay relevant to the current needs of the student.

With the correct curriculum in place, the students will not only improve their musical skills but will also develop into self-motivated learners who are goal-oriented and confident. These character traits will follow your students through the rest of their life and enable them to establish and achieve important goals well past their time in your program.

This article was submitted as part of’s TMEA 2018 preview series. Mr. Chapple will be presenting the clinic “Idle Hands Are The Devil’s Workshop” at the TMEA Convention in San Antonio on Saturday, Feb 17 at 11:00 in CC 214. Be sure to join him as he continues to share more tips for applying new knowledge to your percussion section’s journey!

Frank Chapple is the percussion director at Keller High School and has been a band director for over 20 years. He has been a performer and educator with DCI. Mr. Chapple has been an invited clinician at TBA, TMEA and Midwest.Frank graduated Cum Laude from Northern Illinois University and is a member of TBA, TMEA, PAS, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as well as a sponsored educator of the Vic Firth Company. 

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Related Reading:
Three Quick Ways to Check Your Percussionist’s Grip from the Podium
Do Sweat the Small Stuff (Part 2) Beginning Brass and Percussion
How Using Lanyards Can Help You Listen to Every Student in Beginning Band

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