Ralph Hicks and Eric Rath are not only music educators in the trenches, but they are also percussionists who have developed curriculum for where they’ve seen the need: resources for middle school percussionists. Ralph and Eric’s first book, Beyond Basic Percussion (Tapspace Publications), is used by many educators as part of their daily percussion curriculum. And now, a number of university’s use it in their Percussion Methods classes as a way to teach both ensemble concepts and individual instrument techniques.
We were able to visit with Ralph and Eric about another one of their books, the Five Minute Drill (Tapspace). We got the scoop on why they wrote it, what they hope students get from it and what universal things directors can implement with their students this fall to grow their percussionists.
BDTS: Tell us about how you came up with the idea for Five Minute Drill. And why five minutes?
Ralph Hicks: We came up with the concept preparing for a clinic presentation at the 2012 Texas Music Educators Association convention, about percussion between the beginner and high school years. While flute and trumpet are instruments, percussion is an instrument family, requiring a more diverse set of fundamentals during daily drill studies. Doubling a flute part will only get you so far, not to mention your percussionists know they are just being kept busy! We arrived at five minutes for a specialized fundamental routine based on the average time spent on full band daily drill, and the average set up / tear down time for a secondary location like a hallway. This way directors are free to focus on their band sound, knowing their percussionists are getting attention of their own and will be back in the setup by the time the daily drill is complete! Right?!? I know, it IS a great idea!
BDTS: So, the book is split up into two main focuses: snare drum and keyboard playing. What’s the focus for the keyboard portion of the book?
Eric Rath: From my own teaching and playing experience, I’ve seen the benefit of knowing all of the major scales. But I’ve also seen students have difficulty with them, feel overwhelmed by the number of different scales, or just feel like learning scales is “dry.” We wanted to provide a fresh take on learning scales by allowing students to “hang out” on each scale degree so that they can focus on one note at a time, instead of forcing them to learn the scale pattern right away. Because students focus on one note at a time and play it multiple times, their brain is able to absorb the information better. As the exercise progresses, students play each scale degree less and less. Eventually, they play the standard scale passage and ultimately, we are gearing them to playing all twelve major scales in one setting in…. You guessed it… five minutes.
Honestly, the “secret sauce” in the Five Minute Drill is that every exercise in the book has a fun, modern-sounding play along track that students love. It takes a lot of the sting out of repetition because the students enjoy the tracks so much.
BDTS: What sort of snare drum fundamentals do you focus on?
RH: Parents of successful youth athletes have said the best thing they ever did for their kiddo was running and conditioning camps. Get them a solid base of how to make their body move which they can apply to any sport they choose. I wholeheartedly agree with this approach, focusing extensively on legato stroke patterns (8 on a hand, 16 on a hand, sixteenth notes, etc) in a series of defined heights (dynamics correlated to inches above the pad) using different appropriate levers (arm, wrist, and finger). All other techniques and rudiments can be traced back to this element, it’s important not only that our students do it well but they understand how and why they are doing it. This approach can create an independent thinking drummer, aware and in control of their quality of sound and able to adjust to a myriad of musical situations.
BDTS: How does the Five Minute Drill and exercise routines like it play into your entire holistic approach to teaching percussion?
ER: We believe that the genesis of great percussion playing is being able to gain proficiency on snare drum and on keyboard. We developed the Five Minute Drill to hit all of the main things we think the young (usually 2nd and 3rd year) percussionist needs to do everyday. From there, that proficiency allows students to confidently approach the other percussion instruments. In many ways, we see the Five Minute Drill as a pathway that leads into the percussion ensemble music found in Beyond Basic Percussion.
If you liken it to what we ask our wind players to do each day, I feel that there is a strong relationship to that. We ask our winds to do long tones, lip slurs, chorales and all types of scale-based studies. That’s a pretty universally-accepted regimen for the wind player. All we wanted to do was find the percussion equivalent and make it work in a way that would be doable in that part of the band rehearsal.
BDTS: So, you recommend that percussionists work on these concepts away from the rest of the band?
ER: I do and I don’t. There’s a lot of merit to having full band exercises that incorporate percussion in them. I can even think of one in particular that does a pretty outstanding job of giving the percussionists relevant material to play. But too often, I look at those resources and feel like the percussion parts are only there because they have to be. If we’re being honest, there’s a lot of benefit to sending the percussionists out to work with another director or a specialist. The band director can pinpoint better what the winds are doing if the percussionists aren’t hacking 8th notes through every exercise, too!
BDTS: What are the big takeaways from Five Minute Drill for the average band director and how would they implement them?
RH: FMD can help band directors overcome their apprehension (I don’t like this word) with percussion, and to realize their kiddos are capable of great things on just five minutes of hard work a day. Addressing these techniques in simple terms and in small doses makes it easier for the non percussionist band director to convey what they want from their percussionists using a common language. For instance, if you ask your snare drummer to play softer, you both know that means to play lower.
BDTS: How easy is the FMD for a non-percussionist director to use?
ER: Both Beyond Basic Percussion and the Five Minute Drill were written with the non-percussionist band director in mind. There seems to be a notion in our profession that percussionists have to have a specialist working with them all of the time. Maybe that’s a good discussion for another day. But, to answer your question, we lined each page with lots of instructional material and tips so that anyone using the book would have some helpful pointers and technical concepts that they could address and be on the lookout for.
BDTS: What plans do you have for future collaborations?
RH: Even after the success of Beyond Basic Percussion, Five Minute Drill, and the Golden Age of Ragtime (xylo solo and/or ensemble book), I pretty confident we are just getting started. Last year we released the follow-up to FMD, the Nine Minute Drill. It’s been cool to see people embrace these same concepts but now at a more advanced skill set. We have a lot of ideas of how to continue to serve the band and percussion community with additional resources.
ER: It appears that we’ll be putting out more books like these in the future — books that we need in our own classrooms!
If you’d like more information, click here for a website that will allow you to view the book and listen to/watch videos of students performing the drills.
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