When working with my beginning percussionists during the first days of school, I like to introduce my students to a few basic concepts:
- Correct instrument height
- Placement of the fulcrum and grip on the stick
- Playing position on the instrument
- Playing spot on the instrument
However, the first few days of beginning band can be a busy time for any director. It can be challenging to make sure each student or section gets the individual time they need to be successful on their instrument. My goal with this article is to show how to use a small amount of tape, to create visual aids to help your beginning percussionist succeed with these basic concepts.
The whole process of preparing your student’s equipment should take roughly 3 to 4 minutes or less per student. However, once you have demonstrated this method to a few of your students, it could quickly be done by a student leader. In addition to being a visual aid for your percussionists, it will also provide you with a quick evaluation tool as you move through your busy classroom.
A small to medium sized roll of electrical tape can usually be purchased for around $1.50 at your local hardware store.
One of the first steps I take with my beginning percussionist, is learning to assemble their percussion kits. An important step is finding the correct instrument height, and establishing constantly finding the same height each time they setup their equipment. After you have helped discover the correct instrument height with your students, I like to take a small piece of tape and place it just above where the two parts of the stands meet. This way, when students go to reassemble their instruments at home or in the classroom, they simply lower the top half of the stand until it meets at the bottom of the tape. I have found that this simple step helps students create a routine of placing their instrument at the correct height. A nice feature about this is, as students grow, you can remove the tape and reapply it to the new height.
Pictures: The pictures above demonstrate this on a beginning practice pad kit, but you can easily apply this to bell kits or snare drums.
Fulcrum / Grip Placement
The next step, and in my opinion one of the most important fundamentals for beginning percussionist to learn, is their ability to correctly form and place the fulcrum and grip on the sticks. The fulcrum should be placed right at the balance point of the drumsticks. It can be challenging for young percussionists to find the balance point. Also, depending on the brand and model of the drumstick, the balance point can change.
To help students remember where they should place their fingers, I like to take a small piece of tape, around an inch long, and wrap it around the drumsticks at the balance point. The tape allows student to quickly place their fulcrum on the correct spot. If they can feel the tape on the stick, then they know they are in the correct spot. After a length of time you should remove the tape, and check to make sure students can still place their fulcrum and grip correctly. If your percussionist struggle with this concept, simply reapply the tape back onto the sticks.
One of my favorite visualizations I like to use with my beginning percussionist to help them establish the correct playing position is the “Backwards V”. I show students that if their stick and body is in the correct playing position it should look like they are creating a “backwards V” starting from the tips of their sticks to their body.
I have found that this visualization helps young percussionist understand the placement of their sticks and hands when playing. To help reinforce this concept, take two pieces of tape and place them directly under their sticks on top of the practice pad. If the students place their sticks in the right position, they should not be able to see the tape. The tape almost creates a shadow of their sticks directly underneath them when looking down at their hands.
Helping your beginning percussionists understand the importance of using the correct playing spot is one of the greatest long-term fundamentals that we can teach. Once you have discussed the correct playing spot, take 4 small strips of tape and create a box that encompasses the correct playing area. Creating this box provides a nice visual for students to play within the lines.
After I have spent time with students focusing on playing within the box, I start to talk about the tone difference in playing spots. This opens the opportunity for dialogue with my beginning percussionists about what they hear from their instruments when they do not play in the correct spots. After an amount of time, I like to remove the tape and see if students then continue to play in the correct spot on the instruments.
I hope that you find this as a quick, easy, and cheap method to help your beginning percussionist develop these concepts.
Kyle Lutes is an active educator, clinician, judicator, arranger, and composer. He currently serves as the Assistant Band Director and Percussion Director for Seymour Community Schools. He is a graduate of Indiana State University where he learned a Bachelor of Music Education and a Master of Music in Percussion Performance. He is a proud member of the VicFirth Education Team, Percussive Arts Society, and National Association of Music Educators. You can learn about him at www.kylelutespercussion.com
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