Challenging Your Percussionists to Use Their Finest Ingredients
As a teacher, I have always found a lot of parallels between cooking and musical performance. A memorable 3-course meal includes an appetizer, entrée, and dessert that are complimentary of each other, and that ultimately create a sum that is greater than their parts. Similar to a 3-course meal, a well-prepared percussion section needs to have all the fix-in’s, which includes great organizational skills, the ability to think critically, and musical intuition.
Preparing Your Ingredients
T-I-M-P (this wouldn’t be a clinic without an acronym, right?)
Preparing a meal requires planning and decision making ahead of time, and the same is true for expressive performance in percussion. A chef needs to have all of the ingredients available, and know which ones are best for which situations. For percussion, I parallel these ingredients and the knowledge of how to use them to our sound options. There are 4 primary areas that we can think about surrounding sound options on percussion instruments. Check out this recipe card to help you remember!
Choosing Your Appetizer
How do percussionists select which musical sounds are appropriate?
Choosing and creating an appetizer is typically decided upon with relation to what will follow itbin the entrée. In a similar fashion, percussionists need to carefully select their sounds based onbwhat will be needed for thatbparticular piece. We have already created a mental checklist of ourboptions (T-I-M-P remember!), but now we must address how to make a selection?
The following areas are things that I try to keep in mind when I am deciding what instrument(s) to select in any given piece of repertoire.
A good rule of thumb is that a pure sound (a sound free of rattling hardware and choking pads) is usually a great choice and typically considered “characteristic” of that instrument. In most situations, we need to consider at least one of the above areas to help us make an informed decision about our instrument and the way we play it.
/// History ///
The warmer, more robust snare drum sound that is characteristic of a march requires a deeper drum when performing Stars and Stripes Forever by John Phillips Sousa.
/// Orchestration ///
The triangle part in Alfred Reed’s Armenian Dances requires a very different instrument than the part that Rossini wrote in William Tell Overture.
/// Character ///
The opening entrance in John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine sets the tone for the work, as the woodblock carries on throughout the piece.
Preparing the Main Course / Entree
How do we tangibly address Expression in percussion?
In any 3-course meal, the entrée is the focal point, and can stand on its own without the appetizer or dessert, as necessary. The same can be said about expression in percussion performance. Regardless of how many instruments or mallets are available for selection (yes, not every school has 4 tambourines to pick from), we can always work harder to take great care of what we do have, and make sure we always sound our best. “A good craftsman never blames his tools” they say, and the same is true in music — a great musician will shine through regardless of what instrument they are playing.
For an average percussion student in a private lesson, having the notes and rhythms learned at a moderate tempo is good progress for a week’s work, but we have to make sure that we insist that students work towards expressive musical performance as well. I have had the most success with this by assigning small “bite-size” sections, which allows us to dig deeper into these areas of musicianship.
Dessert! Putting on the Final Touches
Interpretation: It is important not to let the music get lost in translation.
“Music is not written to tell you what you should play; it is written to show you what the audience should hear.” – Frederic Macarez
Once a chef reaches more advanced levels, a unique spin or style is added that usually makes their dish standout. This may be the result of how a certain dish was prepared or what dessert was offered that “completed” the meal. In music, we often desire a similar experience. We expect that the instruments will sound great and the person playing them has an intuitive
performance ability. However, any inspiring musical performance also has that “unique spin” that frequently is a product of interpretation.
In percussion, we are the most susceptible to questionable markings from composers and it is increasingly important that we are active listeners. It is very common to see suspended cymbal played with “soft stick” or “timpani stick,” both of which are out-of-date directions. Many parts require that percussionists rely heavily on their ears in rehearsal to make the appropriate performance decisions.
My Favorite Ingredients from Today:
✓ 14” Evans Strata 700 Batter Head
✓ 14” Evans Orchestral 200 Snare Side Head
✓ Innovative Percussion James Campbell Series Snare Drum Stick, IP-JC & IP-JC2
✓ Innovative Percussion Chris Lamb Series Snare Drum Stick, IP-CL1, IP-CL2, IP-CL3
✓ Yamaha 5100 Series 5.0 Octave Rosewood Marimba
✓ Yamaha YV3710 Glossy Gold Bar Vibraphone
Tambourines & Triangles
✦ Black Swamp SoundArt Series 10” Double Row TD1: Chromium 25
✦ Black Swamp SoundArt Series 10” Double Row TD2: Phosphor Bronze
- – - -
✦ Black Swamp Spectrum Triangles (6” & 8”) – SPT6 & SPT8
✦ Black Swamp TRCLIP (Triangle clip) & TRHANG Triangle Holder
✦ Black Swamp Spectrum Triangle Beaters (Double Set – SPSET-2)
✦ Black Swamp TGP Gig Pack
✦ Zildjian 18” K Constantinople Crash Cymbals
“Come Back Real Soon!”
Please consider keeping in touch. I always welcome the opportunity to share ideas with others and learn from so many great educators and artists in our community. You can reach me / follow me at:
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ANDREW M. BLISS, DMA
Andrew Bliss is a versatile percussionist, specializing in the performance and education of contemporary solo and chamber music. His work has been heard at the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada), the SEAMUS National
Conference (IN), the LiveWire Festival (Baltimore, MD), the Intermedia Festival (Indianapolis, IN), and at multiple Percussive Arts Society International Conventions. A devotee of commissioning and creating new works involving percussion, Bliss regularly works with composers such as John Supko, Christopher Adler, Mark Applebaum, and John Luther Adams.
Andrew is the Artistic Director of the nief-norf Summer Festival and co-founder of the nief-norf
Project, the organization’s performance ensemble which is currently preparing commissioned works by Michael Gordon, James Wood, and Martin Bresnick. He also regularly appears with pianist Mabel Kwan as Nothing in Common, works with multi-media artist John Pobojewski, and was a founding member of the Base4 Percussion Quartet.
Equally committed to education, Andrew is the Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Tennessee, where he serves as Director of Percussion Studies. He has been featured at the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic, the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy (NCPP), and at the Association for Technology in Music Instruction’s (ATMI) National Conference. He has held faculty positions at the University of Tennessee at Martin, Centre College, and the University of Kentucky, and has also taught at the Music for All Summer Symposium, served as front ensemble caption head for the Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps, and has given a variety of masterclasses throughout the U.S. as well as in Bangkok, Thailand and Stockholm, Sweden.
His research interests involve music and number as well as the trajectory of the percussion repertoire within sociological, historic, and cultural contexts. As such, the findings of his DMA document, which surrounded the music of David Lang, have been presented at the the 2nd International Conference on Music and Minimalism (Kansas City, MO) and in Zagreb, Croatia at the CMS International Conference.
Andrew received his DMA and MM in percussion performance from the University of Kentucky and his Bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University. He is proud to be a Yamaha Performing Artist and to have the generous support of Innovative Percussion, Evans Drumheads, and Black Swamp Percussion Instruments and Accessories. His primary teachers
include James Campbell, Rich Holly, Robert Chappell, Orlando Cotto, and Liam Teague. A native of Illinois, Andrew currently resides in Knoxville, TN with his lovely wife Erin, their dog Chloe, and their three cats Bo, Dora, and Fiona.