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How Do I Play This Thing?, Part 7 - Percussion

Congratulations on choosing to play percussion!

When many people hear the word "percussion" they think of drums, but percussion is actually a category of instruments that includes cymbals, xylophones, marimbas, timpani, and a variety of small rhythm instruments.  Percussion generally means any instrument that makes its sound by being struck.

Percussion instruments can be bold and exciting, like the snare drums in a marching or parade band, but they can also be subtle and sophisticated like the triangle and wood block in many ballads and concert band pieces.

Where to start???

Percussionists get to play an almost endless number of instruments, accessories, and even unexpected objects that create the sound the composer wants.  But... most percussionists start off playing just a few primary instruments - the snare drum and the bell kit.  The skills you'll learn when playing the snare drum and the bells will translate into just about any other percussion instrument you will ever be asked to play.

For this blog article, we'll look at the basics of setting up and tuning your snare drum.  We'll also look at the bells and learn to identify the keys.

So let's get started!

The Snare Drum

girl playing snare drum

Most snare drums are made out of metal or wood.  Two surfaces, called the drumheads are stretched over the top and bottom.  The top head is called the "batter" head, because it is the one that is struck with the drumsticks.  The bottom head is called the "snare-side" head, because the snares, which create the sandy sound, are stretched across this side.  The drum is usually placed on a special stand that holds the body of the drum and allows the snares to vibrate easily.  Did you know that until about 50 years ago, drum heads were made from animal skins?!

Tuning the Snare Drum

One of the most important skills for any instrument, including percussion, is learning to tune the instrument.  This can take lots of practice and patience.  Even advanced percussionists may tune their drums slightly differenty; however, what's important is the end result - a pleasing sound with just the right amount of ring, decay, and crispy snare sound.  When you are just beginning, your teacher will probably help tune your drum when needed.  But eventually, it will be your responsibility to make sure your drum sounds good EVERY time you play it.  Too many drummers tune their drum once and never think about its tuning again, for years to follow!

It's impossible to really understand how to tune a drum just by reading about it.  Here's great video to help you do it!

The Bell Kit

bell kitThe bell kit you will learn to play on resembles a piano in many ways.  The keys, which are usually made of aluminum or steel are laid out in the same manner, with a set of keys across the bottom and groups of keys on an upper row.  Even though they will all be the same color, we'll still call these the white and black keys, just like on a piano.  In fact, they'll have the same names, too:

keys with note names

If you don't read music, make sure you check out our blog post - "HOW TO READ MUSIC."

Make sure you always play the bells with mallets and never your snare drum sticks. Those can actually damage the keys and cause them to play out of tune.

Here's another great video.  This one shows you proper hand position on the mallets and tips for getting the most pleasing sound from your instrument!

Looking for a percussion kit?  Click here!

Posted by Ben Fonville at 6:00 AM
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