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This was our first year at the beautiful campus of Palm Beach Atlantic! They were great hosts and took notice of the incredible musicianship occurring on their campus. Check out the link below for the article!
Hey MalletLab fam!
The MalletLab team has been shooting TONS of video content over the past few weeks! Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up to date on all of the mallet percussion topics YOU want to know about!
The first video is about the struggles of sight-reading for a mallet percussionist. Why is sight-reading more difficult than other instruments, and how to we become better at it?
In South Florida, where I was raised, most kids don’t experience percussion until they’re in the 6th grade (11 years old). Typically, this experience is not in a space comprised of other percussionists, but rather in a wind ensemble or orchestra setting. A bright-eyed percussionist, likely with his or her beginner stick bag, rented beginner bell kit, snare drum, and pad are prepared to do what every instrumentalist is there to do — learn to make music.
Or so they think.
The typical band director is equipped with many of the tools and training needed to make their wind players sound good. They instruct them on proper posture and spends time working on breathing in preparation for playing together as an ensemble. Then they all begin working on their sound. Well, except for the percussionists. Percussionists may learn a scale pattern created for wind players, and maybe a snare rhythm to pair with it. Band directors often focus their energy on helping wind players listen to the sound they’re creating and blending that sound with their section, then honing in further on good posture and breath control. If percussionists are lucky enough to be involved in these parts of rehearsal, the sounds they are creating are often ignored.
Take this common situation:
The beginning band is tasked with playing a Bb scale in half notes. The percussionists get on their nearest xylophone, grab a pair of mallets from their beginner set, and begin playing half note rolls on each note up the scale. The rolls don’t sound good. The mallets don’t match. They may or may not be striking all over the bar with no regard to proper playing areas. Maybe they receive some feedback on dynamics (meaning they are playing too loud), but more often than not, they’re told to stop playing while work is being done creating solid sounds with the wind players.
To an extent, I understand why this situation occurs. Common percussion instruments produce immediate feedback. If you ask a student to play a Bb, the desired pitch sounds immediately upon striking it. With wind players, a lot more goes into basic sound production so a lot more time is spent focused on them and that trend often continues throughout their middle school band experience. The snare may not be tuned, the head may be dead, the sticks may not match each other, and the bells mallets may switch with each run. However, more immediate concerns of wind issues cause the majority of band directors to marginalize percussionists and ignore key parts of their training, putting them at a serious disadvantage.
The problem doesn’t stop there. Percussionists entering high school will finally be exposed to larger keyboard instruments, and getting specialized instruction for the first time. This could be a wonderful opportunity to build a really solid musical foundation, but unfortunately the first half of the year is marching band. This stinks because I love marching band! But the harsh reality is that the standard keyboard education for marching band can be very damaging and often leads to students becoming technically proficient, but musically deficient.
Here are a few of the causes:
The bottom line is this. While students are in one of the most critical points in their musical development, we tend to marginalize the player’s ears, strip away their musical choices, handicap them from being able to curate their own sound, and harden their touch.
As a result, most young adult players experience these challenges:
For many students, this changes when they enter into college. Their worldview is widened. Ear training becomes part of their course curriculum, different types of ensembles are introduced, new peers from varying backgrounds are met, and the caliber/perspective of educators they encounter is significantly raised. The “introductory” levels, however, need to be better. So what can we do?
Here are a few suggestions:
What was your experience?
If you were fortunate enough to have solid musical training in grade school, what were some of the techniques that your educators used to help you become a musician as opposed to a technician during your primary years?
Drew Tucker is a musician, social entrepreneur, and cultural iconoclast who lives to help people take massive action towards their artistic goals. He also likes coffee.