By: Joe Hobbs
So it's time for you to start your percussion section on their first percussion ensemble. For most percussionists, this is an exciting time due to the increased instrumentation as well as the demand percussion ensemble pieces tend to have. Starting this can sometimes be a daunting task, so I wanted to address some rehearsal techniques to help make the first few days as easy as possible.
Often times, percussion ensemble pieces are going to ask for several instruments that every student probably hasn't played. Because of this, typically the first day can be stressful as well as difficult simply due to the amount of questions kids tend to ask. A little pre-planning can go a long way to make the first day go smoothly. My first suggestion is to make sure all parts are assigned and labeled for each student. Take the time before class to put each student's name on each part. If the part is going to be split between multiple players, make sure to make multiple copies as well as circle or clearly label what each student will be playing. Often times, leaving these decisions up to the students can cause confusion and parts might not be covered correctly.
If you have the time, I highly suggest trying to set up the equipment before the class comes in for the first day. Often times, things can get hectic by all the new instruments being wheeled in and students not knowing the set up you plan to use. If this is not an option, try drawing the set up on the board or giving the students the set up information before class. Once again, the overall goal for this day is to start and eliminate as many questions as possible before class actually starts. Also, plan to allot time at the end to show the students how to properly store each instrument. Set up is crucial for parts that have multiple instruments. Any help you can give these students in terms of where to put certain instruments can go a long way. This is also a great time to make sure students understand the use and importance of trap tables. No mallets should ever be placed on the instrument, floor, or in a chair. Trap tables can be created easily by simply placing a towel (black towels preferred) on top of a sturdy stand. Trap tables are crucial to making no noise during transitions as well as giving your ensemble a professional look.
After set up is complete and music has been passed out, take the time to recognize things in the music that the students should know. This could include circling dynamics, instrument changes, stickings, or DS al Coda/coda information. Also take the time to teach your students to write in measure numbers for the entire piece. This is crucial for the success of your rehearsal.
Lastly, be smart in terms of the programming of your first percussion piece. I've found that classical pieces tend to go over well with younger ensembles. Also know that loud is fun. Let the kids explore dynamics and instruments. For most young percussionists, this is the first time they are getting the opportunity to play this much material. If sold correctly, this can become one of their favorite band experiences.