Improving Musicality for Percussion

Musician/Drummer. Do you consider yourself both? Often thought of as opposites, it is more important than ever that you and your drumline contribute musicianship to your band. Once upon a time, a drummer would probably characterize his or her job as a) keeping time, b) playing clean, and c) being cool. And all of those are fine goals. But if you want to achieve in today’s activity, you must play with a high level of musicality. It’s not just about how many notes—but how musical you can play those notes.

Matching the Horn Line

Musical drumming is exciting drumming. As a drummer you can improve not just by increasing your chops and rudiment vocabulary, but also by learning to play everything across different dynamics and tempos. Drumming at one height and at one volume level can become dull and predictable. Plus it often contrasts with the musical intent of your horn line. But match the musical highs and lows of your horn line, and the entire ensemble will click and evoke more emotion in your audience.

Highs and Lows

Although it seems counterintuitive, the best way to make your drumline sound louder is to play softer. The more effort you put into the “lows,” the more extreme the loud “highs” will feel. You can work on this by ensuring your exercise program is played at a variety of heights. Work on 8-on-a-hand at 3 inches. Play your accent-tap exercises with 6-inch accents and 3-inch inner beats. Play rolls—including crescendo rolls and decrescendo rolls—both slow and fast, at a variety of heights. And remember that it’s critical to play with good sound quality; never play so low and weak that you are just “scratching” the head, and never play so loud that you distort the sound of the drum.

Star of the Show

And hey, if you’re concerned about being cool, it is worth noting that one of the most celebrated drumlines of all time—the 1993 Star of Indiana drumline— earned a great deal of its reputation by doing something better than almost anyone: playing impeccably clean at extremely low heights and extremely high heights, maximizing their musicality. Not to mention the most important reason to play musical— to make your band director happy!

About the Author

Lane Armey is the battery percussion coordinator for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. During the past 10 years, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University and the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.