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What Are the Best Tips for Teaching Percussion?

Judith Smith Sullivan
Judith Smith Sullivan

Teaching percussion in a classroom setting is very different from teaching private percussion lessons. It is much more difficult to teach dozens of different students how to play an instrument while managing a classroom than to deal with an individual. For this reason, there are different tips for both types of instruction, although some are useful for both teaching situations. Teachers should strive to set a good example, be well prepared, and establish a consistent routine. Likewise, choosing appropriate music and making sure that rhthyms are well understood are essential tips for teaching percussion.

It is important for the teacher to have a positive attitude. In both private lessons and in teaching percussion in a classroom, a teacher who acts bored, tired, angry, or impatient will have difficulty getting his or her students to respond. The attitude of the teacher is usually reflected by the students.

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In the same way, the work ethic of the teacher is often imitated by the students. A teacher who is late, unprepared, or doesn't hold the students to a high standard of performance will get poor results. Alternatively, a teacher who is prompt, knowledgeable, and has high expectations will often find that students will work hard and play well.

It is important to have the equipment ready the moment students enter the door, in both private lessons and the classroom setting. Too often, teachers waste valuable class time setting up instruments or handing out music. Many teachers are often pressed for time between classes or lessons and unable to set up before students enter, but there are still ways to set up during class time efficiently.

In this case, it helps to train students to a set up routine. During the first three sessions of lessons or classes, the students should be taught how to take out and set up instruments carefully and quickly. The teacher should actually do very little of the work.

All students must be responsible for a specific item, even if it is only their music folder. Sometimes it helps to make the routine a game so that students don't get bored with the process. Timing the set up, awarding points for efficiency or quietness, or offering a reward for a week of successfully completed set up routines are all good ways to keep students engaged.

Choosing music is the teacher's job in teaching percussion, whether for private lessons or the classroom. The fastest way to have a bad rehearsal or lesson is to force the students to play a piece of music which is boring or too difficult. Boring pieces are typically monotonous or don't engage all instruments equally. That leaves students standing around, counting measures until their next entrance.

A piece that is too difficult will discourage students and ruin morale. Private lessons will become tense and stressful as the student struggles through a piece. Classroom rehearsals will quickly disintegrate as students give up on learning the piece, resulting in a management problems.

Each piece should be engaging, challenging, but not impossible, and fun. It often helps for the teacher to play a recording of the piece for the student or students. This is especially important for beginning students and ensembles that have limited sight-reading skills. It helps them understand what the piece should sound like, even if they cannot read it in the beginning.

When introducing a piece, it helps to teach rhythms using hand claps before adding the instruments. The rhythm, rather than the notes, is the core musical quality in teaching percussion pieces. The best method is to write several common rhythms on a board where all students can see them and have all students clap through them. Then the students are directed to the location of the piece where the rhythms are found and instruments are added.

This rehearsal technique works especially well if the rhythms are difficult or tricky. If one section has a different rhythm than another, it is still helpful to have the entire group work through it. It keeps students from becoming bored because they are not engaged.

This technique can be adapted to suit the needs of a private lesson. In this case, it is not necessary to write the rhythm on a board. Instead, the instructor can simply point to the rhythm in the piece of music. As soon as the student understands the rhythm, it can be implemented using the instrument.

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