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Iowa All-State 2019

It’s that time again!

All-State auditions are coming up fast and I have example videos for the percussion requirements here. I have my collected thoughts on execution below, with the individual videos embedded in each section.

Snare Drum: Cirone Portraits in Rhythm Etude #3

This is pretty straight forward, and the study guide version has some good advice on interpretation.

Line 2: sfz is not an accent. It is emphasized within the dynamic, feeling larger, with bigger resonance, not just more volume. Add more weight than height and emphasize the first 2-4 notes before the decrescendo.

Line 3: The slow tempo/fast rhythm trick. Rewrite without the top beam to see a simpler rhythm of triplets and 16th groupings if needed. The triplet in the last measure feels more like a quarter note triplet, very wide. I play the triplet all on the right hand by practicing with an alternating 6-tuplet first, then taking out the left hand.

Line 5: The last bar buzz rolls could have a base of 32nd notes, but I find that too frantic. If you sing it as short and long notes with proper rhythm, filling that space with smooth buzz sound is the goal. I use a triplet base on the 8th note, then 5-tuplet base on the dotted 8th note. That feels and sounds smoother to me, though it takes a little extra time to master the underlying rhythm.

Line 6: Grace note groupings of four notes. Because Cirone prefers all rolls in his etudes to be executed as buzz rolls, this is his way of notating open rolls. They are to be executed like a 5-stroke roll RRLLR.

Timpani: Etude 1 by Barry Dvorak

Short, compact etude. The tricky spots come one after the other very quickly. I recommend starting at the end of each section and working backwards, so you’re always adding the least amount possible to what is already working.

Tuning song: The stacked 4th tuning at the beginning is an opportunity to really, REALLY get the drums tuned well. Math time. I suggest a tuner app like ClearTune or Tonal Energy Tuner, not to get the pitches, but to check your work so you learn faster how to tune for yourself.

  1. Timpani (even bad ones) will sing back the pitch they are, the octave above, and the 5th between them. For the low drum that’s G# D# G#.
  2. For the middle drum that’s C# G# C#. The SAME high G# will tune both the bottom and the middle drum.
  3. Bend in close to the middle drum. Sing high G# (5th above) and pedal up. It will sing back when the drum is at a C# because of science ūüôā
  4. STAY BENT OVER. Take a breath and sing that G# again, checking your pitch. Move to the low drum, Sing the same G# and pedal up. It will sing back when the drum is at low G#.
  5. At this point if the drums are out of tune, it’s because you need to practice doing it and really hearing when they sing back the best.
  6. Tap the middle drum to get a C#. The top drum sings back F# C# F#. Bend over, sing C# into the middle drum to confirm the pitch, sing C# into the top drum and pedal up. It will sing back when it’s at F# because of science.

To summarize: High G# tunes the bottom drums. The C# from the middle drum tunes the top drum. Get good at this and you will be very in tune.

After this, the tuning change requires a quick song: in sol fege Re-Mi Sol-Le or in scale degrees 2-3 5-b6. That’s the tuning change on the low drums. It’s an augmented triad and sounds funny, so practice singing it with a marimba or piano to get the notes exactly right.

The first four bars are almost a mirror image of each other. The trick is getting from the rolls to the rhythms after. In m2 I play two 6-tuplets on the roll, accenting the first two notes for a wide fp sound. In m4, however, I play a 7-tuplet on the first beat of the roll, then 5 notes of a 6-tuplet after. This makes it the same number of notes overall, but leaves a subtle gap to get to the middle drum with good tone and stay in time.

Usually, I would try to do some kind of dampening from m4 into m5, but in this case I use a mallet with enough articulation that the p notes aren’t completely lost and allow the middle drum to decay naturally.

The rolls in m9-12 can have a slight gap between them. The drums themselves resonate more and more on the way down, so minimal effort is needed to make the dynamic changes. The last dynamic increase to f needs more from the player, since the drum stays the same.

The tempo/meter change is tough, but there’s a trick. The 16th note from the first part and the triplet 8th from the second part both equal 456bpm. That means the 8 bars of rest can be counted in 3/8, then 6/16 to establish the quarter pulse in the 5/4. It counts like this:

1&2&3& 1&2&3& 1&2&3& 1&2&3& 123123 123123 1- – 2- – 1- – 2- –

In that time you need to mute the drums, switch sticks, and retune. I suggest doing it in that order.

The second half is pretty straightforward. Count beats 4 and 5 carefully in rests. I cross-stick the 2nd measure in ff on count one, and the same way in the final measure. I also start the last line with my right hand and cross-stick the next to last note in that bar. Almost this entire second half is alternating sticking, so I can focus on my tone and dynamics.

Keyboard Etude: Stan Dahl Etude #4

This year’s keyboard etude uses some exotic scales. It’s worth learning at least two of them before working on the piece.

The first scale I’m calling E phrygian dominant. E F Ab B C D E. Phrygian for the half step it starts with, Dominant for the major 3rd and flatted 7th scale degrees. You’ll notice there’s no G in the scale. That’s because there are two minor 3rds in a row, F-Ab-B, and the G note is G#, which in this piece is always written Ab. This scale and the arpeggio E G#/Ab B D are the basis for most of the material in the piece. There are a few other scales used around these notes, but they just bridge these notes together. Be careful of skips, especially in line 2.

The second scale is C whole tone. It’s all whole steps C D E F# Ab Bb. This forms the rest of the material in the piece. Be careful that F#-Ab shows up a lot, looks like a 3rd, but is actually a 2nd.

Dynamics in this piece are tough, as the ranges are really wide, and you’ll need a small, harder mallet to get the high notes to sound good. I decided to assign an affect to each dynamic, so there’s an expressive concept as well a volume level. f-emphasised mf-lyrical mp-subtle p-mellow pp-vanishing. This helped me give each moment context and contrast when volume was hard to work with.

m16: the sticking RRL is pretty obvious. I also use this sticking in m20/21, when the Ephry/dom chord comes back in the inversion 7135. This allows for a better crescendo, I think, than alternating, because the notes get tangled up very easily.

m22: Careful reading the ledger lines. Right hand Ab/F#, Left hand E/D and D/C.

m26: So fast. It starts at p, and the stroke speed alone with make it crescendo. No extra energy, just learn it slow and let it speed up on it’s own.

m30: Ideokinetics is a book/concept by Gordon Stout employed here. Basically, stare just above the middle E and learn to feel the position of the other notes.

m36: count out loud with a metronome while you practice picking up mallets and playing dynamics. I suggest putting a towel starting on the low C bar as a “tray” for the extra mallets.

The second half start at m44 is mostly rehash of the same scales with new sticking/dynamic issues. Characters assigned to dynamics are very helpful here in separating the levels.

m65: If you use a metronome (do that), you’ll notice how the piece crashes into the last line and slows abruptly. Sing the ending over and over until you feel strongly about how it should go. Playing an ending like this with musical conviction is better than trying to find the “right answer”. People will play it differently, and that’s fine. Be confident in your version.

Tambourine: Aaron Williams Etude #6

Pretty tough. Pretty fast. There are several ways to solve it. I used a lot of hand techniques instead of knee/leg techniques. Go slow and get the rhythms right first.

m3: I count the 8th notes. 1 2 off 1 2 3 off 1 2 3 4 5. I flick off the side on the releases. I like this as a non-aggressive release.

m4: I use a heel/toe type motion like in Brazilian pandiero playing. It works as a knee/hand motion as well.

m9: I don’t have a great solution for shake roll dynamics. Place the music stand between you and the judge so you can show the crescendo and the stand can block some sound when it’s softer.

m10: Too fast for me to do anything but knee/hand. I knock with my knuckles on the marcato accents. It’s not louder but the color change makes it seem that way.

m12/13. I cover more area on the loud finger rolls, and less as they get softer. It’s like string players using bow speed instead of pressure. Stay light in your touch.

m15/16: Rhythm is meant to trip you up. Count very carefully.

Crash Cymbals: Aaron Williams Etude #6

The tempo says quarter note = 120, but the piece is written in 6/8. The beat is dotted quarter = 90. It’s not really playable at 120, as you would quickly discover.

I simplify this down to three dynamics first: f mf p. Play the whole thing slowly with only these levels, no accents and no dampening. When you can do that, add the dampening. Finally, add the accents.

Personally, I play non-accented notes 90% with my top hand. When I add the accents, I use a heavier drop in the top hand and help more with the bottom hand. This lets me play consistently with my top hand, and use the bottom hand to modify that sound, which is the whole point of added articulations.

As ff and pp are only single notes or the beginning/end of a crescendo/diminuendo, I don’t consider them “real” dynamics, but rather modifications of my simplified 3 levels, the same as accents. Record yourself and listen back to see if you’ve done enough with them to make the music make sense, but don’t agonize over making a separate resonant level for them.

As always, if you have questions or helpful suggestions I didn’t include here, feel free to ask/share! Happy practicing!


Rudimental Rolls – 10min Iron Challenge

In 2013, I organized and posted my Rudiment Champion list and supporting exercises. After teaching and practicing this material for many years, I came up with an endurance test for 2-bounce rolls. The goal is to play continuously, through several variations, increasing in complexity, for roughly 10min. Success requires unlocking a virtuous cycle of alignment and capacity, where improved strength allows for more refined control, which leads to a better targeted development of strength, and so on.

Here’s the complete routine written out. Tenuto notes could be accented at any dynamic or simply emphasized with arm weight.

American Folk-Rock Neo-Renaissance Liturgical Modalism!?

This post is about a composer whose music I grew up with in the Lutheran Church, and recently revisited with fresh ears: Marty Haugen

Marty Haugen writes and plays a lot of music in the Lutheran Church. I will be focusing on his setting from 1990, “Now the Feast and Celebration”, which I grew up singing from grade school. The setting loosely follows a traditional Mass Ordinary, with additional pieces between readings, offertory, and communion. What I really want to focus on is his blending (in my view) of numerous writing styles, creating a 20th century setting grounded in the writing of much earlier time periods.

First, a brief breakdown of styles employed:

Psalm Tones: Traditional reciting tones, often employed in the singing of psalms or prayers. These appear across time periods since the 800s in various forms. In Haugen’s setting, they are employed in a traditional call-and-response, with or without ensemble accompaniment.

Modes: Scales such as Mixolydian and Aeolian, seen in church music as far back as Gregorian plainchant of the 800s, as well. Versions of these scales are also used in modern jazz and popular music, which the composer utilizes to bring the sounds of both time periods together.

Modal Interchange: Related chords are frequently spelled within the notes of a single scale. For example, in C major, chords are all spelled without sharps or flats. A modal interchange switches to a parallel mode, in this case C minor, where related chords would now contain the flats Eb, Ab, Bb. This is a very dramatic and emotionally charged way to write. It is most commonly employed in Jazz, and in the pop music of Stevie Wonder, but historical examples include the “Picardy 3rd”, which is said to arise in the Renaissance era.

Renaissance Dance: The meter of the title piece “Now the Feast…” is 6/8 and highly reminiscent of the Galliard, a widespread dance from the 1500s. In addition, the score indicates a woodwind ensemble in C (Flute, Oboe) and the addition of clarinet and bassoon is extremely effective. Although the music is not traditional to the time period, the affect is clearly similar.

American Folk-Rock: The composer is a singer-songwriter and guitar player. All of the works in this setting have optional acoustic guitar parts, and the composer’s own performances have a strong affect of 1960s-70s American popular music. This is intended, in the words of the composer, to aid listeners in “hearing their established texts and music with new ears”. This statement, to me, establishes the composer’s intent in blending style periods.

Now, an analysis of some music segments and how Haugen combines the above elements:

Kyrie: Aeolian setting of psalm tones. Generally a traditional minor sound, the frequent use of the flatted 7th scale degree in this mode gives it the “old church music” feeling. This is consistent with other short pieces in the setting. The ending, however, has the first example of modal interchange, utilizing the “Picardy 3rd” to shift from E minor to E major on the final chord. This is a structural segue as well, with the next piece in E major.

Now the Feast and Celebration: Title song. This is an alternate Gloria setting, replacing the traditional text with a more modern one as per the composer’s previously stated intention. There is a lot going on all at once in this piece. First, the Neo-Renaissance galliard dance feel is consistent throughout. Next, the bass lines are very smooth guide-tone lines, showing a pop/jazz influence in contrast to chorale/hymn settings. Finally, elements of other time periods arise in moments of text-painting or coloration.

Introduction: guide-tone line to I6/4-V

In the introduction, a smooth guide-tone line in the bass ends with a traditional I6/4-V motion, keeping the bass the same between the chords. In the following refrain this motion happens again, but is extended to a complicated pre-dominant motion labeled as [F#m to the slash-chord A/B to B7]. The function of this chord is a bit more complex, however, as the notes of the slash-chord are BEC#F#, which would be scale degrees 2-5-3-6 in the key of A, and makes very little sense, with only the choir tenors having the supposed root of A. I believe this chord is more accurately expressed as [F#min to F#sus7 to B7], which functions as an internal ii-V progression between the ACTUAL ii-V of [F#min to B7]. This takes us neatly back to the tonic of E.

Now, Haugen employs some text painting. The phrase in m15 also begins as Emaj to B/D# (mismarked in the score as B/D). In m17, on the word “love”, there is an E7 chord using the flat 7 as in his Aeolian ‘Kyrie’ in preparation for the upcoming modal interchange. The interchange officially occurs in m19, rounding out the second half of this phrase in E Aeolian. This is the same modal interchange used by Stevie Wonder to color his most emotional lyrics, and several video analyses are available on the subject.

IV chord “A” more similar to F#sus – I7 preparation for modal interchange

Haugen closes this genre-bending phrase with an early style period element followed by an open-ended jazz sonority. First, Haugen employs the deliberate use of parallel 5ths from m20-21, a stylistic mark of chant from before the year 1350. He then closes on an Esus4 chord, which has neither major nor minor tonality, leaving him free after each refrain to modulate to the verses in three different keys: C# minor, E Aeolian, and E Mixolydian.

Modal interchange to Emin and Esus4 final chord

There are many more examples of all the above compositional tools throughout this setting, but I’ll end here and allow you to explore on your own if you’re interested. The piece can be purchased at GIA publications in several formats. I used the Vocal/Keyboard/Guitar score for my analysis.

Iowa All-State 2018

It’s that time of year!

This year’s etudes are a mix of fairly straightforward and quite challenging. ¬†I have recordings of each one here, as well as with my suggestions below.

Snare Drum: Cirone, Portraits in Rhythm #21

Every student I work with says something about the tempo on this piece (eighth=184) feeling slow.  Cirone himself plays it faster in his example video, but I recommend not straying from the written instructions, especially when the judge is hearing it over and over the same way.

The piece is centered around agogic accents: slight stresses or a sense of direction into the first note of each barred grouping, very much like the placement of dance steps.  The first measure, for example is 4+3, whereas the same notes in m3 are 3+4.  I suggest playing these flat first for note accuracy, and adding the stresses anywhere it feels natural.  Over-use of this type of phrasing can sound really awkward, so keep it subtle and dance-like.

Cirone has many suggestions in the Study Guide edition of the book.  They are all fine but none of them are strictly necessary.  There are alternate interpretations of all his suggestions which are equally valid.

There are four places I have my own suggestions:

  1. Rolls in line 3. ¬†Cirone says separate them with soft releases. ¬†I think that sounds awkward so I roll straight through with agogic stresses. ¬†If you can play them separated in a way that is musically satisfying that’s fine too.
  2. 7/8 groupings in lines 5-6.  I use the agogic stress in the first bar with the waltz-like sticking RLRL RLLRL.  The last two 16ths pickup in to the next bar.  At this point I simplify the stresses and group it as 4 sets of the rhythm (1e&a 2 &).  The following 2/8 bar is a long pickup to the 5/8, where I return to the waltz-like feel with the sticking RLRL RLR.  I find this keeps things easy to follow but retains the dance quality.
  3. Short crescendo groupings in lines 6-7. ¬†The very next thing that happens. ¬†I don’t believe a 3-note crescendo is a thing, that’s just three dynamic targets. ¬†I play this passage like rungs on a ladder. ¬†Each note is assigned a dynamic 1-5 and I play each note in that place almost like I had it orchestrated to five wood blocks or something. ¬†Therefore this passage is played: 12345 135 135 12345 with each number sounding the same each time it’s played.
  4. The last thing is the 32nd figures at the end of line 8. ¬†Cirone famously dislikes “diddles” and always suggests single stroking these passages. ¬†I play them as doubles with a little stress to make sure they are equal to the notes around them. ¬†They should NOT sound weaker than the surrounding notes, or be mistaken for “inner beats” or “diddles” as in a rudimental style, because that’s out of character for the piece.

Marimba: Stan Dahl Etude #3

This etude is in a Latin/Caribbean style, similar to last year.

The first three lines are a repeated pattern over 4 notes with a little added each time.  The 4 notes are all whole steps apart.  Practice just the first three bars of each line with a metronome carefully and be able to effortlessly switch between each line.  Then do the same for the last measure on each line.  Put the whole section together after all of that, transitioning between each element with ease.  Put the metronome on every 16th note to clean the rhythm, then on beats 1 and 3 only, then beats 2 and 4 only to check your pulse.  Take your time with this section.

The next three lines are a left hand ostinato against a right hand rhythm. ¬†Start in m17, playing the full part in each hand by itself. ¬†Then play the full part of one hand and just the rhythm of the other hand slowly, then put it all together. ¬†The rhythm of the right hand fits the phrase “I like chi-cken with lots of gra-vy and | I like…”, which sounds funny until you do it and it makes complete sense. ¬†Once all that is done, go back to m13 and do the additive rhythm as written. ¬†The last beat of m20 is slightly different so take note of that.

The next section is a typical roll passage. ¬†Learn it by first playing all four notes at once and filling each beat with triplets. ¬†That will establish the pacing and shifting between notes, and avoid any “accidental phrasing” later. ¬†I recommend ending each four bar phrase with only the first two notes of the triplet to establish a clear break. ¬†Once all that is clean and pacing smoothly, do it again with hands alternating 6-tuplets, left hand first. After that, loosen up, listen to the bar sound and play with alternations out of time.

The final section is simpler than it looks.  The 7/16 bar rhythm is the first 4 notes of m1.  The notes themselves are the same all-whole step pattern, moving up by a half step in each bar.  Block them out in 2-note pairs before alternating as written.  The paired notes in m39 and m41 are a Major 3rd apart, rising by half step.  Block these as before.

m45-48 are all the same G major scale, starting on different notes.  Clean it with a metronome on 16ths like in the first section to make sure the rhythm is exactly right.

Timpani: Barry Dvorak Etude #9 

This is probably the most difficult etude overall this year. ¬†The amount of dynamic control over long passages and the dampening need to keep the sound clean adds a lot of demand to what’s on the page. ¬†Fortunately, the second page is a near-mirror of the first.

I recommend the lowest drums: 32″, 29″, 26″

For dampening, the marked spots are mandatory, and in addition to that there are many places where dampening one or more drums will keep the sound clean and allow the higher drums to be heard. ¬†Usually notes can be dampened with fingers in the playing spot, however, because of the loud dynamics before many dampened spots, it may be a good idea to dampen to the side by 6 inches or so to prevent buzzing on the head. ¬†Don’t dampen harder, as that just makes more noise.

Measures 1-3 require returning to a soft dynamic after a crescendo over and over. ¬†Keeping the hands very loose and the fingers open will allow this to happen. ¬†Do it slowly to get the gesture down and never apply pressure with closed fingers or the tone will “splat”.

The down beat of m5 is at forte as marked.  After that, for the sake of clarity, only the accents remain at forte, the rest of the notes on the low drum are very soft.  In m7, on beat 3 the full part returns to forte.  It is useful at this time to mark some reference dynamics and dampening to make this long decrescendo work.

  1. The end of m7 is mf, then decrescendo in the end of m8
  2. m9 is mp, dampen the low drum at the start, decrescendo at the end
  3. m10 is p as marked, dampen the low drum at the start

Start m11 on the left hand and do not cross your hands at any point in this measure.  Again, dynamics and dampening marks for this long crescendo.

  1. m11 naturally crescendos down the drums, so play flat until the last beat and crescendo there.
  2. m12 is mp, dampen the middle drum as you play the bottom drum both times.  Crescendo slightly though the last two beats
  3. m13 is mf, crescendo through the last two beats a lot
  4. m14 is a big f. ¬†Don’t splat the notes. ¬†Very loose fingers. ¬†Allow the stick to rebound way back up with no resistance from your hand after each note. ¬†Dampen the previous note while playing on every beat for clarity.
  5. m15 is a huge, open, relaxed roll.  Because the notes is so low, the roll speed itself is also very slow.  Start with a roll speed which is obviously too slow and speed it up until the tone blends to a single sound.  Hold the initial dynamic for at least one full count before softening.  Spread the hands apart 8 inches or so to help warm the tone.
  6. m16 center the hands again to get a more articulate sound for the softest notes.

The tuning is weird. ¬†Practice singing the “tuning song” F-Bb-Eb going up and then F-D-Ab going down. ¬†Sing it a lot and play it on a marimba to really get it solid. ¬†I suggest tuning the high F octave off the low drum first.

For the rest of the piece, reverse all your markings, except m29, 30, and 32, where the bottom drum needs to be dampened.

There is a slight edit at the end of my video where I added an extra note and didn’t have time to rerecord. ¬†Be careful you don’t do that on the audition!

Crash Cymbals: Aaron Williams Etude #8 

This is a tough one.  Set a metronome to eighth note = 272 and clean the rhythm of each measure with hand claps before even picking up cymbals.

There are four dynamics indicated.  f should be comfortable, as it requires the most dampening and needs room for accents.  mf is a mellow version of the same thing. p is very light with an emphasis on moving slow for a low tone.  The ff in the last bar needs to be deeper than f for an obvious contrast.

Tambourine: Aaron Williams Etude #8

Tricky dynamics.  I look at them more as accents than dynamics, and that makes it easier to see what to do.  First of all, set yourself up with a stand between you and the judge so the loud/soft roll effects at least seem to work a little better.

Starting in m3 I rest the tambourine on my knee and play directly opposite where it touches.  This reduces the sound the most for a stable, low pp.  I then play the f notes in bars 3-4, and 7-9 with an Up/Down motion from hand to knee, sticking to my knee at the end to set up the next pp note.

The finger roll in m5-6 is a bit misleading. ¬†There is no way the ff on that roll will match the ff from bar one, so don’t try. ¬†SHOW a big start to the roll and hold that big tone before lowering the dynamic as you lower the tambourine to your leg. ¬†It’s very helpful to put marks along the edge of the rim so you know where to start, how many marks you cover before reducing your dynamic, and where to end. ¬†This builds in an element of consistency which is often overlooked.

The shake roll in m10 is also a bit misleading. ¬†It’s really hard to start a shake roll soft. ¬†Get a good tone and SHOW the dynamic by starting low and raising the tambourine through the crescendo. ¬†The stand blocking or appearing to block some of the sound helps this to work.

m12 to the end is really fast. ¬†If you can play all the 16ths with a fast single stroke that’s fine. ¬†If you need to use a knee/fist thing that’s fine. ¬†I use a heel/toe/toe type motion I developed from conga and pandiero playing. ¬†It works great for me but I can’t recommend one method over another. ¬†You need to experiment. ¬†I accelerate my accent in m14 for more impact and then open my hand to slap the last note. ¬†The slap could be a closed knuckle knock as well.

Good luck on auditions! ¬†I hope this is helpful. ¬†I’m always happy to answer any questions, just ask!

DIY Triangle Isolation Systems

No matter the instrument’s quality, a triangle is only at it’s best with a good clip.

I recently was reminded of this by none other than Neil Grover. ¬†If you don’t know, Neil Grover is a legendary orchestral musician and a revolutionary teacher and instrument maker. ¬†His YouTube page, GroverProPerc, is a treasure trove of orchestral goodies.

Many companies have clips that are a good balance of price and features, but if price is no problem the Stubbs Triangle Clip is, in my opinion, the very best for one simple reason: Vibration Isolation.


I use these clips a lot, and find I want this level of isolation in other areas of my work as well.  I use triangles and other hanging effects on marching band frames, in musical theatre pits, chamber music, etc., and developed over the past few years an inexpensive way to approach the level of isolation I so value from my Stubbs clips.

The materials are cheap and easy to obtain: Rubber tubing, fishing line, and moleskin. For about $30 you can obtain a lifetime supply.  Rubber tubing is near plumbing supplies in any hardware store, fishing line is available in any sporting goods store. Moleskin is used in shoes for protecting blisters and can be found in any pharmacy or grocery store.


To improve an inexpensive clip like this one, or another mount:

  1. Cut off the current strings
  2. Cut a length of tubing that fits between the two holes in the clip
  3. Tie it to the clip with fishing line (needs to be tight)
  4. Tie an additional line to only the tubing to hold the triangle
  5. Cover the ends of the clip where they touch the stand with moleskin

Fishing line doesn’t always tie like string. ¬†Tying the tubing to the clip with three half-hitches should be fine. ¬†Tying the holder for the triangle is different. ¬†Cut a length that seems too long and pull one end through the tubing. ¬†Hold the two ends together and tie a single knot so you have a loop. ¬†If you can hang a triangle at this point to adjust the length of the knot it’s a good idea. ¬†Tie an additional 1-2 half hitches to lock that knot in place and trim the ends.

To make a hanger for a cymbal stand or hook:

  1. Cut a short piece of tube and tie a hanger as above
  2. Tie another loop long enough to go all the way through with an inch sticking out each side.  Push it through the tubing.
  3. Hang the holder by both loops

These last a long time and seriously improve the sound of a triangle.  They also reduce or eliminate the noise a frame might make from the transferred vibrations of the triangle, which is a major issue with close microphones and rattle-prone marching frames or music stands.

Let me know if this helps you!  I love these kinds of low-cost innovations, and would love to hear about any you came up with as well!

Technique with Choreography

Years ago, as I finished my Masters degree, I spent a lot of time accompanying dance classes.  At the university dance program where I worked I noticed something in particular. Every day, same teachers, same majors, same feedback, BUT in reverse situations.

Ballet or Cunningham technique class:

“Hold your frame/arms/feet like this and don’t break it. ¬†This isn’t choreography class. ¬†This is technique class.”

Choreography class:

“Break your frame/arms/feet like this and express this more. ¬†This isn’t technique class. ¬†This is choreography class.”

At the end of every semester, classes prepared a performance piece to share at an all-program concert/recital. ¬†Each work was a combination of clean technical and expressive choreographed elements, customized to best tell a story of that class’s work over the semester. ¬†It was fascinating to observe.

Not many years later I encountered “The 6 M’s” by Thomas Burritt, “Make a Musical Motion to Match the Musical Moment” in regards to gesture in percussion performance.

What I learned from the dancers and from Dr. Burritt is so simple:  Technique study teaches you so much about your body, about history, about producing a clean motion, an efficient gesture, a basically good tone or effect.  Choreography, however, tells a story.  It captures the attention and leads the observer.

Choreography is not the opposite of technique, it’s the intentional departure from the technique which enhances the story. ¬†A layer added to the foundation.

Especially in solo and small chamber performance, I’m always challenging myself and my students to execute great tone through their technique. ¬†I’m also challenging them and myself to enhance the music with motion that supports the story. ¬†Adding a layer of meaning doesn’t take away from a layer of execution. ¬†It elevates the whole experience.

Iowa All-State Auditions 2017

Here we go again!

This year’s etudes are quite difficult and will take a lot of work. ¬†I’m including more specific strategies to help with certain passages.

Video performances can be found here or included with each section below.

Snare Drum: Cirone, Portraits in Rhythm #38

This piece is based on the orchestral work, Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.  I strongly recommend getting a recording and listening to the 3rd movement until you can sing along.  Every phrase is based on either the snare drum part from this piece or the melody somewhere else in the orchestra.  The more you know the original the more natural and convincing your phrasing will be.

Dynamics: There are two written dynamics.  mf and p

  • mf: half-way center-to-edge or slightly closer to the rim
  • p: I play this in two locations on the head, one for the majority of the piece, and a lighter sounding spot slightly closer to the rim for the 32nd note measures.

Roll Speeds: The 32nd notes are an open 7-stroke roll, played as a triplet. ¬†The buzz rolls are all 16th notes, mostly 9-strokes. ¬†I play the 16th note rolls in line 3 as single buzzes, which I normally wouldn’t, but it seems to work really nicely.

Grace Notes: Specifics aside, all grace notes need to be noticeably lower in level than the primary notes they’re attached to. ¬†Because this is an etude and not with an ensemble it’s ok to play up a little bit and make the separation of primary and grace¬†notes very clear.

Scheherazade Stuff: There are a few common solutions to the original orchestra part.

  • Last two 8ths in each measure. ¬†Almost every measure ends with two 8ths, which are phrasing forward to the NEXT BAR. ¬†You can hear me emphasize these notes in the recording.
  • 32nd note roll thing. ¬†Starts a the end of line 2. ¬†This is a triplet roll. ¬†There is a slight phrase to it, crescendo through the roll and fall back down through the last two notes as above. ¬†Practice this without the bounces, just as a triplet, then add the roll back in.
  • Really tight drags. ¬†The phrase in line 6 with 16th notes running into a drag takes some planning. ¬†My preferred sticking is RRLRLR R on the 16ths, which leaves time for my left hand to play the drag before the downbeat. ¬†Whatever spacing you use for the tightest drag, use for every drag.
  • Super soft ruffs. ¬†The last four ruffs in the piece get softer and softer. ¬†When first developing this part, play all four ruffs THE SAME and move each one closer to the rim, letting the drum do the dynamics for you. ¬†When you get more confident, begin lowering the dynamic vertically as well. ¬†Between these two methods you should get an impressive soft range over a few week’s practice.

Marimba: Etude #2 by Stan Dahl

This is substantially more difficult than etudes from previous years, especially in terms of rhythm and note accuracy at the marked tempo.  Start slow and be very deliberate about practicing accurately with a metronome.

Primarily this etude is about STYLE.  Style is:

  1. Timing
  2. Accent
  3. Balance

First section: Freely, with expression

Timing: This is a lyrical melody, meaning it conforms to the voice. ¬†After you know the notes, SING the phrases and let your voice and breath tell you where to flex the rhythm. ¬†Practice by first playing 16th notes through the line as a rhythm. ¬†This teaches you what the exact rhythmic pacing is, with no “unintended flexibility” due to rolling alternations.

Accent: There are no written accents. ¬†The line CAN follow the general rule “notes going up get louder, notes going down get softer” and phrase comfortably, however, so an emphasis on the top notes of each phrase is appropriate.

Balance: When the left hand enters as harmony in m5 it’s important to keep the melody from being covered. ¬†Move the mallet in the left hand close to the ropes on the bars to reduce the resonator response so the melody is clearly heard. ¬†In m7 I pull back from the rope a bit when the left hand has a phrase to bring that voice out.

Second Section: Lively

Timing: Totally straight to the metronome. ¬†Never practice this without a metronome. ¬†This is the most challenging section, full of “gotcha” moments. ¬†Be sure the triplets fill up the space they are in and have a smooth, slurred feeling compared to the surrounding 16ths.

Accent: This is in a Caribbean/Latin style, so the off-16th notes often get emphasis. ¬†Many of the phrases begin on an off-16th to highlight this. ¬†Rolls which are accented can be started with the top note, which will give them a little extra “pop”.

Balance:  The dynamics act as voices, almost like playing a reduction of a band arrangement.  Assign contrasting dynamics as voices, and change not only the volume, but the character of sound, especially in m20-25.

Third Section: Relaxed

Timing: Again, straight to the metronome.  I suggest practicing with a soft 8th or 16th note to ensure clean execution of the syncopations.  Cover the quiet metronome as you play so the clicks are only audible in the spaces between notes.

Accent: No marked accents.  A bit of emphasis can be added on the crunchier chord changes.  m32, m37, and m38 are good places to lean slightly on the dissonances.

Balance:  Every note in every chord is evenly balanced.  No emphasis within a chord.

Miscellaneous notes:  These interpretations are demonstrated in the recording.

  • m18 is weird. ¬†Learn it carefully with a metronome. ¬†Soften the roll release on the first note on beat four. ¬†This sets up the phrase beginning as an off-16th pickup into beat one.
  • Rolls in m17, m19, and m24 can release earlier than marked for clarity. ¬†I release them on an 8th or 16th like a hard release a wind player might use.
  • m27-28 is really hard to navigate. ¬†Begin by LIFTING the mallets away very high to avoid getting tangled up near the bars. ¬†Play it totally flat with no accents until it is up to tempo, then add a slight push with the arm on the first note of each grouping. Do not increase the stroke speed to get the accent.
    • The rising line in m28 is an Ab diminished chord with a “gotcha” A at the top
    • Practice this with funny rhythms. ¬†Swing it, group quick bursts of 2 and 3 notes, anything you can do to twist it and force your hands to adapt. ¬†Simply playing it as written over and over will result in very little progress.

Timpani: Etude #2 by Barry Dvorak

A rhythmically unclear piece. ¬†Making these rhythms read properly requires total precision. ¬†Any single pair of “normal” mallets will work.

Drum sizes: I will get some criticism for this, I’m sure, but I believe in my solution.

  • I use the 29/26/23 timpani for the marked pitches AND
  • I use the 32 timpani on the far right next to the 23 for the bottom line of music.

WHY!? Because the primary role of timpani is GOOD TONE. ¬†ALL decisions are about tone. ¬†I have better tone on the bottom line with my hands open and not crossing, as I suspect is the case with almost anyone. ¬†Since I’m not already using my 32, WHY NOT!? ¬†An audition is not the time to be macho, it’s the time to sound your best.

Rolls: ¬†Some terminate on a note, some don’t.

In lines 1, 2, and the bottom line the rolls do not terminate on a note.  These need to end early with a slight lift and a move to the next note.

In lines 3 and 4 there are rolls with terminating notes. ¬†These don’t need to be accented in any way, but they should be defined for the player in terms of rhythm.

In lines 3 and 4 there are also accented rolls. ¬†These are struck as if NOT rolled, and then lightly rolled on after. ¬†The effect should be of two cleanly placed 16th notes, the second of which sustains after. ¬†Focus on that initial articulation, and don’t let the tone of those notes be affected by the idea that you will be rolling right after.

Sticking:  Mostly straight with a bit of doubling

The opening 16th figure works well as RLLR.  The triplet in m1 works similarly as LRR.  This sets up the surrounding figures to be cleanly executed.  Make sure a light, even tone is present regardless of the sticking chosen.

The second line from the bottom presents a bit of difficulty.  I choose to play double Right hands on the top two drums starting in the 4th measure of 12/8 time.

  • RRL RRL RLRR LRLR R and then alternate after that

Again, the tone must not suffer from sticking choices.  Choose whatever allows you to play with your best tone.

Tambourine: Etude #1 by Aaron Williams

A collection of techniques.  Lots of solutions.  The limited dynamic range of some tambourines makes clarity the big challenge.

Dynamics: There are five dynamic levels in this piece. ff, f, mf, mp, p

  • ff: last note, big hit, knuckles optional
  • f: wrist mostly, the weight of the hand. ¬†All knee/fist (or similar)
  • mf: thumb/finger rolls only. ¬†Comfortable.
  • mp: thumb/finger rolls and light notes in between. ¬†Lighter touch than mf
  • p: Beginning of shake roll. ¬†Lower behind stand/table to block some sound and raise through the crescendo to accentuate the different volume levels.

Techniques: Thumb/Finger roll, Shake roll, knee/fist (or similar)

I won’t go into the details of how to do each technique.  Simple guidelines:

  1. Practice the techniques you use apart from the music
  2. Practice the isolated moments in the music until they are exactly what you want
  3. String the different parts together, maintaining the level of execution

Crash Cymbals: Etude #1 by Aaron Williams


Dynamics: There are five dynamic levels in this piece. ff, f, mf, mp, p

  • ff:¬†only two notes and are both accented
  • f: appears at the end of crescendos both accented and non-accented
    • In context both crashes may end up being very similar in level
  • mf:¬†non-accented only. ¬†Make this the default level.
  • mp:¬†appears in between two loud crashes, this may end up being the same level as p
  • p: begins a crescendo, may end up being the same level as mp
    • The reason p and mp may end up being the same has to do with cymbal quality and because these notes are far enough apart that comparing the two crashes will be nearly impossible on a single hearing.
  1. Practice 5 dynamics of non-accented crashes, using mostly the top hand only.
    • Sets up a base level for dynamics in the piece
    • Develops physical control of the cymbals
    • Improves listening to the tone at each dynamic level.
  2. Add the bottom hand to the f and ff level for accents.
    • Resonates differently than ‚Äútop hand only‚ÄĚ notes
    • Sounds and looks like accents, not new dynamics
  3. Practice isolated moments like with tambourine, cleaning and listening for tone.
  4. Connect each moment together, maintaining the level of execution.

Dampening: It’s not 100% clear, and not 100% advisable to dampen everything.

  • I recommend dampening the downbeats of m6, and m8 to set up the softer crashes that follow. ¬†Dampening the downbeat of m4 is also possible, but not necessary unless the p crash is covered up by the ringing from the previous bars

Thanks for reading!  Best of luck on your preparations!