SmartMusic: Helping Develop Musical Percussionists

Three snare drum methods were recently added to the SmartMusic repertoire library. As a percussionist and former music educator, I was very pleased with this development, as I know these methods will be very beneficial to teachers and students.

Of course, the study of percussion includes more than just the snare drum, and having well-rounded percussionists is invaluable. I’d like to share some tips on how SmartMusic can help with mallet percussion, timpani, or even drumset.

First, let’s review some of SmartMusic’s built-in tools that are of special interest to percussionists. With SmartMusic students can:

  1. Slow the tempo or repeat difficult sections
  2. Record their performances for immediate feedback
  3. Listen to melodic accompaniments
  4. Incorporate a click track
  5. Click on a note to see the note name and mallet placement

Let’s take a closer look at two of these tools:

3. Listen to melodic accompaniments

Playing with melodic accompaniments can be extremely important in developing percussionists who performs musically. Try this experiment next time you are using SmartMusic:

  1. Open a band method book and select a line near the beginning of the book. Choose the snare drum as the instrument. You will most likely see some very simple rhythms. Grab a pair of drumsticks and play or even clap the line without using SmartMusic.
  2. Next, turn on the click track and the accompaniment off. Press Start take and play with the click. Wasn’t that a little more interesting?
  3. Finally, turn on the accompaniment (and melody) and play the line. All of a sudden, those simple rhythms take on a whole new meaning as you are now playing with what I like to call a “harmonic metronome.”

Of course practicing with the accompaniment does not minimize the importance of how you teach rhythm. It does allow you to have the opportunity to teach your percussionists with music in mind, helping them understand that there is more to playing percussion than just striking something. The concepts learned here can then be transferred to ensemble playing. And since the students are already practicing melodically and harmonically, switching back and forth between mallet percussion is natural.

5. Click on a note to see the note name and mallet placement

Sometimes student percussionists struggle to learn a mallet keyboard. I believe the trick is to gain an awareness of the keyboard so they can look at the music more than the instrument. Since there is no physical connection to the instrument this is accomplished by using muscle memory and peripheral vision. There will be mistakes at first but there needs to be an insistence that the student looks more at the music.

SmartMusic’s assessment can really help. If the correct note is a “D” and the student played an “E,” a red note will be displayed. Seeing the red note and then clicking on it will show how close the correct note was. Thus, rather than just being “wrong” the student can see how close to right they were, and get a clearer picture of the keyboard in their minds. The mallet placement charts help students see the placement of the notes they missed.

I’ll share some additional thoughts on developing musical percussionists in my next blog.

I’d love to hear your feedback or questions. Please share them with me by clicking on “Comments” below.

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