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  • Three Easy Yoga Poses for Percussionists: When You Feel Better, You Play Better by Marilyn K. Clark Silva, Dma

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Mar 30, 2020

    Before beginning, any yoga or stretching regimen, consider the following to ensure that you are stretching safely.

    • Stretch to the point of “Stretch Sensation”—NOT pain.
      • Stretch feels like: dull, broad, achy, tingling, lengthening, compression. You should retain the ability to maintain deep, slow, even breaths and relaxed facial muscles with a loose jaw and soft gaze. 
      • Pain feels like: sharp, stabbing, shooting, numb, “ow.” Pain makes you unable to maintain deep, slow, even breaths and unable to keep facial muscles relaxed with a loose jaw and soft gaze.
    • Stretching to the point of pain can actually increase tension in the area you are trying to loosen, and at worst can cause damage and strain. 
    • Moving with mindfulness and paying attention to what the body is saying while in these postures will help maintain a healthy, comfortable, and long playing career.

    Eagle Arms

    • Sit upright
    • Bring arms out to the sides, sweep the right arm under the left, cross at the elbows
    • Bring either the hands to opposite shoulders, the backs of the hands together, or wrap the arms around each other to bring palms together (the more wrapped the arms are the more intense the stretch will be)
    • Keep shoulders down
    • Bring elbows up so upper arms are parallel to the floor
    • Bring wrists away from the face to create a right angle
    • Keep chin level and ears over shoulders with gaze forward
    • Take deep, even breaths, focus on the breath expanding the upper back
    • Unwind arms and repeat on the other side with left arm under right.

    Eagle Arms with Sticks

    • Take sticks in the right hand
    • Sweep right arm under left so arms are crossed at the elbows
    • Take hold of other end of the sticks with the left hand
    • Bring the grip of the hands closer together for a more intense stretch; bring them farther apart for a less intense stretch
    • Repeat on the other side with sticks in the left hand and left arm under right

    The Eagle Arms stretch warms up and stretches the upper back and shoulders, especially trapezius, and upper part of the thoracic spine (mid/upper back). It also creates compression in the shoulder joint. When you compress a joint it allows fresh oxygenated blood to flow into the area when the stretch is released. This flushes out anything stuck and stagnant in that area, increasing range of motion and ease of movement. If done regularly and mindfully, it can ease chronic pain and pinched nerves. 

    Scapula Stabilizer on a Chair/Stool

    • Sit upright
    • Bring feet more than hip distance apart
    • Keep hips level and twist torso to face the right knee
    • Take right hand to side of chair for support
    • Bring left hand to right knee
    • Press right knee out as you pull against the knee with the left hand
    • Round into the back bringing chin towards chest (don’t “tuck” chin, keep space in the throat as you round)
    • Let inhales expand the area behind the right shoulder blade, exhales relax further into the stretch
    • Repeat on the other side

    Scapula Stabilizer on the Floor

    • Sit cross-legged 
    • Keep hips level and twist torso to face the right knee
    • Take right hand to floor next to right hip for support
    • Bring left hand to right knee
    • Press right knee down as you pull against the knee with the left hand
    • Round into the back bringing chin towards chest (don’t “tuck” chin, keep space in the throat as you round)
    • Let inhales expand the area behind the right shoulder blade, exhales relax further into the stretch

    Adding Dynamic Movement

    • Inhale to straighten upright (still facing the knee)
    • Exhale round back
    • Repeat for several rounds of breath then do the other side

    The Scapula stretch warms up and stretches scapula stabilizers (small muscles under/behind the shoulder blades), latissimus dorsi muscles “lats” (back side body), and intercostal muscles (small muscles between ribs). It relieves tension behind the shoulder blades and increases range and ease of movement in the shoulder and upper back.

    Low Supported Lunge

    • From a kneeling position, bring one foot forward
    • Be sure that the knee doesn’t go past the ankle and keep the shin upright and perpendicular to the floor
    • Move the back foot back until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip (you might also feel it in the low back and/or quad)
    • Keep upper body lifted and spine straight; don’t collapse onto the thigh
    • Put a cushion under the back knee if pressure on it causes discomfort
    • Repeat on other side.

    Adding Dynamic Movement

    • Inhale bringing hips forward into the lunge
    • Exhale bring hips back, straightening into front leg
    • Keep upper body off of thigh if possible
    • Optionally, pause with front leg straight and breathe into that stretch (consider also pointing and flexing the toe to warm up the lower leg and ankle)

    For tight hips and quads, go less deeply into the lunge, keep the hips over the back knee, and only press forward slightly until you start to feel a stretch. If you can’t have pressure on your knees, this stretch can be done with the back knee lifted. There is also the option of keeping the toes of the back foot curled under if that feels more stable.

    Lunge Photo

    The Lunge stretch warms up and stretches the hip flexors—especially the psoas, a big player in low back pain—and quadriceps. The dynamic movement also warms and stretches hamstrings and calf muscles. This stretch relieves low back pain and hip and leg stiffness, and increases ankle motion.

    Marilyn Clark SilvaDr. Marilyn K. Clark Silva is an internationally recognized percussionist, avant-garde composer, and advanced yoga teacher. She is passionate about pedagogy that encompasses mental, emotional, and physical health along with technique and musicality. Her live performances blend balletic movements with original works.


  • Marching Percussion Electronics by Ben Gervais

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Mar 25, 2020

    While there are different ideas about setup, equipment, and functionality, this article will provide a beginning framework for educators new to sound system application in marching band. The information is intended to remain neutral and give readers the opportunity to make the decision that best fits their program needs. However, the material presented has been selected based on personal experience and information as researched by the author. Educators searching for information to better customize their setup are advised to seek a professional and experienced consultant. In some cases, your retailer may provide some great references and resources to help you, but to start, I recommend McCormick’s, Lone Star Percussion, or Sweetwater.

    If you are unsure about the musical importance of a sound system for your ensemble, I implore you to examine the educational effects and benefits it can have on your students. When it comes to setting up and operating your system, be sure to involve your students every step of the way. Working with this equipment is a valid career path, much like performing or teaching music, so it is advantageous to your students to have this knowledge. If you are looking to purchase a new system, you want to articulate the educational impacts when presenting the idea to your administration and other supportive stake-holders.

    Whether you are looking to purchase equipment for the first time, or you are trying to make use of older and borrowed equipment, you need to understand the basic components required that will provide you and your students with a quality experience. 

    Mixer: A mixer is the single source where all instruments are connected and controlled for a balanced sound. You have an option for an analog mixer or digital mixer. A digital mixer is preferred for many reasons, specifically for its ability to save and adjust settings as well as scenes. A digital mixer will also last longer with the feature of firmware updates and other modern, time and money-saving innovations.

    Power Conditioner: A power conditioner provides a single source to plug in all of your powered devices with a cord. This component is often overlooked and substituted for by a surge protector (or power strip). However, a power conditioner is recommended especially if you utilize a sequencer that turns your components on and off in a correct and safe order (speakers ON last, OFF first).

    Speakers (mains): You will need to decide between active or passive speakers. The active speakers are heavier, will need to be plugged in to a power source (which can limit placement), and will cost a little more. Passive speakers are lighter weight, easier to place with the appropriate speaker cables, and are less expensive but will require the purchase of a power amplifier to activate them. A power amplifier needs to be able to carry the load of both speakers in order to activate them. Each power amp will connect one right and left speaker (two total). If you have a large setup with active speakers, you run the risk of overloading a single power source and may require a generator to help share the load to avoid losing your speakers mid-performance.

    Subwoofer: The same information about speakers applies to a subwoofer as well. A basic speaker setup will consist of two main speakers and one subwoofer, although many groups choose to have two subs and create a speaker “stack” by placing each main on each sub.

    Cable Snake: If you are micing multiple mallet instruments, you will want to invest in the Planet Waves breakout snake system. This allows all mallet mic cables to be routed to the center and remain connected while the center performer connects one cable to the snake. This greatly reduces the setup time before a show, which allows your students to remain stress free and focused on the music. 

    Once you have purchased all of your components, be sure to set everything up correctly with the appropriate labels from the beginning. Color code your cable ends and plugs with the necessary writing to clearly identify where everything goes. 

    Speaker Setup: The layout provided uses two speakers and two subwoofers to create two speaker towers on opposite sides of your front ensemble. If you have one subwoofer, it is recommended to place that in the center.

    Cable Management: Cable management is crucial to the life expectancy of the equipment as well as the efficiency of the daily set-up and pack-up. Be sure to color code all cables and connectors with colored electrical tape, even writing channel numbers on the tape. To ensure a cleaner, more efficient setup, be sure to acquire 5-foot and 10-foot mic cables and fasten them to the mallet instrument frames and route them to the center. 

    Gervais Flow Chart


    You will want to clearly label your channels so they are navigable even for a beginning sound board operator. While facing the front ensemble, label and assign the channels from left to right as it corresponds to the physical layout of the instruments.

    Gain/Phantom Power: The gain controls the volume being input to the mixer of the assigned channel. Phantom power adds power to a channel in order to activate a condenser microphone—usually up to 48 volts. Be sure to adjust your gain in accordance to the type of microphone and placement; a condenser will require less gain than a dynamic microphone. 

    EQ: There are many ideas on how to set an effective EQ for the mallet instruments. A good starting point is to isolate all the frequencies on the instrument to ensure the microphone is only picking up that specific instrument. This can be done by cutting frequencies below the lowest note and the high frequencies starting at two octaves above the highest note on the instrument. As a reference, a low A marimba (4.3-octave) is 110Hz to 2093Hz, so you could set the HPF (high pass filter) and LPF (low pass filter) to approximately 106Hz and 8500Hz (or 8.50kHz) respectively.

    Gervais EQ

    Gate and Compressor: You will want to take advantage of exploring the gate and compressor feature on each channel. A gate helps ensure the mic is activated only by the instrument to which it is attached. The compressor setting can help reduce the channel from peaking too loud throughout the show. While these features seem daunting to set up, a digital mixer will allow you to save an EQ, gate, and compressor setting as a default, allowing you to apply it to other channels a needed. 

    Groups: Depending on your mixer, these may be labeled as “subgroups,” “VCA,” or “DCA.” This is an often-under-utilized feature by beginning sound system users; however, it is something you will want to implement. A group allows you to control certain assigned microphones into a single channel fader. You can easily begin with three groups: marimba, vibraphone, and all mallets. This will expedite any live adjustments that need to be made.

    Whatever equipment and setup you decide to use, do not take on this task by yourself. Seek out professional assistance with local percussion educators or fellow band directors that have experience implementing electronics effectively. The most important step is to involve your own students in the process. Teaching your students how to care for, set up, and manage the equipment will give them the appropriate ownership and accountability to effectively utilize your setup. You can find some additional resources at,the PreSonus YouTube channel, and

    Ben Gervais is a middle school band director and freelance percussion educator in the Kansas City area. He is co-founder of State Line United, an organization partnering percussion professionals with local programs to provide enhanced percussion experiences, and a PAS member. For more information, you can email him at

  • Let Them Drum (Part 1 — History): An Interview with Ralph Hicks by Eric Rath

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Mar 11, 2020

    PASIC18 Ralph Hicks

    It has been my pleasure to partner over the years with Ralph Hicks on many percussion and percussion education projects. We have presented clinics across the country and co-authored several education publications. In addition to our work together, Ralph is the founder and executive director of Let Them Drum, and I have had the opportunity to watch this program grow from just an idea in Ralph’s head. It is quite the story!

    Ralph HicksEric Rath:First off, Ralph, tell us a little about yourself.
    Ralph Hicks: I’ve been a PAS member since 1992 and now serve on the Board of Advisors, Education Committee, and as Special Needs chair for the PAS Diversity Alliance. I taught public school percussion and concert band for 19 years in my home state of Texas and am currently a realtor with the Jack Allen Group at Allen Interests, Inc. I live in Magnolia with my wife, Marcail, a band director who I worked with for 10 years, and two kids, Brooklynn and William.

    ER: What is Let Them Drum?
    RH: Let Them Drum is recreational and therapeutic group drumming experiences for all ages and abilities. We incorporate hand drums, buckets, steel drums—the works. We started out as a school club in The Woodlands, Texas, where I worked in 2010, and we have grown to over 350 members, now in our eighth year as a non-profit.

    ER: Let Them Drum has such a great origin story; tell us about that.
    RH: It all started while watching a Texans game with my nephew, Luke, who was recently diagnosed on the spectrum. Autism was new to our family, and I couldn’t understand why Luke wouldn’t look at me when I talked to him. I mean, that’s what all the good teachers insist on, right? Common sense, right? WRONG. I eventually got frustrated and just got up, drumming BADUMP BUMP, like “Well that’s that” on my legs. Then, it happened. Luke put his device down, and drummed badump bumpon his legs.

    ER: Nice.
    RH: You’d think I had just hit a hole-in-one on the golf course! I was looking around for witnesses, like “Did anybody see that?” But, of course, nobody saw! I sat back down, and this back-and-forth continued for about two minutes, then he lost interest and went back into his world. But before he did, he did something I’ll never forget: he looked at me.

    ER: He looked at you?
    RH: This blew my mind. When you look me in the eye, you see me as a concept, as a face, and can easily carry a conversation. Right?

    ER: Right.
    RH: Well, when Luke looks me in the eye, he’s studying the different veins, the eyelashes, sees that my eyeballs are uneven, all kinds of information our brains just push to the background. So, if I want his experience with me to be positive, I must accept that he can either look at me or he can listen. He can’t do both. It’s that simple.

    ER: That’s fascinating; I had no idea!
    RH: It really is! That one little tweak in how I communicate with him has made all the difference. 

    ER: Knowing your entrepreneurial side, how long was it before the light bulb appeared over your head?
    RH: Applying it to a group setting with a mix of kiddos with and without disabilities popped into my head almost immediately. I guess all teachers just naturally view the world through how they can make it better for all kids—not just their own kids. So, a few weeks later we set up a club between my percussion kiddos and our special-needs department. We would meet once a week, and it was a blast!

    ER: Are there any other programs around like this?
    RH: In our area? None. Houston is a hotbed of powerhouse percussion programs; the level these kids are playing at around town is amazing. But honestly, the similarities end there. If anything, we are the counterculture; we aren’t about the education, we are about the experience. 

    ER: Public schools understandably focus more on education. What about outside the district? Outside of public school?
    RH: Not even there. All over the country you have special-needs little leagues, dance companies, and even proms. But as far as a drumming program with the same goals as ours and open to the same people? The closest thing that I know of would be the Free Players in New York and the Kingpins drumline in Illinois. But even then, I feel like we aren’t as specialized, providing a more unique experience. Somehow, we are still the only game in town, and that’s just fine by me for now.

    ER: What did it take to make it happen?
    RH: First I had to change my interpretation of the word “achievement,” which up until this point meant technical development, high-level musical expression, and, of course, competition prep. But using drumming to calm an anxious child? To help them learn how to introduce themselves to a stranger? I knew I was out of my wheelhouse, so developing my competency was definitely first on the list.

    ER: My background in education certainly didn’t prepare me for something like this. How did you go about developing your competence?
    RH: With Google and the PAS network, of course! After just a quick Google search on “drumming therapy” and a few emails out to my PAS family, I was well on my way to better understanding. John Fitzgerald and the PAS Interactive Drumming Committee, Dr. John Lane, and Dr. Hayoung Lim at Sam Houston State University would prove to be invaluable resources. We now have strong connections with local businesses, treatment centers, retirement homes, the American Music Therapy Association, and of course, The Percussive Arts Society.

    ER: I’ve noticed that you make the point to say that you aren’t music therapy. Why is that?
    RH: People sometimes call us music therapy, but music therapy is a clinical treatment of a specific diagnosis by a board-certified music therapist, or MT-BC. Therapeutic drumming promotes health and wellness and can be done by anybody with a big heart. I’m good with people and at drumming, but taking credit for doing what a music therapist can do is a disservice to both fields. It is worth noting though, that we do have music therapists on staff, and they are amazing!

    ER: I totally understand that, and I’m sure music therapists reading this will appreciate that. This got you in hot water before, didn’t it?
    RH: Yeah, when I first started out, I would visit with Kalani Das over emails and messages, mischaracterizing “music therapy” without realizing it. So, at his PASIC clinic a few years later, at one point he says, “Just because you’re playing golf with someone with disabilities”—looks right at me—“doesn’t mean you’re doing golf therapy.” Man that stung! But he made his point, and I won’t forget it.

    ER: Can anybody join Let Them Drum? What’s the average age?
    RH: We have no limits to who can join; if you want to drum, let’s drum! We have members of all ages, currently ages 3–38, but we are most popular with kids ages 5–16.

    ER: Tell me about some of the experiences you’ve had with your members. Do any stand out?
    RH:It’s been a great ride! We’ve drummed at some pretty cool places with some pretty cool people, and we have been well received everywhere we go. We offer our free weekly drum circles in The Woodlands and Klein, Texas, and take weekend excursions all over town. Some highlights are drumming at Ironman Texas, Houston Rockets and Dynamo halftimes, DCI Soundsport Drumline Battle, Rice University, and the Harlem Globetrotters! We’ve even had two stories about us on local Houston news channels. Our crowning achievement came in 2015, when we presented a clinic on what we do at PASIC in San Antonio! In the percussion world, you know you’ve arrived when PAS calls!

    Part Two of this article will talk about more specific experiences with the group, where the organization is headed as it prepares to expand into more chapters, and how you can get involved!

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