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  • Sambinary by Jerry Leake

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jun 02, 2021

    This article examines an original samba pattern for drum set that explores four metric perspectives and two approaches for the bass drum. Unlike a traditional samba adaptation, one that incorporates an interlocking bass drum and hi-hat pattern, this more basic treatment will help players get inside the changing meters and time feels. Once the eight examples have been mastered, by all means explore other foot combinations.

    “Sambinary” (samba+binary) began as an exercise for a class I teach at Berklee College called Alternate Setups for Drum Set. In it, I talk at length about the “alternate setups” that must also take place in the player’s mind to develop a more “percussionist” approach to playing drum set. We strive for higher aesthetics of limb independence and the orchestration to a wide array of instruments and sound combinations, including piano. Substituting for the bass drum can be ankle bells, jam block, foot cowbell, shakers, and so on. With the limbs set strongly into motion, these patterns can be played anywhere.

    Bass Drum: Phrases A, B, C, and D establish a strong “four feel” with the quarter-note bass drum pattern. Phrases E, F, G, and H apply the same hand patterns, except that the bass drum is now set to dotted quarter notes for a more challenging “three feel.”

    Phrase A: This one-bar pattern in 4/4 is presented as a repeating four-bar phrase. The strong hand plays the cymbal, with the weak hand playing rim clicks using samba-inspired on- and off-beat syncopation. The bass drum quarter-note pulse grounds the phrase. Repeat this many times before moving to Phrase B.

    Phrase B: This phrase adapts the pattern into triple meter by eliminating the first beat of Phrase A. Once you are comfortable in 3/4, switch back and forth between A and B phrases.

    Phrase C: This phrase, in 2/4, continues the paradigm of eliminating the first beat of the previous phrase. The result is a continuous off-beat syncopation of the rim-click pattern.

    Phrase D: This phrase, back in 3/4, deviates from the model of dropping beats, and is derived by repeating just the first cymbal hit and rim hit of Phrase C. This results in a potent 4:3 against the bass drum and marks a clear musical conclusion to the samba reduction that began with Phrase A. Repeat the sequence A, B, C, and D many times, and come to “own” the reduction concept. Also shuffle phrases freely: e.g., B, D, C, A, and so on.

    Phrases E, F, G, and H: The hands play the exact same patterns as shown in phrases A thru D; however, the bass drum now plays dotted-quarter notes instead of quarter notes. This change results in a profound shift of feel, cycle, and limb independence. As shown in the composition, Phrase E in 4/4 requires a three-bar cycle before returning to its original position, with the bass drum starting on the 1, whereas Phrase F works as a one-bar phrase that is repeated four times.

    Phrase G is probably the most demanding in the composition. In my Berklee class, we played just phrase G for 15 minutes, with only me aware of the clock. Afterwards, students described their transformation of mind and body as they worked through moments of agony and ecstasy to conquer the complex pattern. By the end of class, they owned it all!

    Phrase H, which aligns the hand pattern to the bass drum, concludes the “Sambinary” composition on a more relaxed and satisfying note. Repeat the entire sequence and get your eyes off the page.

    Enjoy the ride and make it your own!


    Sambinary from Percussive Arts Society on Vimeo.

    Sambinary by Jerry Leake
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    Jerry LeakeJerry Leake is a Professor of World Percussion at Berklee College of Music, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, and the New England Conservatory. He leads the world-rock-fusion octet Cubist, which performs compositions from his acclaimed CDs. He is a founding member of Natraj and Club d’Elf, and is a long-standing member of the Agbekor Drum and Dance Society. Jerry has written eight widely used texts on North and South Indian, West African, and Afro-Cuban percussion, and has published numerous articles for Percussive Notes magazine. Jerry presented his “Harmonic Time” method at a 2011 TED Talk in Cambridge. He earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz vibraphone from the Berklee College of Music and has studied with Gary Burton, Ed Saindon, Pablo Landrum (Berklee), Godwin Agbeli, Alhaji Dolsi-naa Abubakariu Lunna (Ghana), Rajeev Devasthali, T.K. Ramakrishnan (North and South India), Souleymane Coulibaly (Burkina Faso), and David Locke (Boston).

  • Developing Better Beginning Mallet Players by Brady Spitz

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | May 31, 2021

    Your beginning percussion students are progressing well. They can read notes on the staff and play “Hot Cross Buns.” They can play a paradiddle and already have a halfway decent buzz roll. Congratulations! They, and you, have certainly earned a gold star; starting new musicians is one of the most challenging things a teacher can do. (I’ve even had band director colleagues tell me, “If you can’t teach beginners, you can’t teach!”) Where do you go from here? 

    Are your students succeeding because of the challenges you’ve given them, or are they succeeding in spite of them?

    Ask 100 percussionists about their pedagogical philosophy and you will receive 100 different answers. Most of them will involve some combination of technical studies and etudes, spread across the fundamental instruments of snare drum, keyboard, and timpani. But I believe we have a duty to constantly re-assess and re-envision what is the best way to serve our students. In my experience, asking students to jump into etudes too early is generally a mistake. Without an adequately comfortable and established reading process, etudes can be really overwhelming. Always ask yourself the question: are your students succeeding because of the challenges you’ve given them, or are they succeeding in spite of them?

    With that ethos in mind, allow me to propose the following conceptual framework for improving your beginning mallet players. 

    When confronted with a difficult passage, most young mallet percussionists (and many of their directors) believe that their hands (or “chops”) are the primary thing standing between them and success. Much of the time, this is false. People learn mallet percussion music through continuously cycling three steps: (1) identifying the note on the page, (2) identifying that note on the keyboard; and (3) striking that note.

    In my experience, even the most rudimentary students understand the fundamentals of step three, but are unsuccessful because they are hung up on step one or two or, more importantly, can’t connect the steps together. The remedy for this lies in developing each step independently, then methodically piecing them together. The fact that we can’t touch our instrument before making a sound is an issue that requires this significant degree of mental and visual development. 

    STEP ONE: Identify the Note on the Page
    A lot of music teachers excel at this step, so allow me to just contribute a couple of techniques. First, don’t underestimate the power of game-ified and technology-based solutions. Apps like “Tenuto,” “Staff Wars,” or “Sight Reading Factory” are great at developing this skill in an engaging way.

    Second, use the metronome as a way to compel mental development — not just technical development. For any challenging passage of music, start the students by having them read the note names aloud with the metronome (sans rhythm; just the note names in succession). If they struggle with that, try adding rests in between notes instead of slowing down the metronome, which can have a psychologically discouraging effect. As they get better, you can increase the tempo, but make sure that they are reciting as they read and not reciting from memory. 

    As soon as memorization develops, move on. This is not because memorization is bad or that you are specifically “working on sight reading,” but rather that any element of memorization means that you are no longer working on step one in earnest. Different skill sets require different growth activities. 

    STEP TWO: Identifying the Note on the Keyboard
    This step can be divided into two parts: (A) identifying any note on the keyboard, and (B) identifying the specific note read off the page. To deepen an understanding of the keyboard layout (Step 2A), apps like “Tenuto” can be a big help, but this is where technology starts becoming less resourceful than an in-person teacher. 

    Note collections like scales or arpeggios are really helpful in developing the process of identifying any note on the keyboard when used in combination with recitation. Have students work slowly through all 12 major scales and arpeggios, saying the note name aloud as they touch the note on the keyboard, all in concert with a metronome. Their eyes should be on the keys, not restrained to the page. If that is too difficult, alternate saying and touching the notes with a metronome. If that is too difficult, put rests between the recitation and touching the bars. When working through a piece of music, have the students do the same recitation/touching method.

    The second half of this second step is the connection from step one. In this case, use the metronome and structure an alternation of reading, reciting, and then touching the correct notes (with added rests if necessary). It is very important that the students visualize the correct note “lighting up” before they touch it to establish that they are visually acquiring the note. Because of this necessity, allowing your students to look down is highly recommended. Using peripheral vision to acquire notes on the keyboard is a much more advanced skill than many give it credit for.

    STEP THREE: Striking the Note
    In many ways, this has historically been where we, as percussion teachers, feel like we belong as we begin calculating angles and velocities and micromanaging our students’ stroke. But in reality, the students usually just need a little bit of reminding now and then about the fundamentals: keep your grip relaxed, bring the mallet heads back above your wrists between strokes, let gravity do the work, etc. They want to do the right thing most of the time, so try to let them be the masters of this domain unless they stray off course. Your job as a teacher is to create situations where they can exercise this third step while reinforcing the skills learned in step two.

    It is not enough to know where a note is; they have to have instantaneous recall. This is why I am a big proponent of even very young students learning all 12 major scales and arpeggios, and then mentally manipulating the source materials in endless variations.

    Teach “Green” scales in all 12 keys. Then do it again for all 12 minor scales in all three forms. Next, do all the modes of all the major and minor keys. Continue by inverting the contours, playing everything again off the left, or teaching all of the arpeggiated triad types for every key. Start slowly and don’t go faster unless you are certain that they are visually acquiring every note before striking it. When students try to play a challenging musical passage too fast too soon, the problem is almost invariably their inability to visually acquire the note before they try to strike it, not anything to do with their hands. 

    This seems like a lot, and it is, but young percussionists are not physically constrained to a few keys in the way that young wind players are. We can play all the major and minor scales straight out of the box. By the end of a month working on mentally taxing exercises, they will be able to instantaneously pick out any note on the keyboard, while in the dark and still half-asleep. 

    To synthesize all of the above information into a new method of practice and development, have the students constantly working in Tenuto or similar activities. Encourage them as they work through technical exercises that involve mentally taxing manipulations. When faced with a piece of music, apply the following process: (1) recite the note names aloud with a metronome (no rhythm); (2) alternate reciting the note names and touching the correct notes on the keyboard (no rhythm), eventually moving to reciting and touching at the same time; (3) strike the notes with mallets while reciting the note names (no rhythm), checking for technical fundamentals, (4) add the correct rhythm, and (5) gradually speed the metronome up.

    In my own teaching, I’ve found a great deal of success with this method. Not only does it break down the reading process in a way that allows students to achieve bite-size successes on a constant basis, but once they embrace the idea of mentally manipulating exercises, they become composers themselves. The students begin to see that a lot of music is nothing more than the accumulation and juxtaposition of this tonal vocabulary that they are working through.

    There are undoubtedly more ways to slice this problem up, but by outlining the preceding method, I hope that I might spur educators to re-envision how to get their students to be smarter musicians as a method to being better mallet players.

    Brady SpitzDr. Brady Spitz is a percussionist, timpanist, and educator based in Houston, Texas. He is on faculty at Houston Baptist University and Houston Community College. Dr. Spitz has appeared with all of the city’s major classical music, chamber music, and musical theatre organizations, maintains regular performances with several large and small jazz ensembles, an active music theatre schedule, and has appeared on stage alongside such artists as Idina Menzel, Weird Al Yankovic, The Who, and Claire Chase. His new ensemble Sonic Boom is working to create a repertoire for organ and percussion where very little has existed before, yielding engagements with the Auckland Town Hall Organ Recital Series in Auckland, New Zealand. Dr. Spitz has given performances and clinics across the United States, as well as performing at the PASICs in 2005, 2008, and as a featured soloist with Hamiruge’s 2009 appearance. The Houston Baptist University Gamelan, under Dr. Spitz’s leadership, made its debut appearance at PASIC in 2019. Dr. Spitz holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from Rice University, where he was awarded the Benjamin Armistead Shepherd Teaching Fellowship. He also holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of North Texas College of Music and a Master of Music degree from Louisiana State University.

  • Deliberate Practice Strategies — Part 3: Mental Representation by Sean Millman

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | May 26, 2021

    Visualization is perhaps the most well-known mental preparation strategy among musicians; envisioning oneself playing successfully is a near-ubiquitous piece of advice from teachers and colleagues. It is a part of what Anders Ericsson called the mental representation, which simply refers to performers’ cognitive understanding of their best possible performance. 

    Nearly two decades ago, Holmes and Collins codified this strategy in what they called the PETTLEP Model of Motor Learning (Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2001). The graphic below (Wakefield and Smith, “Perfecting Practice,” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2012) depicts this model, which encompasses seven elements that need to be accounted for in a mental ideal of correct performance: physical, environment, task, timing, learning, emotion, and perspective. 

    The PETTLEP Model of Motor Imagery

    Millman Image Part 3

    Physical refers to the player’s body, incorporating both how it looks and feels to perform correctly. For us as percussionists, this includes things like body position, posture, technique, and grip pressure. In the marching arts, this includes visual technique. For drummers, timpanists, and vibraphonists, the player’s feet need to be included in consideration. 

    I noted in the last article that I would include the OPTIMAL theory’s external focus concept (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2016): Wulf and Lewthwaite state that mental focuses that point “away from one’s body parts or self and to the intended movement effect have consistently been found to have an enhancing effect on performance and learning.” Examples of applying this include focusing on what the sticks are doing rather than the hands, or on the kick pedal beater instead of the foot. This is not to suggest total ignorance of what one’s body is doing throughout the process; this external focus is primarily for the performance state, not the analysis state. 

    Environment refers to getting as detailed a picture of the performance venue as possible, including size, lighting, acoustics, temperature, the smell in the room, even the type of dress and attitude of the audience. The goal here is to create as much of the setting as possible, in which to place the visualized performance.

    Task is simple: what is the performer attempting to accomplish? This is where the music itself is added. The task and physical elements are linked, since the music is played by the body. This exemplifies the linkage between all seven points; the PETTLEP model is a way to get to a unified whole of a visualized ideal performance rather than merely a seven-point checkbox list of unrelated points.

    Timing obviously has a particular relevance for musicians, doubly so for drummers and percussionists. One obvious question is, “Should I be imaging at full speed or at the tempo at which I’m currently practicing?” This is an element where the research isn’t yet complete, but with what has been done thus far, it looks promising to say “both.” A full-speed representation can function as both a guiding goal with which to aspire, and a reality check when technique decisions are being made. This can prevent a student, or even seasoned pro, from relying too heavily on the techniques that would be correct at 70% of performance tempo, then having to make an unexpected muscle-group shift on the fly. 

    The learning element means to take into account the relationship between this single performance and the player’s experience with the same music, articulating the difference between a single moment in time and the longer story of improvement.

    Emotion, for most performers, is related to how the task makes them personally feel and what mental state they would like to be in — what sport psychologists sometimes refer to as arousal. This emotion element for musicians can also encompass the emotion that the player would like to encode into the performance; certainly, what the player wants the audience to feel and what the player feels are not always the same.

    Finally, perspective refers simply to whether the visualization is being done from a first- or third-person viewpoint. Both are valuable, but each has its separate uses, and one may be more appropriate than the other, given the type of music being prepared. For example, marching percussionists may benefit more from a third-person view because of the visual emphasis of that domain. Onstage soloists and students approaching recitals likewise will benefit from a third-person perspective as they curate how they intend to make their performance connect with an audience. Players on the orchestral audition circuit, or those working in musical theatre in dark pits or remote rooms, have little interest in how their performance looks and thus are likely to focus more on the first-person view. 

    Once all of these elements are individually accounted for, players can create a single, unified mental video of their own body, in the performance space, playing the music, in correct time, in relation to improvement, with their mental state and intended emotional impact, from both first- and third-person perspectives. That’s a lot of information and data points, which is why the PETTLEP model is valuable as a reminder of all the many things that need to be included in order for a mental representation to be effective. 

    As one final element of the mental representation, there is a concept called domain-specific knowledge, associated with the chess studies of Adriaan de Groot. The idea as applied for musicians is that there are non-performance data points that contribute to improvement in performance. In our world, this includes things like how certain gear sounds (e.g., “That marimba is brighter than the one I usually play on, so I may need to use mallets that are softer or heavier”), how different gear feels to play on (“This club’s house kick pedal is way too loose; I should remember to bring mine”), or even colleague preferences (“We have a sub on keys tonight? I should keep my vibe solo in the last tune simpler so it’s easier to follow”). This is also where the universal importance of being a well-listened musician fits into this model; stylistic knowledge, tempo and dynamic expectations, and fluency in diverse genres all falls into this domain-specific knowledge category that might not always go into the visualized version on the representation, but is the contextual foundation supporting it. 

    Sean MillmanSean Millman is a Ph.D. Candidate in Percussion Performance, ABD at NYU Steinhardt and freelance drummer/percussionist in New York City. Learn more at

    This series examines and applies elements from the author's forthcoming dissertation "A Deliberate Practice Loop for Music Performance Training," to be completed this year.

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