RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • What to Practice Before You Practice: Part 1 by Michael Compitello

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 30, 2023

    Practicing is only part of the work that musicians do. The learning we do outside the practice room is not difficult, but it is powerful. Purposeful pre-practice work saves time, increases your efficiency within the practice room, heightens your impact as an interpreter, and diminishes performance anxiety. At the same time, working on the overall skills of learning in addition to developing as a practitioner of your instrument supports passionate advocacy for your work in a variety of mediums. Below are some of my tips for making the most of your time inside the practice room by developing your skills outside the practice room.

    Life Cycle of Learning 
    Practicing occurs within a dynamic learning cycle of framing, planning, playing, reflecting, and sharing. Here’s my outline:

    Compitello Life cycle of Learning

     

    FRAME
    Research and analyze the piece at hand to set the stage for efficient practicing. Contextualize the work historically, culturally, and musically in order to characterize the composer’s style. Then, dig into details, listening intuitively to find important moments in the music and finding support in the musical text for that intuition. Develop a sense of what the piece might feel like when it’s “right.” This multi-sensory structure is what psychologist Anders Ericsson calls a “mental representation.” Your goal when researching and practicing will be to hone and refine these mental representations, which help you set a range of interpretations you might pursue, diagnose issues, and make hypotheses about what kind of practicing will help you best progress.

    PLAN
    Prepare yourself to learn the piece with the goal of making your time in the practice room as efficient and dynamic as possible. With a strong sense of what you want the work to sound like in mind, make a plan for how to effectively craft your interpretation. This plan will include long-term markers, session-by-session goals, and a strategy to handle multiple pieces in various stages of development. 

    PLAY
    In the practice room, play with the musical material. Address both physical and mental challenges. Work towards goals, but be informed by creativity and inspiration. As you refine the piece, shift between different projects to allow your work time to incubate.

    REFLECT
    Review your progress, articulating what worked and what didn’t, and incorporate these ideas into your next work sessions.

    SHARE
    Our role as musicians is intrinsically tied with sharing. All of these practices — framing, curating, situating, engaging, performing, and advocating — are so much easier when you have a deep, multisensory knowledge.

    At this stage, you can frame your work in relation to the world around you, curate a space for the piece to live, situate the piece in that spot with regards to how you are going to share it, and engage with communities about it. Then, recast “performance” more broadly: it could be a concert, an article, a recording, or a conversation. 

    BE INTERESTED AND INTERESTING 
    Devote time to connect with the world around you. You’re training to develop connections between people through music. You’ll do this more effectively if you are engaged beyond the practice room. Read, listen, eat, see: participate with the world around you and you’ll find inspiration for your interpretations and be inspired about where your music-making can do the most good. At the same time, cultural fluency helps to connect with others around shared experiences, generating social capital that can help take on the big problems we face as a society and species. 

    These processes occur in a dynamic loop, constantly feeding one another as learning inspires learning. This strategy is effective because it incorporates research into how our bodies learn and refine new tasks, leverages the power of humanities methodologies to link learning and advocacy, and uses powerful goal setting to save time. If you invest time and energy into each of these ideas, your practicing will be more effective, efficient, purposeful, and interesting.

    Part 2 of this article will provide additional strategies to get you going more tangibly with this process.

    Michael CompitelloMichael Compitello is dedicated to exploring the expressive possibilities of percussion through collaboration and community-building. His project Unsnared Drum, released 2021 on New Focus Recordings, seeks to reinvent the snare drum with “superb performances” (Classical Voice of North Carolina) of new works by composers Nina C. Young, Hannah Lash, Amy Beth Kirsten, and Tonia Ko. With cellist Hannah Collins as the New Morse Code, Michael has created a singular, personal, and impactful repertoire through collaboration with some of America’s most esteemed young composers. His current project is a book about musical learning. Michael is Associate Professor of Percussion at Arizona State University. He holds degrees from The Yale School of Music and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. For more information, visit michaelcompitello.com.

  • Student Budgeting for PAS Events by The University Student Committee

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 17, 2023

    The intent of this article is to assist university students in creating a budget that can assist them in attending PASIC, even with limited disposable income. We hope to help those whose barriers to attending PASIC are financial, and provide a general plan of action for attending events for those who may be new to PASIC. 

    COSTS AND CONSIDERATIONS
    Lodging
    There are many choices for where to stay around the Indianapolis Convention Center. Hotels average approximately $180 a night. This cost can easily be divided by two, three, or four individuals, depending on your preference and the number of students attending together. Information on travel costs and specific hotel costs can be found at pasic.org/travel-hotel.

    Less expensive alternatives may be found using various third-party sites such as airbnb.com or vrbo.com. Make sure to read about house property rules and fees! Often, commuting costs can be kept low as well by using the transportation system in Indy. Information about bus fare and passes can be found at indygo.net/fares-and-passes, and information about routes in relation to your housing can be found at indygo.net/plan-your-trip. Otherwise, using Uber, Lyft, or one of the city’s scooter services are an option for long commutes to the convention center.

    Lodging plans must be made early to get the best price/location. Most of the time, funding will have to be on a reimbursement plan, meaning students will have to plan with each other how to front the money to reserve a hotel or rental.

    When looking for a rental home, consider both location and cost. It is cheaper to pay $116 a night for a three-bedroom house and taxi to the convention than to book a $300 a night hotel in close proximity to the convention center. If you book early enough, there are numerous affordable rental apartments close to the convention center. Bring some air mattresses and split the cost among friends.

    Travel 
    For university trips that have smaller numbers of students traveling, a university van may be available. Contact your university’s Office for Student Affairs to inquire about policies and permissions. You will usually need a student organization or club to back this trip, as well as an advisor. Those signing out a university vehicle should account for mileage and gas money needed to make the trip. Per diem may be available as well; always ask!

    If staying in a downtown area, keep parking costs under consideration. Plan whether or not it would be cheaper to use taxi services or drive yourself. If you are using larger vehicles, such as charter busses or trucks, parking will need to be planned out before arrival. Most convention centers do not allow visiting vehicles to stay overnight.

    Registration
    Once you have decided to attend PASIC, register! It is much cheaper to register during the early-registration window. Also consider that, in some years, PAS hosts ensembles like the International Marimba Orchestra or All-Star Ensemble, where admittance into these ensembles via audition includes free registration. (Note that PAS membership is typically required for an audition opportunity.) Volunteering to serve on the logistics team or volunteers crew includes free registration for the convention. You must sign up for two separate volunteer shifts to qualify for your four-day pass. More info here: pas.org/get-involved/volunteer-at-pasic.

    Food
    Managing the amount you spend on food is crucial to minimize expenses. Consider visiting a grocery store to gather snacks, breakfast bars, coffee materials, lunch options, and late-night snacks. 

    MISSED SCHOOL WORK
    One of the first things you should do when considering attending an event that will conflict with school is to check with your teachers. The sooner you communicate with them, the better chance you will have to work out an agreement for missed work. Send a professional email asking permission to miss any scheduled events from your syllabus, follow up in person, and then send another reminder email as the event nears. Keep in mind that many teachers may not know about PASIC and will need context. Include an introduction to PAS as well as a plan for any missed work. 

    PERFORMING VS. ATTENDING
    Whether you are attending a PAS event with the intention of performing or simply attending, there are different factors to consider when planning a budget. Both have advantages, and both are possible to do at a minimal cost. Performing in a competition usually includes a registration fee on top of individual attendance costs. Some competitions in which results are decided before the convention will include free registration as part of the prize. 

    SCHOLARSHIPS
    PAS and its industry partners make several scholarships available for attending PASIC. Visit pas.org to explore PASIC scholarships that including registration, a T-shirt, and up to $500 for travel, lodging, and food. The Texas and California chapters provide specific scholarships to residents, and international-student PASIC scholarships are also available. Sabian offers full registration, travel, lodging, and more for a Canadian percussion major, and the Remo/Arthur Hull scholarship is available for “rhythm facilitators.”

    SCHOOL FUNDING
    Universities with a Student Government Association (SGA) may also provide student funding for conference attendance. If you’re paying an “activity fee” or something similar in your tuition, there’s a good chance there’s an SGA. If you’re paying for it, it might as well benefit you while attending school! Visit studentgovresources.org to find toolkits and resources related to advocacy for your university’s student body.

    Student Government Associations will propose a budget to the Student Senate, Student Union, Associated Students, and/or Student Council. This budget is usually based on the fundraising revenue, involvement of student organizations, number of students attending the university, and the costs associated with running the SGA. Any new club under the SGA begins with a reduced amount of funding compared to a club that has existed and remained active for 10 years. Depending on the university, the associated SGA may have a very large budget capable of supporting multiple music-related clubs. Often, these clubs can fundraise for extra funds using car washes, bake sales, etc. Note that increasing student involvement in your percussion club often correlates with an increase of SGA budget funding year-to-year. Your SGA will want to see your club being productive without large amounts of funding, so it is important to remember that building your percussion club is a long game, but very worthwhile.

    Through your university’s Student Government Association, there are many growth-oriented funds that can be requested. For most universities, the request for these funds must be submitted a year in advance, usually included in a yearly budget, so be mindful of deadlines. In crafting your budget, you will want to be clear that the purpose for the funds being requested is independent of funds being allocated to your studio (e.g., buying new instruments for the percussion department). Some universities may also offer an option where the dean of a specific institution will match a student organization's funding when said funding gets used for educational purposes, like a conference, so always ask!

    The University Student Committee consists of highly motivated university students seeking to become more involved in the percussion community, while gaining valuable experience in a variety of areas. University Student Committee members serve as liaisons between student percussionists and the leadership of PAS in their chapter, playing a vital role in PAS’s efforts to better serve percussion students.

  • An Educational Dive into Joseph Tompkins' Nine French-American Rudimental Etudes: Part 2 by Dr.Tyler Wales

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Dec 19, 2022

    For a little over a year now, I’ve been working to record all of Joseph Tompkins’ Nine French-American Rudimental Etudes, Vol. 1. I started this project as I was finishing up my final year as a doctoral candidate in percussion performance at Arizona State University. The project began as a way for me to both practice the etudes and create accurate recordings of these pieces on YouTube for others to watch. It evolved, however, into a significant amount of time spent wondering how to approach the whole book from a detailed point of view, mostly focused on how I would actually teach these to future students. This two-part series of posts is meant to share some of my thoughts on each etude in the hope that it may help other educators approach not only these Tompkins etudes, but snare drum in general, with more care.

    Following, you will find a separate section for each individual etude. Part 1 addressed etudes 1–4, and Part 2 will now discuss etudes 5–9. Within the evaluation of each etude, I will present various considerations for study and performance, including problem areas, particularly tough passages, and potential solutions I have developed through my own study. I have attempted to organize my thoughts in a way that makes pedagogical sense, so the information one may be looking for is easy to find. I provide a link to my videos after the explanation of each etude.

    ETUDE V
    This etude is one of my personal favorites from the book and certainly one of the “choppiest,” or fastest and most technical. The performer must possess the ability to play very quickly and the coordination to play some of the more difficult flurries of notes, especially on page two. Building up triplet rhythms with check patterns should be the first concern for the tough passages right before and after rehearsal letter C. After this, basic triplet exercises should be implemented while working the tempo up to half note equals 80 bpm. I initially set my metronome to 60 bpm and increased it in intervals of five until I felt comfortable at the written tempo.

    The hybrid rudiment “hertas” are scattered throughout this etude and are very easily broken down with a right-right-left triplet sticking. Tompkins goes a step further than hertas and introduces the triplet rhythm with a grouping of sextuplets nested in a single triplet partial. These can be a very difficult rhythm to master, but going over the check slowly and taking care to space the notes evenly over the triplet will greatly increase the rhythmic accuracy required to play this second page. 

    One more measure of note is the bar after rehearsal B; playing with a metronome to achieve perfect upbeats is essential! Overall, rapid hand speed changes and fast choppy sections make this etude unique and fun to learn!

    https://youtu.be/mux_xnNVYKs

    ETUDE VI
    Upon opening the book to this particular etude, you may think “that is a LOT of notes,” and you would be correct. The piece begins with a rather fast and unforgiving cold attack. The training to accurately start with a thirty-second-note sextuplet is tough and requires an intimate knowledge of the piece’s tempo. The flurries of thirty-second-note rhythms do not stop in the first line, and therefore players should take care to make sure their technique is prepared for these faster passages. For those playing through this book in sequential order, their hands should be set up nicely for this, and for many of the difficult “fivelet” rhythms, especially two lines before rehearsal letter C.

    Our “skip” note is also back in this etude, nestled under sextuplet umbrellas. I had substantial difficulty figuring out the transition from measure 15 to 16. I played through the check pattern many times without the skip notes, and took care to play through the written stickings as much as possible. Eventually, I added the skip notes back in and made sure all of my accents were placed accordingly. 

    Another, slightly lesser, concern for this etude is the number of quick dynamic changes that should be noted, mostly on the first page. I tend to play through these etudes the first time with minimal dynamics, and gradually add them in as I break down each section. This piece requires careful detailed reading and very crisp rhythmic accuracy, so make sure to simplify everything as needed during personal practice!

    https://youtu.be/ALRzri1eWGU

    ETUDE VII
    Etude VII requires a multitude of different techniques, possibly more than anywhere else in this book. The first two lines are relatively straightforward, except for some quick subdivision changes, mostly “fivelets” to sixteenth notes. The mezzo piano written for the first repeat, and the forte for the second time through need to be carefully practiced, and I have tried my best to exaggerate these dynamics slightly in my recording for a more dramatic effect.

    Beginning at rehearsal letter A, there begins a theme of upbeat entrances. Tompkins has put a lot of detail into these measures rhythmically to make sure the player understands the difference in the drags and nested 3’s (such as in measures 8 and 10). Here, I have tried to overstate the “similar” rhythms and really portray the subtle differences. 

    After this section at B onward, a lot of control is needed to constantly change from sextuplet-based rhythms to sixteenth-based ones. Some skip notes appear on the second page, so continuing the practice of becoming familiar with the check pattern is crucial. This etude needs some time with the skeleton, getting rid of diddles, to sound confident throughout.

    https://youtu.be/5VCv8-1AWm4

    ETUDE VIII
    One of my personal favorite etudes in this book is VIII, mostly because of the innate groove displayed throughout. There is a subtle backbeat amidst all the thirty-second-note rhythms in this particular piece, and portraying that in your playing can be rather difficult. First, executing the tougher rhythms like “fivelet” thirty-second notes or the nested 3’s four bars after rehearsal A is important. Break down these rhythms to their simplest form in order to gain a deeper understanding of them. Second, maintain control over ALL accents to help push the groove of the etude along. 

    Some of the tougher sections in this etude need to be specifically highlighted so the performer can take extra care in practicing them. In bar five, Tompkins asks the performer to play a flam right after a double left-handed thirty-second note. Working on really soft 3’s should help make this one a bit easier. 

    Timing wise, the bar before rehearsal A can be tricky, so practice without the drags as much as possible so the “fivelets” are extremely accurate. At rehearsal B, the two grooviest bars in the entire book must come across as relaxed and nuanced. I do this through minor stresses and other micro phrasing ideas to keep a half-time feel going. 

    If the performer has all base rhythms in this one locked down with a metronome, and all the accents in the correct places, then this etude really comes alive and can be one of the most enjoyable to listen to from an audience perspective.

    https://youtu.be/5ywZf-4V2aI

    ETUDE IX
    The last etude in this series is relatively straightforward and fairly comprehensive in nature if you have worked through the book from the beginning. The first thing one should work on for this piece is the check patterns of all rhythms, because of the numerous embellishments on top of “fivelets,” sextuplets, and sixteenth notes. Once the check patterns are perfected, add the buzzes and diddles back in to assure the hand speeds are all cohesive. 

    I worked on dynamics during this learning process pretty extensively, as there are some quick crescendos and diminuendos. Players should also note that in these dynamic changes there are no indications of exact volume, so they should have a plan of how dramatic to make these swells.

    The skip note should be built up from the base rhythms as the first page contains upwards of 10 instances. Quick flurries of notes are common on the short second page, so I singled out my hands individually and practiced one beat at a time. 

    One last thing to note about page 18 of the book is the upstrokes and drop strokes. These should be given care, as the upstrokes especially give way to a peculiar pop sound when played correctly. This is further indicated by the joint staccato and accent marking above the notes.

    https://youtu.be/iJWuR3aCh9U

    FINAL REMARKS
    This book has dramatically improved my snare drum playing through its complex rhythms, many dynamics, and “choppy” sections throughout. Many parts of this selection of etudes require quickly switching the muscle groups used, and they force the performer to play with finesse and intensity simultaneously. The musical growth that students and teachers alike can gain from playing any of these solos should not be taken lightly, and I implore you to add the book into your rotation of pedagogical materials.

    Tyler WalesDr. Tyler Wales is a performer and educator of percussion based out of Fort Worth, Texas. He completed his B.A. degree in Music from Kutztown University, M.M. in Music Performance in Percussion from West Chester University, and D.M.A degree in Percussion Performance from Arizona State University. He is the Assistant Percussion Director for the Aledo ISD in Aledo, Texas. Tyler has been teaching and playing for 10 years and also arranges battery and front ensemble music for marching bands.

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