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  • Fooling Around with Drums: You can learn a lot by experimenting on your own By Rick Mattingly

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | May 15, 2023

    The father of one of my better students asked to speak with me one day. “Is he doing okay?” the father asked, making it clear that he had doubts about his son’s progress.

    “He’s doing fine,” I said. “I can always tell that he’s practiced his assignment, and he’s making steady progress.”

    “Well…that’s good,” he said, but something was obviously bothering him. “He practices every day, but a lot of times he just seems to be fooling around and playing whatever he wants to play.”

    “I’m really glad to hear that,” I replied.

    He looked at me a moment as if trying to decide whether or not I was kidding. “You’re glad to hear that he’s fooling around?” he finally asked.

    “Absolutely,” I replied. “Playing a musical instrument isn’t just about reproducing the notes on a page. It’s also about creativity and self-expression, and the best way to develop those talents is through experimentation. Granted, there are specific things that a student needs to learn, and there is a lot of discipline involved. But part of the learning process involves self-discovery, and that’s usually the result of ‘fooling around’ and seeing what you come up with.

    “In some respects,” I added, “I’m more concerned about the kids who ONLY practice their lesson and never play their drums just for the sheer joy of playing than about the ones who hardly ever practice their actual lesson material, but who love to get behind the drums and flail away. The ones who approach practicing drums as though it were just another homework assignment don’t seem to understand that you play an instrument; you don’t just work it.

    “Your son seems to have the perfect balance,” I assured the father. “He’s definitely practicing his assignments, but he’s also having fun with drumming. And at this stage, the fact that he’s having fun is the more important aspect.”

    It took me several years of teaching to understand all that I told that parent. At first, my main concern was that a student played the assignment well. That made the half-hour lesson nicer for both of us.

    But I gradually started noticing what seemed like an odd phenomenon. Some (not all) of the students who played their lessons perfectly week after week didn’t stay with drums more than a few months. Meanwhile, there were certain students who didn’t come in as well prepared, but those were often the students who stayed with it and became really good drummers.

    After teaching enough of both types, I began noticing common traits. Some of the ones who played their lessons perfectly each week barely said a word or asked a question. Conversely, some of the ones who were not as prepared for their lessons were full of questions and comments about different drummers, bands, techniques, or equipment. I came to realize that they were full of questions because they were really excited about drumming. Perhaps they lacked the maturity to buckle down and practice, but kids eventually grow up and get more serious.

    Over the years I’ve concluded that desire has a lot more to do with success than talent. Of course, the students who ultimately do the best have both. But lack of natural talent can be overcome by hard work and the guidance of a good teacher. For all the talk about how teachers have to motivate their students, the really successful students are the ones whose desire comes from within.

    And the ones with the most desire are going to want to spend a certain amount of time “fooling around” behind the drums. Chances are that someone will tell them to stop fooling around and just practice their assignment. But it’s important for students and parents to know that it’s desirable to experiment and play whatever you’re inspired to play as part of a practice session.

    It’s not just a matter of making lessons more fun. It’s also about encouraging personal expression — something that everyone has the right to experience. What better way to experience the joy of creativity than through drumming?

    Rick MattinglyRick Mattingly is a drum teacher, an editor and author of drum-instruction books for Hal Leonard Corporation, and Executive Editor of Percussive Notes magazine.

  • Execution of Ripple Rolls for Four-Mallet Marimba By Christopher Wilson

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | May 08, 2023

    When working with students who are learning four-mallet marimba chorales, I emphasize the use of roll speed and roll variations as an extra element of musicality and tone color. While there are some works for marimba in which the composer specifically writes for the use of ripples rolls (often with an “S” notation in the note stem), I feel artistically that the performer can also choose when to implement a ripple roll, lateral roll, or traditional 2+2 roll.

    Both Leigh Howard Stevens and Nancy Zeltsman define a ripple roll as being distinctive from a double lateral roll. Stevens defines the differences in an article published in Percussive Notes Volume 19, Number 1 (Fall 1980), and Zeltsman details ripple rolls in her method book, Four-Mallet Marimba Playing: A Musical Approach for All. In short, the ripple roll is traditionally executed by allowing the inside mallet to “flop” behind the outside mallet, creating a sort of flam effect, as opposed to using a twisting motion like when executing a double lateral stroke. This is especially evident in Zeltsman’s marimba recordings, including her recordings of “Merlin” and “From My Little Island.”

    To execute a true ripple roll, players should start in the same manner that they would for a traditional 2+2 roll. This should include wrist strokes of alternating double vertical strokes. Depending on the grip, the player will allow the inside mallet to be loose to strike after the outside mallet. But it’s important to start with the double vertical stroke, or else the speed of the roll will be too slow. Think of this more like executing a double stroke roll on snare drum, where the player uses one wrist stroke and allows the stick to bounce a second time.

    If the player uses Stevens technique, lift the middle finger off the base of the inside mallet. This will allow the base of the mallet to move “up and down” inside the palm of the hand. Next, use a wrist stroke to prep and strike the marimba. What should happen is that because the inside mallet is free to “flop,” it will lag behind the outside mallet and therefore strike after the outside mallet.

    If the player uses either traditional cross grip or Burton grip, the operation is similar. This time, instead of lifting the middle finger, the player should lift the thumb so that it is not pressing down on the inside mallet. From here, it’s the same; as the player preps with a wrist stroke, the inside mallet will lag behind the outside mallet as it is not being pressed into place by the thumb.

    It can be challenging for some percussionists to feel comfortable with this approach to executing rolls. The alteration to their grip can make players feel like they are losing control of the inside mallet. A good practice strategy could include the following steps:

    1. Practice one hand at a time using a wrist stroke and allowing the inside mallet to “flop” after the outside mallet. Do not worry about speed, how much space is in between the two notes, or the overall sound. Simply look for the flam to occur.

    2. Practice alternating between a traditional 2+2 roll and a ripple roll at a medium tempo. This could look like 4 or 8 alternating double verticals (R L R L), a pause, then 4 or 8 alternating strokes where the player allows the inside mallet to “flop.” This purpose of this is to train the player to use the double vertical stroke and not to twist the wrists.

    3. Play a chord with traditional 2+2 roll at a comfortable roll speed, then lift where necessary to create the ripple roll.

    For further questions about how to execute a ripple, please feel free to reach out to the author via email:

    Dr. Christopher Wilson is the coordinator of percussion at Washington State University, where he teaches applied percussion, conducts the percussion ensemble, and serves as Assistant Director of the Cougar Marching Band. He performs as principal timpanist in the Washington-Idaho Symphony and Walla Walla Symphony Orchestras. Dr. Wilson has an active presence in the Percussive Arts Society, where he is the president of the Washington Chapter and a member of the PAS Education Committee. Withing the Education Committee, he chairs the PASIC FUNdamentals subcommittee and regularly contributes to the PAS Classroom series.

  • Learning the Vibraphone ​by Jerry Tachoir

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Apr 24, 2023

    The vibraphone in the university setting is the “elephant in the room.” The instrument has fascinated a lot of percussionists, but it scares them to death as they realize there is a lot more to this instrument than just hitting the bars with a mallet. The pedal and the ringing bars are the problem. It’s much easier to control all playing aspects on the marimba: if you want a note to sustain, you roll, and there is no pedal and no ringing notes. 

    Then there is the issue that the vibraphone has been associated with jazz from its conception. One is then expected to know chords, modes, and have the skillset to improvise and create chord voicings on the fly with proper voice leading and correct use of tensions (9, #11, 13, etc.). It’s too complicated. Just play Bach on the marimba and all is good. I see more college percussionists playing nice marimba than I do playing nice vibraphone pieces. 

    Yes, the vibraphone is somewhat complex to play well; however, it is obtainable with proper coaching and knowledge and, of course, practice. This is the reason that I started the “Ask Jerry” series, to help clarify the mysteries of the vibraphone. As a professional mallet artist/clinician, I frequently get asked questions regarding vibraphone technique, harmony, improvisation, mallet selection, dampening and pedaling, etc. I not only get these questions from private students but during my clinic events and through emails. I began by answering these questions one on one, but started to realize as I was getting several redundant questions that there is a strong desire for common knowledge on the vibraphone. I decided that instead of answering question one at a time, I would put together a video series titled “Ask Jerry Tachoir.” 

    We are now finishing season two of what is becoming a popular series on YouTube and is available to all percussionists across the globe at no expense. I’ve received great comments on the series, as this has been a great format to help educate and answer common questions, especially for those who live in remote areas and are unable to find a local vibraphone teacher. If you want to ask me a question, go to my website at and click on the upper right contact tab. Fill out the information and ask your question, and I will offer a video answer and post on YouTube or on the education tab on my website.

    Sadly, many university percussion teachers are not proficient on the vibraphone, and that is understandable, as the percussion world requires knowledge on so many instruments. Playing vibraphone well requires a lot of time learning to control the ringing bars through proper dampening and pedaling techniques. Being a good vibraphonist takes a lot of clinical observation and harmonic knowledge of what notes can ring together and not sound bad and what notes really need to be dampened. Ringing half steps and seconds, for example, can sound horrible, unless you want a specific dissonant effect. Intervals larger than 3rds can sound fine and be allowed to ring to help support the harmony. The vibraphone offers the ability to sustain a chord and play a melody or improvise on top while the harmony is sounding. This, again, requires a great deal of dampening technique to pull it of and sound clean. 

    Another issue I’ve noticed with mallet players in general is a lack of dynamics. Everything tends to be loud with a lot of arm motion. You need to reduce motion of the arms and mallets to increase accuracy and speed; with less motion, you are more likely to NOT hit a wrong note. Sensitivity on the instrument through dynamics and phrasing creates a very musical performance, which is the desirable outcome. Don’t rely on sheer strength to play loud; use microphones to enhance the volume and prevent injury to your wrists. Playing too hard takes the subtleties out of one’s performance and inevitably causes technique problems. Playing clean, clear, with stimulating improvisations and lush harmonies comes with keen observation of all these mentioned techniques. 

    I haven’t even mentioned finding a mallet that works for you and gives the desired sound. I’m not one for using a hard mallet to be heard. I dislike the harsh sound of the vibes played with a hard mallet. I prefer a subtle, slightly softer mallet that offers a full tone from the bars without a lot of the attack. I’m very lucky to have worked with the Innovative Percussion Company to create such a general mallet that covers the entire spectrum of the sound I’m looking for, from soft to very aggressive and everything in between, even on the marimba. Having recorded several albums with these mallets, I truly believe I get the best vibe sound — very full, very lush without the obnoxious clanking and attack sound. 

    Recording the vibraphone is a bit of a challenge. There can be issues with frame rattling, pedal noises, dampening bar sounds, and the transients associated with the bars themselves. That would be a whole other article, but trust your ears and be flexible to adjust your technique and mallet usage to get a good recorded sound. You will be pleased with the outcome if you put the time into it.

    Even thought the vibraphone is known as a predominant jazz instrument, it can be used in any situation. I’ve played on pop albums, bluegrass albums, and rock albums, and have played gigs throughout my career in many different styles of commercial music. It creates a nice novelty look and sound to the group. Next time you book a gig, consider a four-mallet vibraphonist instead of a keyboard player; you might be surprised how well this goes over. 

    Yeah, the vibraphone is the elephant in the room and that can be the real star of the circus. Enjoy. 

    Jerry Tachoir is a Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz mallet artist and a graduate of the Berklee College of Music. He is the author of Contemporary Mallet Method – an approach to the Vibraphone and Marimba, published by Riohcat Music. The Jerry Tachoir Group has performed at most of the major jazz festivals and concert halls throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The group’s latest CD, Stories, has received rave reviews and international airplay. ( The Duo Tachoir (piano and vibes) is popular on the jazz and college circuit. Their new recording, Shades of Blue, has also received rave reviews and international airplay. Tachoir has served on the faculty for Berklee College in Boston and Belmont University in Nashville. For more information visit

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