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  • Tuesday Tips: Coping with Silence by Josh Gottry

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jun 15, 2021

    It is far harder to play rests than notes. Notes are studied, repeated, and drilled in every way possible. Rests are ignored and often outright skipped in personal practice. Since rests require no technical or musical skill, they seemingly don’t need to be rehearsed, but how we handle silence of all lengths greatly impacts the success of the notes we do play!

    One of my most memorable orchestra experiences in college was a piece, the title of which I’ve long forgotten, in which my first entrance was in measure 308. Percussionists often count a lot of rests, but that was bordering on ridiculous! In this case, my best asset was not my ability to count, but my ability to listen. The orchestral cues marked in my part, plus the notes I added about specific things to listen for, were critical to my awareness of where we were in the score at any given point. Even though I was responsible for silence, other parts within the orchestra filled that space for me, and as long as I knew what went where, I was able to avoid getting lost. This is true in shorter rests as well. Utilizing cues from around the ensemble, carefully marked in your part, can greatly aid confidence in playing notes immediately following rests of any length.

    That being said, all musicians — and especially percussionists — need to learn and practice the art of counting multiple-measure rests. The first key in this regard is to come up with a plan as to how you count. Do you look at the part or look at the conductor? Do you move your lips or whisper silently to yourself to maintain focus as you count? Do you use your fingers to keep track of which measure you are counting within a multi-measure? Have you practiced counting 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, 2 – 2 – 3 – 4, 3 – 2 – 3 – 4, etc.? If you don’t have a game plan for how you can maintain focus and accuracy in counting, you are inevitably risking mistakes. 

    The second step in the process is to actually practice counting rests. This obviously happens in full ensemble rehearsals, because you can’t ask the ensemble to skip ahead when you get to a 16-measure rest. It should also happen in your personal practice, at least in large section or full-piece run-throughs. Being consistently exposed to the duration of that silence will make it more comfortable in performance.

    The final, and often most problematic spaces, are short ones, like for example the rests that precede your accented entrance on the & of 3 in a measure. Now we come to my favorite word in all of percussion pedagogy: subdivide! Any time you have any combination of rhythms and rests that are not continuously the same (e.g., the eighth notes in Eight on a Hand), you should latch on to the fastest rhythmic value present and count that continuously. Even if most of the phrase is quarter and eighth notes/rests, if there is one dotted-eighth and sixteenth note figure in the passage, you should be continuously counting 1 e & a, 2 e & a, etc. The only way to consistently place the notes we play within space is to always be identifying each point in the rhythmic grid that might include a note. The more we subdivide (in practice and performance), the more accurate we will be able to place every note within our part.

    Rests look easy but silence is awkward, and distractions are easily found when our hands aren’t actively playing. Whether you have 307 measures or two-and-a-half beats of rest, having a game plan for how you count and listen during those indicated silences is key to your success with the notes everyone hears!

  • Tuesday Tips: Building Your Drum Set Fill Vocabulary by Josh Gottry

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Apr 13, 2021

    The key to being a successful drum set player is the ability to keep solid time using an appropriate groove for the style of the tune. That being said, if you don’t step outside of that groove to aid in transitions and delineate formal elements of the chart, you aren’t fully contributing. There are lots of great drum set books with sample fills and things to consider when constructing a fill, but allow me to give you two ideas to help quickly craft effective fills in a variety of settings and build your fill vocabulary. The first approach is based on a single rhythm with a variety of voicings; the second is based on a single surface with a variety of rhythmic and articulation elements.

    Start with a single rhythm. For use with a rock beat, this may be four eighth notes (3 & 4 &); for a swing beat, perhaps you might use a triplet followed by swung eighth notes (3 trip let 4 – let). Start playing time on the kit and after three-and-a-half bars, play the rhythm selected on the snare drum, then return to the groove. Loop this same four-bar phrase over and over, each time playing the same rhythmic fill, but orchestrating it differently. Instead of 3 & 4 & on the snare, perhaps it is 3 on the floor tom, the & of 3 on the high tom, beat 4 on the snare drum, and the & of 4 on a half-open hi-hat. The next time you might play 3 and 4 on the snare drum with the &s on the bass drum. The key is to keep the same fill rhythm each time, focusing your attention on the creativity of where you place those notes on the kit. After a few minutes, start the process over with a new rhythm.

    Pick a drum. Perhaps to keep it simple, start with the snare drum that is right in front of you. Pick a style and start playing time on the kit. After three bars or so, play a short fill on the drum you chose and return to the groove. Loop this same four-bar phrase over and over, but each time, do something different with your fill without changing drums. Play the same rhythm but add flams, rolls, or accents. Take the rhythm you played but start one eighth note earlier in the measure. Perhaps you could add a crescendo or decrescendo to the fill or play the right hand significantly louder than the left and see how it sounds. Play the fill on the rim instead of the drum or maybe just one hand near the edge and one in the center. The key in this exercise is to take away the distractions of all the many surfaces available to use, allowing you to simply focus on the creativity of rhythm and articulation. Once you’ve run out of ideas on one surface, choose a different drum or cymbal, or perhaps give yourself two options instead of just one and see where that leads.

    Happy drumming!

  • Tuesday Tips: Buzz Roll Basics by Josh Gottry

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Feb 16, 2021

    There are three critical elements to a quality buzz roll. Each of these can be developed in the first weeks for a beginning percussionist, but are also worth revisiting by the most experienced professional. A quality buzz roll consists of individual buzzes that are thick, sustained, and consistent.

    Each stroke in a quality buzz roll must be thick. A buzz roll with too much space between bounces doesn’t have the characteristic texture required to sound smooth and full. With the stick held securely between the index finger and thumb, the middle finger is the digit most responsible for controlling the degree of pressure to create a thick buzz stroke. Practice multiple buzz strokes with one hand at a single dynamic level, consistently evaluating the thickness of each buzz stroke and adjusting as necessary. Repeat the process with the other hand, then repeat at a variety of dynamic levels, both with repeated strokes in one hand and with alternating hands. The space between bounces will necessarily become wider as the volume increases, but the buzz of snares at that volume will fill in some of that additional space.

    Each stroke within a quality buzz roll must be long—or at least long enough to fill the space between strokes by the opposite hand. Most younger percussion students try to roll too fast, choking off the length of each buzz stroke and working far too hard for too little benefit. To practice the length of your buzz stroke, set a metronome no faster than 60 bpm and play one buzz stroke per beat, striving to sustain the buzz (still with a thick texture) until the next stroke. A controlled, long buzz will allow for more options in the underlying rhythmic framework of your roll without sacrificing a full, smooth sound.

    A quality buzz roll must consist of consistent strokes. It is necessary for each successive stroke within a buzz roll to be similar in thickness, length, volume, and rhythmic spacing for the roll itself to sound smooth. A series of quality buzz strokes that are long and thick, but vary from stroke to stroke, even to the slightest degree, will create a choppy buzz roll. Both by practicing individual buzz strokes with each hand and alternating strokes between hands, strive to make each stroke identical to the previous one at all times.

    Again, while these concepts are suitable for beginning percussionists, they are worth incorporating in your practice routine, regardless your level of proficiency. The buzz roll always has room for improvement!

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