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  • 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


    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.

    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. 

    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.

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

    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. 

    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

  • Your Hearing and You by Eric P. Swanson

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 25, 2023

    Eric P. SwansonI am prejudiced. I prejudge people who do not hear well. Why? Their instrument is not as good as it could be, should be, and perhaps can be. How can we as musicians trust that the people we play with can hear our ideas, process the information, and make good on the effort to make the music as good as it can be? It all starts inside the system of our own hearing. Each time I run into someone who does not hear well and is trying to get the meaning of what is happening based on partial input, I get turned off. It takes an amazing amount of time, effort, and everything I am to get to the rehearsal, the gig, the lesson, the thing where I can show my spirit; I feel cheated when the message may be cut short by an inability to hear. 

    May I ask, what have you done to ensure that you can hear and that I will not feel cheated when we play together? Did you get your hearing tested at PASIC? Did you attend the Hearing Panel discussion at PASIC? Those of us who attended the panel were happy to see many young people in the room who are interested in preserving their hearing. And, as we learned, there is no way to get your hearing loss back! Once the damage to the tiny hairs in your ears is done, the ringing (tinnitus) begins and the options become more limited. Add more practice time and playing time, and your days of listening to loud music may be limited. 

    I have been exposed to loud rock music, concerts, marching band performances, drum set teaching, rehearsals, drum circles, and private practice where I have hurt my hearing. After four decades of playing, I wear excellent ear protection 60–70% of the time I play, and I still have loud screeching in my ears day and night. Insanity! Yes, it will make you feel crazy as the signals in your head (the ringing) are telling you to STOP playing. I cannot stop; I hold the beat dear to my heart and cannot possibly stop. 

    But I must make the time to ensure that I will be able to continue playing until that final moment. I got my hearing tested for the first time in 15 years at PASIC 2022 by the wonderful volunteers from Butler University. I have lost some more of my ability to hear higher pitches, people’s voices, and my interaction with the world at large. 

    Scared yet? You should be. I heard all of us playing for four days at PASIC and it was loud.

    What else can happen to you? Well, it’s not good news. Ever heard of vertigo? Your balance is kept in check by your ear system. What about dementia? You may feel isolation as your senses dull over time and get into your own head. I recently had a bad bout with COVID; I lost my taste and smell, and it left me feeling depressed and alone. If I cannot hear, I am going to start sliding into my own mind again, and without positive reinforcement from the outside world, I may have trouble keeping myself positive and moving forward. And playing — my sanity will be affected.

    Scared yet? But not yet scarred? You will be, so it is time to get the ears tested and the earplugs updated and adjusted to the current state of things. You can get earplugs customized to your current hearing and to protect you from greater loss at different decibels. 

    Please, please, please use a search engine to find where you can get your hearing tested, and take action. You only get one shot at keeping your hearing. Be good to the future you, and get back out there, protect yourself and your hearing, and play!        

    Eric P. Swanson teaches drum set and plays in rock bands. He also facilitates drum circles and is the Treasurer of the Drum Circle Facilitators Guild. He is a member of the PAS Interactive Drumming Committee. 

  • Paul Guerrero’s Sonor “New York” Drumkit

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 23, 2023

    Sonor New York Drumkit

    Donated by Celeste Guerrero, 1993-08-01

    Paul Guerrero (November 5, 1931–March 3, 1989) had an extensive career as not only a professional drummer and musician, but also as a teacher. Born in New Braunfels, Texas, to Mexican-American parents, Guerrero served as a drummer for Woody Herman’s band, Stan Kenton’s band, the North Texas One O’clock Lab Band, and the 4th Army Band. He also performed with major artists such as Henry Mancini, the 5th Dimension, Dean Martin, Sonny and Cher, Chet Baker, and Charlie Barnet. Guerrero earned a doctorate from North Texas State University, eventually spending much of his teaching and performing career in the Dallas area, where he taught at North Texas State, Southern Methodist University, and Richland College. Not only was Guerrero a drummer for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, but he also served as a member of the Board of Directors for that organization.

    Throughout his extensive career of both live and recorded performances, Guerrero endorsed Sonor drums and Evans drumheads. This set, a 6-piece “New York” model Sonor kit, dates from about 1970 and consists of an 8 x 12 tom, 9 x 13 tom, 16 x 16 floor tom, 16 x 18 floor tom, 14 x 22 bass drum, and a 5 x 14 snare drum (model D-426). The toms and bass drum are constructed with 6-ply beech shells and covered with rosewood in a vertical rather than horizontal direction. The drums are equipped with Evans UNO 58 heads. This kit also features “slotted” tension rods and a “rifled” surface on thumbscrews for the hardware, as well as Sonor’s characteristic staggered, “teardrop” lugs for the toms.

    The kit’s hardware is comprised of two cymbal stands, a hi-hat stand, a double tom mount, snare stand, and bass drum pedal. In addition, Celeste Guerrero donated three pairs of sticks and brushes, an additional 12-inch mounted tom, and the throne used by her late husband, which are not shown. Two Zildjian ride cymbals (both 20 inch) and a pair of 15-inch thin Zildjian hi-hat cymbals are each autographed by Guerrero.

    [Note: A feature article on Guerrero by Victor Rendón appeared in the December 2011 issue of Modern Drummer magazine.]

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