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Tuesday Tips: Games we Play by Michael Huestis

Feb 8, 2022, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

I am a competitive person, and I love to play competitive games. When I was a kid, it didn’t matter if it was basketball, baseball, ping-pong, video games, or skateboarding. I just wanted to play games with my friends, and I wanted to win.

In elementary school, my cousins would get together on holidays and we would grab a basketball and play “HORSE” out in the driveway. We’d try crazy shots over the family car or shooting over the backboard. When I was in middle school, my skateboarder friends and I would get together and play a game called “SKATE” adapted from the same rules. One kid would try a trick, and if it was successful, the next kid would attempt the same trick. If they failed, they got an “S” and the unlucky individual who spelled out “SKATE” first lost.

These games were fun, competitive, and also educational. They pointed out weaknesses in our abilities. They put pressure on us to execute in front of an audience. They also forced us to increase our “bag of tricks” (or our “vocabulary,” to put it in a more educational context). Games that target specific skills in sport have always been a part of the training model. Golf has putting games. Baseball has relay-throw races. Hockey has skill competitions. Soccer has dribbling slalom races.

We can do the same thing with percussion!

All that is needed is a group of students, sticks, a pad, and a metronome. Each student plays four of any rudiment (four paradiddles, four flam-accents, etc.) at a specified metronome marking. If the student next to them can play it, it passes along to the next student, and so forth. If a student cannot perform the rudiment at that tempo, they get a letter. When a player misses four rudiments and collects the letters forming the word “DRUM,” they are eliminated from the game. The game continues until only one student is left, and that person is declared the winner.

This game is conducted in the same way. Each student performs a scale (or scale pattern) with a metronome. The next student is then required to perform the scale and either passes the task or receives a letter. This is a lot of fun when students get to the point where they ALL can play their major scales or the basic scale patterns, forcing them to expand their vocabulary to include minor scales, modal scales, or more advanced scale patterns in order to “letter” their opponents. 

This game uses the same format, but applied to four-mallet stroke types: single independent, single alternating, double vertical, or double lateral strokes. A student picks a stroke type, an interval (usually a perfect fourth or fifth to start), and a metronome marking. The student then performs a measure of the stroke type, and the normal rules of the game are followed to completion.

I’m sure versions of this game can be played using drumset grooves, tuning timpani intervals, ii-V-I progressions in various keys, etc. One way or another, I encourage everyone to have some fun as they build their musical toolbox with friends!

Michael HuestisMichael Huestis teaches at Prosper High School in the North Dallas area. Michael serves as assistant director of the Music for All, Sandy Feldstein National Percussion Festival, is serving his first term as the Texas PAS Chapter president, and is the founder of the Percussion Solutions for Band Directors social media group. Huestis’ ensembles have performed at PASIC, Music for All National Percussion Festival, MENC Biennial Conference, Bands of America Grand National Championships, President Bush’s inaugural parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Drum Corps International World Championships.

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