When was the last time you practiced an accessory percussion instrument? If you can’t remember the last time that happened, it is time to start adding these instruments into your practice routine. Cymbals, tambourine, and triangle are the instruments that can make or break auditions and are vital to almost all performing groups. During any extra practice time you may now have, this would be a great opportunity to improve on these instruments while auditions and performance are on hold. Using simple practice techniques, you can bring your accessory playing to a much higher level.
How do you go about incorporating tambourine, triangle, or cymbals into your practice routine? Consider developing these techniques using easy snare drum exercises. I like to use Elementary Snare Drum Studies by Mitchell Peters (1988) and Joel Rothman´s Teaching Rhythm (1967). If you do not have access to these specific books, try using the simple exercises that I provide below or anything similar.
For cymbals, the first technique you need to grasp is the motion. The fluid motion you are trying to achieve can be worked on without any cymbals and, in fact, should be! For the Philadelphia-style crash, you should feel the cymbals move in opposite circular directions until they come together to produce a small flam. I like to hold the cymbals at my waist, which is typically more comfortable than holding them higher. This lower set position also allows me to use gravity to produce a better sounding crash.
Once you feel good with the motion, add the cymbals! Here are three additional things to note: 1. make sure to move the same speed towards the cymbals as away; 2. offset the cymbals so the edges do not line-up; and 3. definitely focus on a full-stroke motion.
To start, try to clap simple, long rhythms where you can focus on a circular motion and creating great sounds. Pick practice repertoire where you can also incorporate muffling techniques on rests. When muffling, think about bringing the cymbals directly into your stomach to help pad the sound. The following is an example of a great exercise to practice, incorporating a variety of crash lengths and muffling on rests.
Triangle playing always seems easy to a beginner percussionist, but it is frequently exposed in concert settings and can be deceptively difficult. Using a triangle, try to play through easy snare drum passages that contain five-, nine-, and seventeen-stroke rolls. The focus should be on keeping the necessary 45-degree angle while playing rhythms and then switching to the inside corner for rolls. For more difficult passages, consider mounting the triangle so you can use two beaters instead of one. Mounting your triangle is often a great option for challenging music found in concert band or orchestra repertoire.
The example below involves roll techniques and more complicated rhythms. Focus on bringing out the staccato roll releases so the rhythm is clear.
Tambourine is one of my favorite instruments to play as it often is an exciting and exposed part within large ensemble music! There are several techniques you will need to work on to be confident with your tambourine playing, including shake rolls, thumb/finger rolls, and the knee/fist technique. To begin, hold the tambourine with one hand at a 45-degree angle. This allows the tambourine to produce a great sound that blends the jingles and the batter head. If you choose to hold the tambourine with your dominant hand, the non-dominant hand becomes the “beater” to play with, but allows you to perform shake rolls using your dominant hand. Alternately, you may choose to hold the instrument and execute shake rolls with your non-dominant hand, leaving your dominant hand to play rhythmic passages. The following musical example is what I used to start working on the correct motion to develop my shake roll.
Tambourine Shake Roll Exercise
This exercise should be worked on slow to fast with a metronome (72bpm–192bpm). Try to engage horizontal and vertical motions from the wrist to fill out your shake roll. To make this exercise even more challenging, add dynamics by incorporating crescendos or decrescendos. Revisit the triangle exercise above as well for tambourine, using either shake or thumb/finger rolls depending on the dynamic level.
Whether you are working on accessory basics or advanced skills, here are a few strategic ideas on how to incorporate accessory playing into your practice routine. Create a basic exercise program utilizing at least one accessory instrument before moving on to snare drum or mallets. Set a timer based on how long you want this part of your practice time to last and utilize that time fully. The goal of this exercise program should be to create more consistency on the instrument while trying to improve fundamental and extended techniques. These instruments could also be used for sight-reading. Sight-reading is a necessary skill, so why not combine that with accessory playing? I have even seen sight-reading on accessory instruments come up during live auditions; at the time I was not as prepared as I should have been for it.
Remember, the goal of practicing is to help you develop into a well-rounded percussionist. This should mean that you put just as much time into accessory playing as snare drum, mallets, drum set, or timpani. Let’s face it, most of the time these are the instruments that we will be playing in our large ensembles. Hopefully these strategies will help you achieve your goal of being the best percussionist that you can be.
Sean Rode holds a master’s degree in music performance from Rutgers University and a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He works as a member of the front ensemble staff for The Cadets, United Percussion, and West Chester University and freelances as a percussionist in the greater Philadelphia area.
- Astorga, R. (2019, November 9). Crash cymbals 101. Band director talk shop. banddirectorstalkshop.com/crash-cymbals-101/
- Astorga, R. (2019, January 7). Tambourine 101. Band director talk shop. banddirectorstalkshop.com/tambourine-101/
- Pena Young, S. (2016, January 17). Percussion instruments 101: How to play the concert triangle. newmusicresource.blogspot.com/2016/01/percussion-instruments-101-how-to-play.html
- Peters, M. (1988). Elementary Snare Drum Studies. Mitchell Peters.
- Rothman, J. (1967). Teaching Rhythm: For all instruments/class or individual instruction. JR Publications.