By: William Galvin Jr.

What do aspiring percussionists need to learn?

Obviously, they must master their instruments… and therein lies the problem for all high school band directors. With the tremendous growth in the percussion medium during the last decade – more difficult and more expressive writing, and the incorporation of ethnic rhythms and instruments–the student percussionist and his or her director are faced with a daunting task. Unfortunately, the traditional concert band setting doesn’t do much to help students develop their abilities, the students who most want to play are relegated to sitting while the band tunes, works on articulation, tunes, works on blend and balance, tunes, and on and on. It’s a feast or famine situation, there are too few parts to keep everyone involved and challenged or the parts are very involved and require students to move from one instrument to another with proficiency. Simply stated, student percussionists need another outlet. The high school percussion ensemble provides students with a venue in which to play outside of the concert band setting that develops higher levels of individual responsibility, technical proficiency, and musical artistry. It motivates the students and sends a strong message that the band director desires excellent percussion playing. Whether your school has a percussion ensemble or you desire to start an ensemble, the following may be helpful.


Select quality literature. A list of pieces at various levels of difficulty, along with the number of players and instrumentation, are included on this page. Don’t hesitate to call another director, particularly a percussionist, or a director with an existing ensemble for literature suggestions. Assign parts that match the abilities and the needs of your students. Provide parts that will permit each student to be successful while being challenged. Assigning an easy mallet part to a student who plays only snare drum opens new avenues for growth. Establish a rehearsal schedule and distribute it to your students. Establishing what will be rehearsed in advance will increase the likelihood students will be prepared when they arrive for rehearsal.


What are your expectations for the students and what is it you want to accomplish in each rehearsal? Communicating this with your students will save you much aggravation and your students learn time management skills in the process. Balance teaching with rehearsing, technical development with musicality, conducting with coaching. As the level of musicianship improves, your students‚ perception of themselves will improve. Establish a rehearsal atmosphere that minimizes distractions, consistency on this issue will enable your students to achieve musical excellence rapidly.


Your performances should be a manifestation of what the students have learned. It’s not necessary to prepare many pieces for a stand alone concert. Schedule the ensemble to play on the concert band program or share a program with other ensembles. Combining the percussion ensemble and the jazz ensemble is very easily done. Remember to have fun! The percussion ensemble is probably the most efficient way to develop the talents of the percussion student both technically and musically. The benefits of a well defined percussion ensemble program should be the heightened aesthetic pleasures received from participation in a contemporary music program. William Galvin, Jr. is Director of Instrumental Studies and Music Department Chair at Trinity High School, Washington, Pennsylvania. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, he received his Bachelor of Music Education degree from Morehead (KY) State University and Master of Music Education degree from Duquesne University. Mr. Galvin has been awarded the National Band Association’s Citation of Excellence on three occasions and is a recipient of the Citation of Excellence presented by the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, as well as other district and national honors. Mr. Galvin’s articles have been published in Today’s Music Educator, The Director, and PMEA News magazines. His ensembles have performed for four Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Conferences, a Music Educators National Conference Eastern Division Conference, and two Bands of America National Concert Band Festivals. Mr. Galvin is chairman of the Bands of America Educational Advisory Board and president of the Washington County Music Educators Association. He is a past PMEA District President and former chairman of the PMEA Music Booster Affiliate. He maintains an active schedule as a motivational clinician and adjudicator.