Why Play Percussion?

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Why Play Percussion?

By Kaylie Dunstan; BMus, MMus.

The benefits of learning a musical instrument are well researched. In particular, it provides a child with many skills that can be transferred to other subjects in the classroom. This includes reading, writing, language, problem-solving, mathematics and more generally, self-discipline. Choosing the right instrument for a child is an important decision that will impact their perception of music. Listening to a child’s desire as to their preferred instrument cannot be underestimated. With quality tuition, any instrument is a rich source of enlightenment, not to mention paving the way for individual creativity and expression. This does not mean that learning a musical instrument will always be fun. At times it will be challenging and require a musician to step out of their comfort zone. However, with encouragement and perseverance, students will continuously reap the rewards of their hard work (see Should my Child Have a Go at Music?).

Out of the diverse range of instruments to choose from, percussion requires somewhat of an introduction. The German word for percussion (Schlagzeug) literally translates to ‘hit stuff.’ While this seems primitive at first, rest assured, there is a wealth of technical and musical challenges to be conquered. Having received a Masters in percussion performance, I can assert to the high level of diverse musical fulfilment that percussion can bring. Firstly, the main percussion instruments at the core of the family aside from drum kit are xylophone, snare drum, timpani and marimba. Each of these instruments require different playing techniques and progressively sophisticated music. The marimba offers a unique virtuosic quality with the use of 4-mallet technique (holding two sticks in each hand). This technique is introduced as an optional component of AMEB Grade Two.

Fortunately, one doesn’t need to invest in all of these instruments at the outset. A popular option is to hire/buy a percussion pack consisting of a small glockenspiel (metallic xylophone) and a drum practice pad (without the noise pollution). I am currently writing a method series catering to percussion students at various age-groups. The content is written specifically for those with access to this kind of percussion pack. Students learn the basics of rhythm and pitch awareness through short pieces covering drum kit techniques (played on the practice pad), multi-instrument solos and glockenspiel. Various activities develop sight-reading skills, aural, theory and analysis, as well as improvisation. The books are accompanied by groovy backing tracks, that make practising all the more enjoyable, whilst teaching ensemble-playing skills and keeping a steady beat.

Percussion is highly social in nature with many options available within school for co-curricular involvement. Orchestras and bands are always in need of skilful percussionists to help carry the ensemble because they add colour and diversity to the overall performance. There is also the percussion ensemble which offers students the opportunity to play chamber music within a close-knit group whilst receiving specific instruction on playing techniques. Uniquely, percussion crosses cultural barriers as it explores music styles from around the world, most notably Latin, African, folk music, popular and classical.

With a vast array of instruments, techniques and genres, percussion is a versatile group of instruments. It covers many fundamental music skills, making it an ideal choice for many students. It not only lends itself as a good option as a second instrument, but also as an exclusive art form. Percussionists develop both gross and fine motor skills, pitch and rhythmic awareness. They undertake a journey of discovery, both exploring an exciting sound world, as well as their own artistic expression. I invite you and your child to come and experience the exhilarating kaleidoscope of percussion.