A Better Percussion Section in 12 Weeks: Improved Timing & Interpretation

A Better Percussion Section in 12 Weeks: 

Improved Timing & Interpretation

by Rich Viano

This article and attached material will provide you with a plan that is guaranteed to improve your percussion section in 12 weeks. As I have mentioned in previous articles, the secret to success is getting the kids to understand what it is you wish to accomplish and why.



Let’s take it step by step in parts. Open up the attached score. This is a sixteenth note timing exercise.  Its fundamental purpose is to master the value of sixteenth notes in a multitude of combinations.  It begins with a 4/4 bar of consecutive sixteenth notes.   This bar is called the Check Pattern.  It will serve as a spatial reference.  It gives the kids a chance to “check” the full value of an entire bar of sixteenths.  After the bar of sixteenths we add on a “sequence” pattern. Each sequence is created by removing one sixteenth note from each beat grouping and replacing it with a sixteenth rest. 


 The “form” of the exercise is called 4/2/1/0.  Four counters: four beats of check, four beats of sequence.  Two counters: two beats of check, two beats of sequence.  One counters: one beat of check, one beat of sequence.  Zero counters: the check pattern is omitted and the four sequence patterns are performed in one bar consecutively.  The last piece of information with regard to the structure and form of the exercise is the repeats.  The four counters are played only once, without a repeat.  The two counters are performed twice. The one “counters” are performed four times and the zero “counters” are performed four times.  


This exercise also reinforces straight sticking combinations.   The downbeats and upbeat eighth notes are assigned to the right hand while the “E” and “A” beats are assigned to the left hand.  Regardless of the sequence pattern, these sticking principles hold true.  For example: 1-E-A would have an R-L-L sticking assignment.   


Using the sticking rule above you will notice that the first two sequences leave the right hand playing consecutive eight notes.  Define that sub-division as a check within a check.  With younger students, smaller subdivisions seem to be easier to keep track of.  To reinforce this concept, have the kids play consecutive hand-to-hand sixteenth notes and move the “E” and “A” beats on their leg.  


The third and fourth patterns maintain the “E” and “A” counts.  Therefore the left hand now plays consecutive strokes that never waiver from the check pattern.  Isolating the consecutive right hand stokes in patterns one and two and the consecutive left-hand strokes in patterns three and four gives the kids what I call a “constant.”  Their quality of sound will improve when you get the kids to focus on playing the bar of check with consistent hand-to-hand strokes.  Be sure to define a starting tempo by recognizing and identifying the student’s ability to play a consistent check pattern. 


The first pattern is the rhythm:


Click on image below for large view


Click here for printable PDF


The “A” count of the grouping has been removed and replaced with a rest on each beat.  At first, have the students perform the sequence pattern by striking the rim of the drum on the rested sixteenth.  This way, the kids maintain the flow of the check pattern while hearing the sequence pattern.  The rim note will give them a sonic reference that defines the value of the rest.  Good timing is not achieved by just mastering the notes being performed.  It requires the kids to be able to recognize and control the space left in between.  The other benefit of stoking the rest note on the rim is maintaining the perpetual motion of the check pattern.  It is important that the quality of sound established in the check pattern transfers to the sequence. 


Spending 20 minutes or more a day on this exercise will do wonders for the kids.  Look at any arrangement that you have and look at how many times these types of rhythms show up.  In most cases these rhythms are the primary rhythms for more advanced rudimental treatments.  Working on this exercise will benefit advanced players as well. Building a good quality of sound and spatial control with these rhythms can open up doors for more advanced rudimental treatments. Make this exercise a part of your daily routine for 12 weeks.  You will notice a significant difference.


Best of luck,

Rich Viano

Rich Viano is the Manager of the Express Music Publishing Percussion Division. He is also the leader of the Village Beatniks at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom and the Percussion Designer/Writer for the Boston Crusaders Drum & Bugle Corps.  Rich was recently published in the Texas Bandmasters Association Journal Volume 3, Number 2, December 2001

If you’ve enjoyed this article you may be interested in reading some of our other percussion related articles and more; click the Staff Notes Articles button to the left to view our article archives

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