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Percussion Show Solutions "Shake Well Before Use"

By Mike S.

One of trickiest situations a drummer/percussionists can find themselves in is that of a pit orchestra for a Broadway style show. Tricky because, among other reasons, he or she is often faced with a part that leaves little or no time to switch to a "proper" mallet.

Additionally, they may be asked to combine two percussion parts into one in order to provide the most percussion for the production. Then, by doing so, find that they've created a part that has them bouncing back and forth between two very different instruments. Forget the notes, the challenge becomes which stick or mallet to grab! In my spare time (as if my Day Gig wasn't enough) I freelance in just such orchestras and can offer a few of my solutions to these problems.

Perhaps the most effective and desirable approach is to simplify. Less is more for this setting. One common and effective way to simplify is to seek out multi-percussion sticks or double ended mallets.The most widely know versions of these are known as Swizzle sticks, but many of the companies now offer versions designed to solve the doubling situations that will occur in the a musical score. I personally have never "warmed up" to double ended mallets or sticks, but I do recognize how efficient they can be at tackling the problems that one will face.

Another approach is to look at the mallets in hand and see if they will work on both instruments or at least until another more appropriate mallet can be picked up. For example a bell mallet can be finessed to play a snare drum. Believe it or not with a little practice you can pull off a decent roll. At the very least, a simple Ump-Chick time pattern can be played with such a mallet.

Finally, the method I tend to gravitate towards combines a bit of both of the previously mentioned approaches. I might for example, turn a timpani mallet (wooden handle please!) around and play "time" on the hi-hat with one hand whilst grabbing another stick or mallet in anticipation of the next cue. Often times the part on the instrument can be "skeletally" played/covered and the audience, performers and MD won't notice or be concerned. Ultimately, the seamless shift (which is my goal) from instrument to instrument doesn't draw attention and will often lead to the comment "Wow, I can't believe there's only one percussionist!"

Offered above are some ideas you can try to see what works for you and your particular situation. Once the concepts are understood you may and should start to develop your own unique technique(s). After all "There's more than one way to skin a show" [phrase modified to conform to HUMANE SOCIETY regulations]

About The Author
Mike is currently an employee of Steve Weiss Music, Inc.

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