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Suggested Reading

1. Rehearsal Rooms

Struggling to improve the acoustics in your band room? Check out how the Medan Band did it.

2. Concerned about playing swing music properly?

Check out my guidelines

3. Ear training exercises for bands

Unlike piano players, ear training is essential for wind band performers. But how many band directors bother to give their bands suitable exercises?

4. Intonation problems

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance. 

5. “Blowing” a wind instrument

A common misconception among wind players is to believe that the air moves through the instrument in order to produce the sound. This is simply not true. 

6. Conducting – suggestions for home practice

The best way for a conductor to improve is in front of a live ensemble. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this is not always possible. Aspiring conductors therefore have little choice but to find other ways of honing their skills.

 

Notation

One of the most difficult problems facing a percussionist is how to interpret the notation, particularly in the case of untuned percussion.  Various systems are in common use.  A conventional five line staff employing the bass clef used to be the most common, even though in most cases no specific pitch was really intended.  Some composers, however, have been known to use the treble clef and (even more confusingly) the alto and tenor clefs.  More recently, composers have begun adopting a neutral or “percussion” clef for non-tuned percussion instruments.  But while this seems to make more sense, the practice is by no means universal, and confusion can still arise if more than two or three percussion parts are written on a single score.

Illustrated below is the usual way many composers distinguish between the regular instruments of a standard drum set. Unfortunately, it is by no means universal.

As if that wasn’t enough, many composers sometimes write as if they were unaware of the varying degrees of damping provided by percussion instruments.  A crotchet (quarter note) played by a timpani, for example, will sound much longer than a crotchet played by a snare drummer.  A cymbal crash will sound even longer.  Does the composer wish the sound to be dampened or to ring out?  Yet another issue is the interpretation of a roll.  Should the performer tie a roll into a successive one, even if no tie is specifically written in? 

Some of these issues have been resolved by common practice. In the orchestral and band literature, notes of a long duration are not rolled but only struck once on the xylophone unless the composer specifies otherwise.  In solo literature, however, the rules are less clear cut.  Resolving such issues relies heavily on the experience and musicality of the percussionist as well as the preferences of the conductor.

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