Performing at CSU

I often walk into schools to find most percussionists love playing a variety of drums, but really dislike playing anything pitched.

This is often an unfortunate side effect of educator’s that look at percussionists as rhythmic technicians and not musicians. When drummers play mallet keyboards, performances tend to be rhythmically enlightened, but musically stale. Internalizing the melodies and harmonies of the keyboard parts through singing can have a dramatic effect on the musical development of your students.

For more ideas on enhancing your students’ musicianship and developing a well-rounded percussion section, check out my article:

I’ve had tremendous success engaging students that previously lacked interest in mallet percussion and enhancing students’ overall musicianship through singing.

Singing is a incredible way to develop musical expression in students that don’t have much experience playing mallet keyboards. It has a magical way of heightening their sensitivity to musical elements, such as dynamics, style, intonation, and strengthening ensemble performance skills.

There’s safety in numbers when it comes to asking young students to sing in front of their peers. Try having the group sing together so no one person’s voice stands out. The syllable “ah” (legato passages) or “la” (staccato passages) work well.

Check out this 1996 article by Mervin Britton, former Professor of Percussion at Arizona State University, published in Instrumentalist, to get ideas for singing snare drum melodies.

When playing a piece with multiple mallet parts, highlight one part at a time. After going through it with one part, you may find it helpful to repeat the process with other parts.

Note: It’s important to have the students sing along with and without the mallet part.


  1. Have the first player run through the phrase (so the group can hear how it goes).
  2. Then have the entire group (ALL players, even those playing non-pitched instruments) sing while the keyboard is played (this reinforces their confidence and knowledge of the part).
  3. Next, have the group sing without the keyboard (encourages a greater focus on natural phrasing, intonation, and ensemble awareness).
  4. Then, have add the keyboard back in along with the singing (the player should sing, too– helps to transfer the musical performance of the singing into the hands of the player).
  5. Finally, have the player perform the keyboard part as a solo for the group (allows you to evaluate their improvement and allows the group to hear the transformation of the part and allowing them to be part of the learning process).


Share your success stories with me! Let me know what worked– what didn’t.

Now go and try it!