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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Percussion ensemble in orchestra - teaching subdivision

A couple months ago I was at a community event where various groups performed.  A local orchestra performed some fun movie music.  Since the stage was outside they were mic'd.  As they began to play a small crowd gathering to watch on some seats set up in front of the stage.  Right after the orchestra performed, a drum group from a local university performed and WOW - the crowd went wild!  The chairs in front of the stage filled up and people were moving and getting into the music.  The drum group involved little children and let them have a part in one of their pieces.  The difference in reaction between the two groups was huge...and as an orchestra lover, I was left with the desire to make orchestra more exciting!  What can I do to draw people in?  2 things come to mind- add a drum beat and involve the audience.  This post will focus on...Adding a DRUM BEAT!  Time to think outside the box and draw in our audience with an energetic, infectious performance.

One reason why people love the drum line is because percussion seems cool.  People like a beat - and a good solid beat makes people energized.  I teach string orchestra.  We don't have the benefit of a percussion section.  I learned about a Cajon box drum a few years ago and purchased one for my classroom.  My little drum gets used quite a bit!  Students love to try to create cool drum beats and I have allowed students to add cool beats to some of our concert music.  For example, my Advanced orchestra played 'Perpetuoso' by Brian Holmes...a really fun piece.  It doesn't have a part for percussion, but really lended itself to an added beat with the cajon.  Plus it helped our ensemble with rhythmic accuracy.

My cajon comes with me on every recruiting trip.  We use it to add drum parts to our recruiting music and it the audience love it.  It helps our easy versions of 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' 'Viva la Vida,' and even 'Dragonhunter' come alive.

I just created some sheet music to turn my orchestra into a giant percussion ensemble. Many string groups tap on their instruments to create a drum beat (Simply Three, Piano Guys, Time for Three, Rob Landes).   Here's an example from Simply Three:

This little exercise I wrote called 'Wipe-out' can be performed with stomps and claps away from instruments...but I think it would be more impressive if the percussion sounds were made on the instruments - as long as students are trained to be gentle and not hit instruments too hard.  Click here for an audio file to hear what the piece sounds like:  WIPE-OUT AUDIO

When I was creating a percussion exercise for my students, I realized that many of my students would have a hard time reading the eighth rests and finding the off-beats.  To make my piece accessible for many levels, I created parts that show the subdivisions in each measure.  Students are to perform ONLY the notes which are black and must be silent on the gray notes.  It teaches students how to sub-divide.  It takes tremendous focus and concentration for students to only make sound on the black notes.  Students quickly learn to follow the notes very carefully and a higher level of determination begins to encompass the entire class as they work to make the piece sound awesome.  The piece is called 'Wipe-out' because it takes tremendous effort to only perform the black notes and not accidentally fall into the trap of playing a grey note.

'Wipe-out' can be used as a teaching tool to teach eighth rests.  Have students re-write parts with eighth rests in place of the grey notes and see if they can still count it correctly.  Teach them places where they can combine two eighth rests to create one quarter rest.

I will be using this piece with my beginners and we will perform it when we go recruiting.  I want to electrify my audience of potential students and show them that orchestra can rock, too!

Download Wipe-Out for FREE at my TPT store HERE.

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  1. Thank you for this blog post! I am a percussionist currently studying string education as a part of my degree and I never thought that I could bring my own percussion talent into the string classroom like this! Thank you for the guidance and ideas!

  2. Hello Angela! I had my 7th and 6th grade orchestra students do Wipe Out the last class before spring break. It was tons of fun and they loved using their instruments to make the sounds. As you know, trying to actually teach anything before a break is near impossible. By doing Wipe Out as part of our warm ups they were actually learning subdivision and didn't even know it. Sneaky me!

  3. Angela, you are truly an inspiring teacher! After almost 30 years of teaching orchestra, it is refreshing to see someone with so much enthusiasm who so generously shares ideas. Your things on TPT are excellent as well.