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Equipped for Success

by Jim Catalano

Turning beginning drummers into total percussionists starts with the right kit
More than just people keeping time, the drum players in your school band can be called upon to play a variety of instruments, including timpani, xylophone, marimba, vibes and bells, as well as the occasional tambourine, triangle, wood block and, of course, cymbals. So rather than seeing these band members as simply drummers, it is helpful to think of them as percussionists. As students interested in percussion get started in beginning band, it is important they have the proper equipment. Only then can you ensure that your music program will have well-rounded percussionists.

The Music Instrument Dealer
“The local school music dealer is my friend.” Greater words of wisdom have never been spoken. In addition to supplying instruments for your students, he or she is your contact for instruction books and any future repairs those instruments might need. An experienced dealer can also be a great help at your recruitment meetings.

When it comes to percussion kits, parents can either buy or rent. In either case all sales are final, so renting might be a better option for parents to start. While some students take to their new percussion kits by practicing and succeeding in the school music program, not all continue. Your dealer may offer a “rent-to-own” program and may also allow the transfer of rental fees to an upgraded instrument in the future.

Percussion Kits
It’s the music director’s decision as to what type of kit – drum, bell or a combo kit includes both snare drum and bell set – a percussion student will rent or purchase. It’s also the music educator’s responsibility to ensure the kit is a quality product. Some snare drums are really just SDSOs (Snare Drum-Shaped Objects), which a student will quickly outgrow. It’s important students buy or rent a drum or percussion kit that is good enough to be used for years to come.

A combo kit has one huge advantage over the other two choices – it exposes a beginning student to the total percussion experience right away. Included in a combo kit is a piccolo snare drum, which is made out of steel, aluminum or wood and has dimensions that range from 3 by 13 inches to 4 by 14 inches. (The first number refers to the depth of the shell, the second to its diameter.) Designed to be lighter for transport, a quality piccolo snare is a good drum for all percussion applications.

Bells start on low F and go up two-and-a-half octaves to high C. They should be made out of aluminum and feature a pure tone that is pitched like a piano. Each bell key should be marked with the name of the note, usually etched in the bar. The black notes should have enharmonic markings, A# or Bb. Bells need to be secure, which is why better kits have plastic molded frames on both the high and low end of the bells. Also look for feet on the bottom of the bells so they can be firmly placed on a table. The actual bell bars are attached with nails or screws to the frame, but still allowed to ring freely. Felt washers, or felt or rubber strips insulate the bell bars from the frame, giving the bells a good tone and projection.

The stand comes with a base that holds an interchangeable snare basket and a bell holder, and the music rack fits right on the bells. Drumsticks should be wood and of a medium weight and thickness most commonly referred to as a 2B or SD1. Bell mallets have plastic or wooden handles, and either a hard rubber or plastic ball on the end for striking the bells. The practice pad featured with combo kits is a tunable pad that utilizes a real drumhead in a plastic frame and can be attached to the bell stand. Also included is a drum key, essential for tuning or changing drumheads.

Both the individual drum kits and bell kits should come with all of the above-mentioned equipment. In addition, rather than the tunable pad, some drum kits offer a rubber practice pad, which secures itself to the top of the drumhead and is great for reduced-sound practicing.

Carrying Cases for Transportation
Depending on the requirements of your music program, percussion students may be required to bring their kits back and forth to school. There are three options when choosing a transport case for a percussion kit: hard cases, backpack bags and wheeled bags or cases. Factor in a percussion kit’s weight as well as how a student travels to and from school when offering advice on the best transport case to use.

Guide your student to a percussion kit that has parts servicing. The head will need to be replaced if it gets dented, stretched, dimpled, worn in the middle or split.

The molding process that turns curious students into successful percussionists begins as soon as they decide to join your music program. That’s why it’s essential that they have the equipment they need for their rhythmic and melodic development. Only then, with hard work, can your budding percussionists reach their full potential.

Jim Catalano is the Director of Marketing for the Ludwig/Musser Percussion Company in Elkhart, IN. Jim is an active percussionist who performs with symphonies and jazz bands; he also conducts percussion workshops.