Building A Better Percussion Section

Building A Better Percussion Section

© 2001 Majestic Percussion Reprinted with Permission

Dr. Stephen Crawford

Whether it is the orchestra, wind ensemble, percussion ensemble, jazz ensemble, opera/musical theatre orchestra, dance band, or world and ethnic music, Dr. Stephen Crawford brings his thirty-plus years of percussion performance to these varying ensembles. His love and enthusiasm for music, his interests in the advancement of the art, and the education of musicians of all ages has kept him in demand as a performer, conductor, clinician, and lecturer, throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Ireland. He has a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music, a Master of Music Performance Degree from the University of Northern Iowa, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Music Education from Minot State University.

Steve’s percussion performance career has allowed him the opportunity to accompany such musicians as Allen Vizzuti, Kevin Mohagany, Gary Foster, John Browning, Gordon MaCrae, Ashley Alexander, Steve Wright, The Kingston Trio, and The King Singers. He is the Principal Percussionist/ Timpanist with the Temple Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as a percussionist with the Minot Symphony Orchestra, the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra, the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, and was the Associate Conductor with the Kansas City Civic Orchestra.

Currently, Dr. Crawford is the Director of Bands and Percussion Studies at Temple College. He conducts the Temple College Wind Symphony, Chamber Orchestra, and Percussion Ensemble. He is also the founder and musical director of the Ritmo y Mas Percussion Group, which is in residence at Temple College. He has conducted five world premiere performances of new wind music and has won the praise of composers such as Ken Langer, James Mobberely, David Wilkens, and Bruce Fraser for his interpretive conducting of their compositions.

His continued interest in wind and percussion education has led to publications, which include The Care and Maintenance of Percussion Instruments in the North Dakota Music Educator’s Journal, and Building a Better Percussion Section. Dr. Crawford maintains membership in the Percussive Arts Society, the College Band Directors National Association, the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors, The National Band Directors Association, the Texas Music Educators Association, the Texas Bandmasters Association, and the Conductor’s Guild.

Statement of Problem

  • No band program can perform well without a well-rounded percussion section; yet most middle and high school percussionist are one-dimensional.
  • The average high school percussionist is significantly deficient in keyboard percussion skills.
  • Statistics show that more drum students quit music study than any other instrument family.
  • Among beginning percussionist the pride of ownership (of an actual instrument) is absent, creating instrument envy.
  • 78% of high school band directors surveyed have to recruit piano player into band to cover keyboard percussion parts

Reasons for the Crisis

  • Percussion is the only instrument that is taught without giving the student a “real” instrument.
  • There is no clear and logical progression from student learning kit to an actual marimba or xylophone
  • The lack of keyboard percussion role models or icons in pop culture and television vs. drumset players perpetuates the one-dimensional percussionist.
  • Band directors that recruit piano players to cover keyboard percussion parts further perpetuates the one-dimensional percussionist.
  • Access to “real” instruments for home practice. Marimbas and xylophones are usually school-owned instruments.
  • Affordability or considerations for renting marimbas or xylophones.

Recruitment Techniques

  • Research indicates:

– often middle-school band programs have old percussion equipment in poor condition

– students are not involved in a more meaningful way than they were in their previous band

– there is little consistency with how beginning percussionist are taught; snare drum kit?

Percussion kit? drum and percussion kit? drum sticks and practice pad only?

– students are naturally drawn to the more percussive “drum” than to the melodic keyboard percussion instruments.

  • Challenge beginning percussion students to learn a “cool” instrument – marimba or xylophone
  • Encourage students to listen for keyboard percussion parts in television commercials, cartoons, and television shows.
  • In the long run (weather it be from beginner to high school or beginner to professional) well-rounded percussionists are much better musicians and more marketable than one-dimensional percussionists.
  • Establishing a well-rounded percussion section will contribute to breeding a well-rounded percussion section year after year.
  • Provide instruments that are well-suited for the beginner. Height adjustable instruments are imperative to foster proper technique in the beginner.
  • Students should have access to “real” instruments in order to avoid envy and discontentment.
  • Start a percussion ensemble, which will expose all percussionists to keyboard instruments.
  • Choose popular, familiar, and fun music to maintain the interest of percussion students.


Creating a Friendly Environment

Through Motivation

In their book, The Teaching of Instrumental Music, Richard J. Colwell and Thomas Goolsby state that there are two basis categories of motivation: intrinsic motivation (motivation dealing with long-range planning and goal setting) and extrinsic motivaiton (motivation dealing with day-to-day, immediate goals).1 Successful motivation of the student percussionist will ensure a healthy and happy percussion section and/or ensemble.


Intrinsic Motivation

  • Use good percussion literature
  • Use a wide musical repertoire
  • Each student should in turn have a goal
  • Relate technical drills to real music
  • Develop musicianship and factual knowledge
  • Develop a tradition of excellence
  • Help the student to arrange independent musical activities other than the private lesson and large ensemble rehearsal
  • Encourage the establishment of small ensembles.
  • Select music in which supporting students can star
  • Hear good performers
  • Obtain quality equipment and facilities
  • Develop favorable attitudes
  • Build Esprit de corps
  • Use student leaders whenever possible
  • Treat students and their ideas with respect
  • Plan a sensible schedule


Extrinsic Motivation

  • Use praise effectively
  • Use criticism effectively
  • Keep parents informed
  • Validate the use of grades in music classes
  • Utilize practice charts, progress charts, and point systems
  • All percussionists should move around the section, but develop a challenge system for section leaders
  • Have fun with technical proficiencies
  • Utilize written exams
  • Utilize varying methods of evaluation
  • Have membership standards for ensembles
  • Give awards in many categories
  • Develop a scholarship program for band and/or percussion camps.
  • Have sectionals
  • Encourage the purchase of quality instruments
  • Tape and video record the percussion ensemble/section for student self-evaluation
  • Encourage social activities among the students


1 Colwell, Richard J. and Thomas Goolsby. The Teaching of Instrumental Music, 42.

What Else Can You Do?

  • Encourage manufacturers and retail stores to provide more affordable instruments suitable for beginning percussionists.
  • Encourage composers and arrangers to produce more keyboard percussion ensemble literature, which is fun and exciting to play.

Recommended Keyboard Percussion Solos (accompanied)


b   =  bells                      x  =  xylophone

m  =  marimba                v  =  vibraphone

pn =  piano                     as =  alto saxophone

af  =  alto flute



Composer                 Title

Level One       

Barnett                     Moon Walk (b/pn)

Delibes/Barnett          Waltz from Coppelia (b/pn)

Dreves                     Towering Tones (b/pn)

Dubois                     Bransle (x/pn)

Gossec/Ostling          Gavotte (any mallet/pn)

Hill                         In a Spanish Garden (m/pn)

McCosh/Ostling        Hear Them Bells (b/pn)

Morse                      Starlight (b/pn)

Palieva                     Petites Pieces No. 1 (x/pn)

Tavenier                   Egypt Air No. 1 (x/pn)


Level Two

Amandi                    Im Rhythmus des Barock

(x, v, or m/pn)

Barnett                     Devil Make Me Do It (b/pn)

Brown                     Three Ballads (m or v/pn)

Frazuer                     The Quiet Place (m/pn)

Jolliff                       Music for Marimba, Vol. 2


Lamb, editor             Classic Festival Solos, Vol. 1

(b, x, v, or m/pn)

Monteclavo               Petite Mallet Suite (m/pn)

Palieva                     Petites Pieces Nos. 2-4 (x/pn)

Steinquest                Rudimental Ragtime (m or x/pn)

Stolz/Klickman         Two Hearts in 3/4 time

(m or x/pn)

Ukena                      Devil, Daniel, and Duane (m/pn)


Level Three

Amandi                    Im Rhythmus des Ragtime I

(x, v, or m/pn)

Asabuki                   Water Drops (x/pn)

Bartok/Harris            Evening in the Country

(any mallet/pn)

Briggs                     Duet for Marimba and Piano


Grieg/Roy                Norwegian Dance (m/pn)

Corelli/Boo              Sonata (m or x/pn)

Gomez                     Carnaval (m/pn)

Spears                      Dreamscapes (mm/pn)

Ukena                      After School Rag (m/pn)

Zivkovic                  Macedonia (m/pn)



Level Four     

Breuer                      Mallet Solo Collection (x/pn)

Chopin/Musser          Valse Brilliante (m/pn)

Dorff                        Allegro Valante (x/pn)

Frock                       Concertino (m/pn)

Gomez                     Mandarin Whispers (m/pn)

Heifetz/Dinicu/Eddy   Hora Staccato (x or m/pn)

Kabalevsky/              Galoping Comedians (x/pn)


Moszkowski/Moore    Spanish Dance No. 5-Bolero


Russell                    Two Archaic Dances (v or m/pn)

Tanner                     Concert Piece (m/pn)


Level Five

Abe                         Prism Rhapsody (m/pn)

Barnes/Maxey           Yorkshire Ballad (m/pn)

DePonte                   Concertino for Marimba (m/pn)

Ewazen                    Toccata (m/pn)

Handel                     Six Sonatas for Violin & Piano (m/pn)

Green, G. H./Eyles     Rags of George Hamilton Green (x/pn)

Ichiyamagi                Paganini Personal (m/pn)

Mayuzumi                Concertino (x/pn)

Peters                      Theme & Variations (m/pn)

Rosauro                   Concerto for Marimba (m/pn)


Level Six

Basta                       Concerto for Marimba (m/pn)

Breuer                      Five New Ragtime Solos (x/pn)

Creston                    Concerto (m/pn)

Green, G. H./Becker   Valse Brilliante (x/pn)

Kreisler                    Tambourine Chinois (x/pn)

Levitan                    Variations (v/pn)

Milhaud                   Concerto for Marimba & Vibraphone (pn)

Takemitsu                Toward the Sea

Yuyama                   Divertimento for Marimba &

Alto Sax


Recommended Keyboard

Percussion Solos (Unaccompanied)


Composer                 Title


Level One

Brown                     Mallet Percussion: The Competition Colletion (b, x, m or v)

Brown                     Simple Solos for Mallets (x, b or m)

Houllif                     Contest Solos for Young Mallet Players (x or m)

Houllif                     More Contest Solos for Young Mallet Players (x or m)

Spencer                    Cat Clock III (x or m)

Wiener                     Children’s Solos 1-5 (x or m)


Level Two

  1. S. Bach/Houllif Twenty Bach Chorales (m)

Buxtehude/Dutton      Jesu Joy & Treasure (m)

Immerso                   Canzona IV (x or m)

Larrick                     Dance in Time (x or m)

Larrick                     Sonata No. 8 (x or m)

Schinstine                Whispering Woods (m)

Zivkovic                  Funny Mallets: Funny Marimba

Book 1


Level Three

Albeniz/Maxey          Leyenda (m)

Ayers                       African Fantasy on Joy to the World (m)

Chenoweth               Lament (x or m)

Gomez & Rife           Mbira Song (m)

Larrick                     Elegy & Meditation (m)

Peters                      Chant for Marimba

Spears                      Malletrix (m)

Ukena                      Colors (m)

Satie/Molenhof          Trois Gymnopedies No. 3 (m)

Wiener                     Children’s Solos 6-10 (x or m)


Level Four

Boo                         Psalms for Marimba

Brown                     Mexican Murals (m)

Frock                       Mexican Variations (m)

Glennie                    Three Chorales (m)

Gomez                     Scenes from Mexico City (m)

Peters                      Sea Refractions (m)

Peters                      Yellow After the Rain (m)

Rosauro                   Choro Bachiano (m)

Skoog                      Little Jazz Suite (m)

Ukena                      Lauren’s Lullaby (m)


Level Five

Abe                         Frogs (m)

  1. S. Bach/Joaquin Suite No. Six in D Major

Burritt                     October Night (m)

Gipson                     Monograph IV (m)

Musser                     Etude Op. 6. no. 8 (Nature Boy)

Skoog                      Water & Fire

Smadbeck                 Rhythm Dance

Spencer                    Fire Elves

Stout                       Elegy (m)

Ukena                      Tempest


Level Six

Abe                         Dream of the Cherry Blossom (m)

Abe                         Michi

Burritt                     Shadow Catcher

Gipson                     R. D. H.

Glascock                  Altered Echos

Helble                      Grand Fantasy for Marimba

Ichiyamagi                The Source

Laburda                    Sonata No. 2

Maslanka                  Variation on Love Lost

Zivkovic                  Ultimatum I


Recommeded Keyboard

Percussion Ensembles


Composer                 Title & Grade Level(s) No. of Players

Arndt/Green, G. H.    Nola (5)                                 4

Bach, J. S./Hatch       Toccata & Fugue in D

Minor (6)                               6

Bach, J. S./Lang        15 Bach Inventions (4-6)          2

Bach, J. S./Moore      6 Bach two-part (3-5)              2

Bolcolm/Smith         Graceful Ghost (5)                   6

Boo                         First Suite (4)                         4

Cahn                       La Bamba (4-5)                       4

Cahn                       Un misterio (4-5)                    4

Chavez, S.                Vamos a Ecuador (4)                4

Chopin/Lefever          Nocturne (3)                           3

Corea/Steinquest        Children’s Song Set

No. 2 (4-5)                             4

Curry, arr.                El Tilingo Lingo (4)                4

Curry, arr.                Jarabe Mexicano (4)                 4

Daniel                      Coventry Carol (2)                  6

Debussy/Gilroy         Debussy’s Day at the Fair (5)    4

Debussy/Vincent        Golliwog’s Cakewalk (4)          7

Fleck/Steinquest        Metric Lips(5)                        4

Fink                        Mallet for Classic (3-5)             2

Gillingham               Normandy Beach-1944 (4-5)      6

Gipson, arr.              Silent Night (3)                     10

Green/Cahn               Cross Corner (5-6)                   5

Green/ Cahn              Fluffy Ruffles (5-6)                   5

Green/Becker             Rain (4-5)                              5

Green, Joe/Becker      Xylophonia (5)                       5

Handel/Moore           Allegro from Water Music (4)    4

Hatch, arr                 Christmas Medley (4)              6

Haydn/McCarthy       15 Mallet Duets (3-5)               2

Houliff                     Timepieces ((5)                       4

Jeanne                      Cielito Lindo(2)                      4

Jeanne                      Hymns for Marimba (1)            4

Jeanne                      Choo Choo Train (2)              4-5

Joplin/Moore            The Entertainer (4)                  4

Kaptain, arr.              Chiapan Medley-5 pieces (4)     4

Kaptain, arr.              Echos of Chiapas-

11 pieces (4)                           4

Khachaturian/Peters    Sabre Dance (4)                       7

Lara/Jeanne               Marimba (2-3)                        2

Maslanka                  Crown of Thorns (5)                8

McMillan                 Overture Studies for

Marimba (4-5)                        2

Methany/Houghton    Phase Danse (4)                      7

Molenhof                  Marimba Five Duets (4-6)         2

Offenbach/Jeanne        Can Can from Orpheus (4)        4

Pachelbel/Boo           Canon in D (3)                       4

Peters/Tanner            Londonderry Air (3)                 7

Peters, arr.                Greensleeves (3)                      7

Praetorius/Leonard     Rise Pu O Flame (2)                6

Rodriquez/Jeanne       La cumparsita (2-3)                  4

Rosales/Musser         Bolero (5-6)                           5

Schubert/Londeix       Ave Maria (3)                         4

Spencer                    Before the Beginning (3)           4

Spencer                    Pink Elisa Spring(2-3)             2

Spivack                    Cowboys for 6 hands (3)           3

Stamp                      Daybreak (1-2)                        5

Stravinsky/Houllif      Soldier’s March from

L’histoire (4)                          7

Svoboda                   Morning Prayer (4)                  4

Tanner                     Duo Miniatures (3-5)               2

Tavernier                  Mahel 3 (3)                            3

Tchaikovsky/Jeanne   Album for the Young

Suite Op. 39 (2)                      5

Torme/Gipson           The Christmas Song (3)          12

Vivaldi/Gilroy           Viva Vivaldi (3)                      4

Wagner/Musser         Pilgrim’s Chorus (4)               5

Wheatley                  Duo for Two Marimbas (6)       2

Wiener                     Changing Woods (4)               3

Yoshizaki           Red Rainbow Rhyme (5)  4 

Recommended Keyboard Percussion Method Books


Eyles, Randy. Mallet Percussion for Young Beginners, (Meredith Music Publications).

Goldenberg, Morris. Modern School for Xylophone, Marimba and Vibraphone, (Hal Leonard).

Green, George Hamilton. New Elementary Studies for Xylophone and Marimba, (Meredigh Music Publications)

McMillan, Thomas. Percussion Keyboard Techniques, (Belwin-Mills).

Payson, Al. Elementary Marimba and Xylophone Method, (Payson Percussion Products).

Peters, Mitchell. Fundamental Method for Mallets, (Alfred Publishing Company).

Pimentel, Linda L. Linda Lorren Pimentel’s Bar Percussion Handbook, vol. 1, (Permus Publications).

Whaley, Garwood. Fundamental Mallet Studies, (Joel Rothman Publication)

Whaley, Garwood. Primary Handbook for Mallets, (Meredith Music Publications)


Berle, Arnie. Mallet Independence, (Belwin-Mills)

Ervin, Karen. Contemporary Etudes for 3 and 4 Mallets, (Award Music Company).

Green, George Hamilton. George Hamilton Green’s Instruction Course for Xylophone, (Meredith Music Publications).

Goldenberg, Morris. Modern School for Xylophone, Marimba and Vibraphone, (Hal Leonard).

Johnson, Mark. Solos and Etudes for Marimba, (HoneyRock Publications)

McMillan, Thomas. Masterpieces for Marimba, (Belwin-Mills)

Stone, George L. Mallet Control for the Xylophone, Marimba, and Vibraphone, (George B. Stone & Son, Inc.).

Meyer, Raymon. Multiple Mallet Studies for Marimba, (HaMaR Percussion Publications, Inc.).

Moore, James, ed. It Only Takes Two: 18 Duets for Mallet Percussion, (Ludwig Music Publishing Company).

Moore, James. Six Bach Tow Part Inventions: Mallet Duets, (Kendor Music, Inc.)

Morleo, Luigi. 120 Progressive Four-Mallet Studies for Marimba, (HoneyRock Publications).

Moyer, James. Four-Mallet Method for Marimba, (Studio 4/Alfred Publishing Company).

Pimentel, Linda, L. Linda Lorren Pimentel’s Bar Percussion Handbook, vol. 2, (Permus Publications)

Pimentel, Linda, L. and James L. Moore. The Solo Marimbist, Vol. 1, (Permus Publications).

Stout, Gordon. Ideo-Kinetics, (M. Baker Publications)

Whaley, Garwood. 4 Mallet Exercises, (Meredith Music Publications)

Whaley, Garwood. Musical Studies for the Intermediate Mallet Player, (Meredith Music Publications).


Bailey, Elden. Mental and Manual Calisthenics for the Modern Mallet Player, (Henry Adler)

Burton, Gary. Four Mallet Studies, (Ludwig Music Publishing Company).

Gates, Everett. Odd Meter Duets, (Sam Fox Publishing Company).

Gates, Everett. Odd Meter Etudes, (Sam Fox Publishing Company).

Green, George Hamilton. George Hamilton Green’s Instruction Course for Xylophone, (Meredith Music Publications).

Goldenberg, Morris. Modern School for Xylophone, Marimba and Vibraphone, (Hal Leonard).

Knaack, Donald. Music for Marimba from the Renaissance and Early Baroque Periods (4 mallets), (Paul Price Publications).

Stevens, Leigh Howard. Method of Movement for Marimba, (Marimba Productions).

Stout, Gordon. Etudes for Marimba, Book 1, (Paul Price Price Publications).

Stout, Gordon. Etudes for Marimba, Book 2, (Studio 4/Alfred Publishing Company, Inc.)

Stout, Gordon. Etudes for Marimba, Book 3, (Studio 4/Alfred Publishing Company, Inc.)

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