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Two Part Question

February 12, 2014

by David Birrow Birrow.David@MacPhail.org

This post is a 2-part open ended question about private lesson curriculum.

Part I: Among other things, two of my main goals when teaching are:

  1.  to have the instruction and content be relevant to the student's musical life
  2.  to make sure the student learns the stuff that I wish I knew when I was their age

But often it seems that these two goals conflict with each other. For instance, high school students seem to have constant auditions for band placement, marching band, M.Y.S., solo and ensemble, all-state, and the list goes on.  I want to help them achieve their goal of making an ensemble or specific chair, so we'll work for several weeks on audition material.  During this time we'll stop or at least reduce practice on main curriculum objectives so the student isn't overloaded. In general, I try to rein myself in and assign less practice material in hopes that it gets done.

And as a percussionist, we might be talking about a student who is working hard on jazz vibraphone and then suddenly has to have a 4-week hiatus while we learn the all-state timpani etude.  Then the student picks up jazz vibes again, but suffers from 4 weeks of memory loss. Often it's hard to regain momentum before we're interrupted by another audition.  

Like I said, I want students to leave their lesson like they've just received a performance enhancing supplement (M.M.E.A. approved of course) and feel like they are going to nail their all-state audition.  But at the same time, they need to be building skills sequentially and logically in order to have a solid foundation on their instrument. This is exacerbated with percussion, since we have so many different instruments to learn.

So the question is: How do you handle this situation with your private students?


 Part II: Snare Drum Curriculum

Disclaimer: Beyond the following paragraph, this may only interest percussionists. 

In line with the second goal listed above, I want my students to develop all the skills that they'll need as percussionists. Especially skills that I didn't develop or wasn't introduced to myself. This sort of follows the idea of wanting my student's musical lives being better than my own. So with that in mind, the general outline of my snare drum curriculum is below. This is the thing I try to keep my students grounded in while they are diverted by preparing auditions or concert material.  I start with Learning Sequence Activities from Music Learning Theory. There have been other articles about Music Learning Theory here and elsewhere, but the basic idea is that humans need to cognitively develop meter recognition and rhythm vocabulary before reading music will even begin to make sense. I use these with all ages, all students. 

Then I move to a packet I made that basically notates all the things students are able to play. Bob Adney's terrific snare drum book is next. Here students get practice with stickings, various time signatures, 5/7/9 stroke rolls, duets, and some classic snare solos. That primes students for Mitchell Peters Elementary Snare Drum Studies. This book deals with technique and reading and it's strength is it's sequential nature.

After that it depends on the student: Portraits in Rhythm by Cirone if they are interested in orchestral playing and interpretation; The All-American Drummer by Wilcoxon for rudimental playing; Intermediate Snare Drum Studies for more advanced technique, dynamic control and phrasing. These three books are definitely for serious students as they show up on university syllabi.

So the question here is: What books do you use that aren't here, where do they fit in, and why?

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