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How To

How to perform thumb and finger rolls on the tambourine.

Various possibilities exist with regard to ensuring the performance and thumb and finger rolls on the tambourine. The age old standard is to lick the tip of the finger or the thumb which is actually going to be playing the friction roll round the edge of the tambourine in order to create the roll.

How to make your own Superball Mallets

The superball mallet is something that evolved predominantly in the Hollywood studios and was also taken up very much by the contemporary music main stream during the 1960’ and 1970’s.

The superball mallet isn’t as such a sound effect in its own right, but it is a mallet which can be used in the creation of many ethereal and ‘other worldly’ sounds and effects.

The head of the mallet is made of a child’s superball, the sort which can be bought in any reputable toy shop. The shaft can be made of many different materials, but it is quite important that it is a very flexible shaft and most people use a thin bamboo kebab or sate skewer and way that you make a superball mallet is as follows:

Firstly, you have to drill through the centre of the ball. Don’t make the mistake of actually trying to push the sharpened end of the kebab skewer in to the ball in order to make the hole which it will ultimately sit in. This will crack the ball and once you have cracked the superball, it will continue to split until it falls in half.

So, the superball mallet is commenced by drilling through the centre and this is something that can be done without a huge amount of engineering skill by eye.

Take your drill and put a bit of an appropriate size and drill as closely as possible through the centre of the ball. Then, using an epoxy based adhesive, such as Araldite, you coat the end of the kebab skewer in the Araldite and place it in the hole which you have made in the superball. This should give you a superball mallet which will enable you to play all sorts of different ethereal groaning and moaning noises on things like log drums and drums of varying kinds, but also to get all sorts of singing harmonics out of tamtams, cymbals and bell plates. A particularly fascinating noise can be obtained by rubbing the superball round the inside playing surface of a steel drum.

There are lots of different applications for the mallet. If you find that the kebab skewer is not durable enough for your purposes, then, a very thin knitting needle, or a very slender piece of stainless steel rod will give you something of a more durable character.

Superball mallets are available commercially and of course, these are made to very much more exacting engineering standards and can be bought from Mike Balter the mallet maker, and also Vuprawell the French mallet maker.

It is a good idea to have many different sizes of superballs because when you play any of the harmonica effects, particularly on tamtam, the size of the ball actually affects the pitch range which you can achieve from the instrument.

It is also quite useful, when you get very large superballs, to actually cut the superball in half and to just use one half, mounted appropriately – sort of like a mushroom added vibraphone mallet. The sharp edge of the cut will give you some very interesting rebound effects on drums.

So that is essentially how you go about making your own superball mallets. When you do so, just remember that the superball mallet is not a particularly durable mallet – the rubber will, over a period of time, harden to the point where it just cracks and splits and falls to piece and so you need to check before you use them that you have got superball mallets that are not too old and too decrepit to be used.

I don’t know why this works, but when I am storing superballs, I find that wrapping them in brown paper actually preserves them for a much longer time. Whether this has anything to do with the oils in the mallet head escaping, or what, I don’t know.

It is also looking out for superballs which are made in peculiar shapes because some are available in the shape of eggs. Others are made in a shape like a cut gemstone and these will all illicit different effects from various instruments that you would normally use it on.

So that’s it. That’s basically the way that you make your own superball mallets.

How to play a very quiet triangle roll.

Now, under normal circumstances the triangle roll can be played a number of different ways. Firstly, it can be played by oscillating the beater to and fro within one of the angles of the triangle. This, if done rapidly and evenly, will produce a very acceptable roll.

Alternatively, the triangle can be set up on a stand and played alternately by a beater held in each hand. This again will produce, with a very smooth controlled approach, a very acceptable triangle roll. However, as dynamics in percussion playing are one of the most important factors in their usage, it stands to reason that a wide variety of dynamic possibilities need to be explored.

Some years ago I became involved in a series of recordings that were to be conducted by the late Leopold Stokowski who at that time was probably in his nineties, but even at that great age, his ear was such that he maintained a very critical attitude towards musicians in general and percussionist players in particular and I found, somewhat to my surprise, that on being asked to play a quiet triangle roll for him, he started to complain about various aspects of my performance. Initially, he said that I was actually playing too loud, so I naturally lessened the dynamic to the point where I felt that we were at a dynamic level where the sound would be acceptable to him. But he then started to complain about the fact that he could hear, within the roll, the clack of the triangle beater. Consequently, this was destroying the effect of the low dynamic, so what he asked me to do was to create more of a shimmering sound than to actually create an exact single stroke roll of the type we would normally associate with the triangle.

This caused me a considerable amount of trouble because, once one has gone to one’s thinnest pair of triangle beaters, there really isn’t anywhere else to go beyond that within normal technique. So, my idea to counter this was, after the first day of rehearsals, I went home and found in the garage a six inch coach screw. Now, the coach screw is quite a large screw used in building fences and if you take the screw and carefully lay it across the horizontal bar of the triangle, at right angles to the triangle, by oscillating it backwards and forwards, you can create a wonderful shimmering triangle roll which has no discernable ictus in it from a moving beater which would be striking between two of the inner surfaces of the triangle itself.

Anyway, when I had practiced this a little bit, I took it back and showed Stokowski what I was doing the next day and this actually alleviated the criticisms which he had been making of me on the previous day. So I would highly recommend this technique to you as a way of playing very very quiet shimmering low dynamic rolls on the triangle.

How To Series How to make your own Nappa Drum Head

The Nappa Drumhead is a unique style of drumhead common on instruments of Brazilian origin. It is used particularly in certain sorts of Brazilian outdoor parade music but, also, it is commonly encountered in a particular style of music called Pagode and Pagode music is the kind of music where people just sit around in somebody’s living room. It is usually quite quiet and therefore requires an instrument which probably isn’t as large as would commonly be encountered if you were playing outdoors in a samba procession. The Napa head is in fact, very simply a plastic head which has a skin of vinyl upholstery fabric stuck to it and these heads are very easy to make, though if you buy an instrument with one of these heads on and it becomes damaged, they are extremely difficult to obtain replacements for. Therefore, it is probably more sensible to figure out a way of making your own, which is what I have done.

In order to make a Napa head, first of all, you need; a smooth plastic head. Usually, the ones which are supplied with Brazilian drums are ideal for this purpose, but any normal clear plastic, un-coated head, will do the job. You will also need a piece of black rexine or vinyl cloth backed upholstery fabric of a size larger than the diameter of the head that you are wishing to apply it to. Then, you simply dis-assemble the drum on which you are going to mount the head and then you draw around the flesh hoop of the drumhead that you are going to cover on to the back of the rexine cloth. Then you cut round this cloth so that you have a slightly over-sized circle of rexine material. You then place the original plastic drumhead back on the drum and then coat this with a glue such as Copidex. Then, very carefully having coated this plastic head with the Copidex, you place the disc of rexine on top of the glued surface of the head. Now, this will actually project over the edge of the head very slightly, so what you then do, is you smooth this into position and carefully replace the counter hoop of the drum and then re-assemble the instrument, carefully tuning the head in such a way that the playing tension is restored to its normal pitch, but also making sure that the rexine covering does not lift out from underneath the counter hoop of the drum. The point is that you need to trap it there and if possible during the smoothing process, to actually work a little bit of the glue into place so that it will actually glue the head right down to the flesh hoop. This should then be left to dry for a couple of days, because, obviously rexine and plastic are not porous materials and the glue will take some little time to set because there is no natural air passage that will actually dry the adhesive out. However, a couple of days should be sufficient. The head can then be played on and the sound produced is a particularly pleasing low throbbing sound, which makes an ideal substitute for any kind of ethnic drum such as a native American Indian Tomtom, or an African drum. Indeed, it has always been my belief that one can make these heads up and after they have actually been prepared and allowed to set, they can be removed from the drum on which they are being used and stored in the case as an alternative on drums such as Concert Toms and this, I think, is a particularly useful piece of equipment to carry around with you. It offers you a substitute sound, particularly where ethnic sounding instruments are required but supplies of ethnic instruments are not to be had.

How to set gut snares on to a snare drum.

It necessarily follows that these instructions are intended to be used only for those drums which have the old-fashioned lever action snare such as the Ludwig Supraphonic and models of a similar type of snare action. Parallel action snares may need considerably more subtle management in setting than those given here, so firstly, you have to source your gut. Now these days, most drum companies don’t carry gut snare in their catalogues any more. In days of old, it was a current occurrence to find that product. Very often in several different thicknesses, or gauges, but these days, most companies produce drums that use wire snares. Indeed, in most types of pop, jazz, rock and contemporary styles, wire snares are more than adequate for the purposes of playing that kind of music, but, the old fashioned style of gut snare is a very attractive sound when employed in the performance of classical music and concert band music. It gives a very harsh, throaty sound, which is much to be admired with great clarity and, indeed, it does have a tendency to show up a player’s weak spots from a technical point of view.

Sources of gut these days are comparatively rare and some of the most successful sources of finding gut would include harp manufacturers, certain string manufacturers, though cello strings work very well, although they are in fact, very expensive when you start putting them on snare drums.

Medical supply houses will sometimes be able to sell gut, but the most success I have had in finding gut in recent years, is from tennis racquet repairers. They use gut very often in one direction on a racquet as a mixture with modern materials like Kevlar, which gives a certain sort of feel that many of the younger male players of today find attractive.

It’s also true to note that, cost-wise, buying gut from a tennis racquet manufacturer is probably the most affordable way of making this change to your snare drum set-up.

Having acquired sufficient gut for your needs, it’s useful to have a snare lever which has what we used to call bullet hole buck plate at the bottom of the snare lever lift. This is a row of holes drilled to take gut or silk and wire snares in the bottom of the plate in the snare action. This makes actually spacing the snares on the drum very much easier. However, it is not essential and most modern lever snare actions will take gut even without this.

Firstly, you have to remove the snares that are extant on the drum. That having been done, you must unravel the gut and there are two ways of doing this next stage. One is to soak the snare for a few minutes, so that they become more pliable. The other is to fit the snares on to the drum, absolutely dry and then place a piece of wet paper towel under the area where they turn upwards in to the snare buck plate and the snare action in order to just help the snares actually adapt to their new shape. Either way works, although from the point of view of practicality, my favourite would be to use the paper towel method. This is actually gone into in some detail in Anthony Cirone’s excellent book ‘The Logic of It All’ which has recently been re-published by Meredith Music.

Initially, when fitting gut snares or, indeed silk and wire snares to a drum, it is a good idea to actually lower the snare action several turns on the tension screw. This will give you a certain amount more adjustment when applying tension to the snares after they have dried out. You don’t need to go very far with this, but give yourself, if possible, an extra quarter of an inch on the setting screw in the snare action.

Having got the snares, firstly into the buck plate of the snare lever, you must then run them across the snare head of the drum and space them correctly. That is to say, in parallel lines, and thread them through the buck plate on the opposite side of the drum which will, of course, need to be loosened slightly first. Having threaded them through, it is then necessary to screw this adjustment up, but not to its fullest extent, but just so that the snares are firmly gripped. Then, taking a pair of mole grips or a pair of crocodile nosed pliers, pull each snare up to its fullest tension and then tighten the buck plate adjustment so that the snares are firmly gripped and so that that adjusting plate on the butt of the drum bites into the gut itself so that it cannot slip. Now it is at this point that you would put the wet towel in place, under the snares where they turn up if you were going to adopt that particular method of placing the snares on the drum. It should be possible, having left that wet piece of towel to dry out for twenty-four hours, to play the drum and adjust it accordingly to your tastes. Just remember, as I said earlier, that you have flaws in your technique, particularly in the roll, the adjustment of the snares is crucial and will have a tendency to show up any weaknesses within that technique.

Anyway, I hope that you have some success with this approach to playing the snare drum. Personally, I love the sound of gut snares.

One word of warning though, on a damp day, gut snares, like calf skin heads, can be badly affected by moisture and extreme damp. The late Billy Gladstone, the doyenne of snare drum manufacturers and players during the 1930’s, 1940’s and early 1950’s used to actually proof his snares before mounting them on the drum with shellac and I think this is probably still the best way of proofing snares against the weather. The only problem is, that they will still be (slightly less so) but they will still be, affected by damp and the problem will then be that, having got the snares damp, they will take a little bit longer to dry out because of the coating that now have on them.

Other players, of course, will recommend that you use linseed oil to proof the snares. This works equally well but is a very messy process. Also it is possible, before placing the gut snares on the drum, to varnish them and, again, this is an equally good way of doing it but it does have the same drawbacks as using shellac.

These are the principle ways of approaching the idea of placing gut snares on your drum.

'How to get work' by Anne Collis

In a world where the opportunities for professional musicians seem to be shrinking, it is important to know how to maximize your advantages and put yourself in pole position in the race to get the jobs!

  1. First Rule, be the best! There is absolutely no point in doing anything to push yourself forward unless you really are good! There are lots of people around who ‘talk the talk’, but that is not enough. Practise, practise, practise, then practise some more!
  2. Second Rule. Be the best!
  3. Know everybody. Find ways to meet people, go to concerts, apply for auditions. Even if you don’t get the job at an audition, you will have met some of the movers and shakers and if you were good enough, they will remember you.
  4. Send your CV in to all the orchestra and fixers. Be sure to put everything you have done in your CV. If you are a string player, it is important to say if you were a Principal in the music college orchestra and whether you were a 1st or 2nd Violin.
  5. Be versatile. Especially for Percussionists, study all the styles. Only a handful of people can make a career as a solo Marimba player. Make sure you can play all the basic instruments. Don’t neglect the Triangle and Tambourine, but also study Latin American styles and maybe study something unusual, like Tablas or Cimbalom.
  6. Always look good. Be clean and tidy at least. If possible look memorable. I know an American who has a small beard, which is going prematurely grey, so he dyes the sides brown and leaves the middle grey, giving the impression of a friendly badger.. Perhaps that is going too far for you, but check your style. Do you look cool or old-fashioned? It matters.
  7. Stay sober and don’t touch drugs! There is no such thing as a cool drunk and no fixer will book you if you are not reliable.
  8. Stay fit and healthy. You will enjoy your work more and be able to stay alert on long days in the studios.
  9. Be polite to your elders! They have the knowledge and the experience and you can learn from them. There are too many youngsters around who behave as if they know it all, in spite of the fact that they only left college last year.
  10. Be punctual – always! 
  11. If you are a young Percussionist, try to own as many basic instruments as you can. It is getting harder and harder to find players with their own gear. Sure it is a struggle, but we did it when we were your age, so you can too!

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