A Fresh Approach to the Snare Drum
by Mark Wessels
Recommended for: Beginning Percussion/Snare Drum Students
Skills Covered: Technique & Fundamentals, Natural Sticking for Basic Rhythms (through 16th notes), PAS 40 Standard Rudiments,
Why this Book Stands Out: This book was written with the use of online resources in mind. It pairs with both play-along tracks and rudiment breakdowns/explanations on the Vic Firth and MWP websites. These get beginning students into a clear routine, helping them build consistent practice habits (with metronome/timekeeping tools) from the start.
Available at: Steve Weiss Music, Lone Star Percussion, Amazon, and possibly local retailers.
"Fresh Approach" Curriculum: How it Works
I. Lessons (p. 6-52)
"A Fresh Approach to the Snare Drum" is built around 20 Lessons that gradually introduce new concepts and techniques. A typical lesson is two pages and contains most of (if not all) of the following:
Technique Workout - utilizing the EXERCISES in the back part of the book
Music Theory - often related to music reading skills. This can be in the form of "Fill in the Blanks", drawing rhythms or bar lines, and more. These sections are also sometimes labeled "Homework".
Coordination Exercises - to help develop interdependence between the hands.
New Rudiments - new sticking patterns, or "Rudiments", are the building blocks of percussion music. New ones are introduced each lesson.
Playing Exercises - These are the primary focus of each lesson; they are also sometimes preceded by Key Exercises, simpler cersions of the material in the later exercises to get a student started. This material should always be played with a metronome or the corresponding accompaniment tracks (more on this below).
Rudimental Etude - most lessons end with a short solo that combines elements from the current (and previous) lessons, including rudiments, technique workout, and coordination exercise material. These act as a sort of litmus test to see if a student is ready to move on to the next lesson.
The lessons are arranged in groups of 5, with a "Graduation Test" after the 5th lesson of each group. These tests are designed to give the student an opportunity to apply what they have learned in the previous lessons.
II. The Appendix (p. 53-69)
The Appendix is designed to give students additional practice on the material covered in the lessons. These will sometimes be assigned with their corresponding lesson, and other times will be assigned as review material before a "Graduation Test". This material will also be used to help reinforce reading skills. Like anything else, these should always be played with a metronome, accompaniment track, or other timekeeping device. For a full description of more ways to use this section, please read p. 53 in the book.
III. Exercises (p. 72-77)
While the lessons may take up many more pages, the material in this section has a much longer shelf life. The exercises in this section will be assigned alongside the lessons to help build the essential techniques needed to be successful in the lessons, rudiments, and etudes presented earlier in the book.
A "Lesson Progress Chart" can be found on p. 72. This shows which exercises (and what tempos) should be used for each lesson. We will use this as a way for students to see their continued success over time.
IV. Rudiments (p. 78-81)
As mentioned above, "rudiments" are sticking patterns that are commonplace in percussion music. For a percussionist, learning rudiments is akin to a pianist learning scales and arpeggios. These are introduced gradually, a handful at a time in each lesson. The complete PAS 40 rudiment chart is located in this section as well as mini progress charts* to record tempo progress on each rudiment.
This book makes use of the Vic Firth 40 Essential Rudiments Website (more on this below).
*-many of the tempos written in these mini charts are incorrect. I will provide students with a chart that has correct tempos. However, the mini charts are still useful for checking off the completion of the different tempo levels.
In addition to the sections listed above, there are supplemental sections on a few different concert percussion instruments as well as drum set. We will not use these sections often.
I. Accompaniment Tracks
All of the lessons have corresponding audio tracks that should be used by students when practicing. These tracks are very helpful (especially for inexperienced students or ones who have yet to develop strong practice habits) because they basically act as a guided practice session. For example, the Lesson 1 accompaniment track takes the student through each of the 8 Exercises, verbally counting off the student before each attempt while also giving helpful reminders about which hand should be being used.
The accompaniment tracks can all be found online: Accompaniment Tracks
Once on the above website, students have a few options for how to access the accompaniment tracks:
Accessing a dropbox folder with each track. This folder can be downloaded to your dropbox account if you have one.
A single file download to your computer (or other device) where they can be used offline.
YouTube Playlist of the accompaniment tracks (currently still under construction, but the 2nd half of the book is not up as of this writing).
Worth noting, some of the Vic Firth 40 Essential Rudiment tracks (more below) can also be found in option 1.
II. Vic Firth 40 Essential Rudiments
The Vic Firth website is a tremendous educational percussion resource that is completely free to use. In terms of this book, the primary tool we will be utilizing is the "40 Essential Rudiments". That page can be found here: http://vicfirth.com/40-essential-rudiments/
After clicking on the link above, you will see a page like this:
The first three tabs are an intro to the site that help explain why rudiments are important, and how this tool can be used to help a student learn their rudiments.
After scrolling down a bit further, you will see a grid of different rudiments that looks like this:
Each one is a link to a page for a specific rudiment.
Clicking on any of the grid squares will take you to that rudiment's page. These pages are where the Rudiment Play-Along tracks can be found. The primary tracks that will be used are at the top of the page and look like this:
The tracks are organized by tempo. The "bronze" group is the slowest, with "silver", "gold", "platinum", and "diamond" each successively being faster.
Each track will count in the student with a cowbell sound, and then play a recording of the rudiment at a single tempo (typically for about four measures or so). This process is repeated 4-6 times, each time at a slightly faster tempo. After all 4-6 times, the "bronze" track will end and move on to the "silver" group. Students will be assigned which tempos to practice and should not waste time practicing beyond their achievable range.
Continuing down the page, you will find a link to a video of a "slow-fast-slow" breakdown of the rudiment. This can be helpful and/or interesting for younger students. but is typically a skill used more often with more experience/advanced students.
Below that, you will find another video - "Take a Lesson from Dr. John Wooton". These videos are a quick explanation of how to play the specific rudiment.
These can be VERY helpful for students looking to learn a new rudiment, or just looking to get a refresher course between private lessons.
Beneath the video lesson you will find some ads for various Vic Firth sticks/equipment. You can obviously scroll right past this to the final part of the page.
The last section on each rudiment's page is another set of Play-Along tracks, these being referred to as "Application Exercises".
These serve to help bridge the gap from learning a rudiment in a vacuum to being able to apply them in musical situations.
Each exercise is written at the top, and the tracks can be played using the playlist below, just like the Rudiment Play-Along tracks at the top pf the page.
The same "bronze", "silver", ... "diamond" levels all apply, and often use the exact same tempos as the Rudiment Play-Alongs did.
While the seemingly endless supply of supplemental materials/online tools can be a bit overwhelming at first, they are extraordinarily helpful for a few reasons:
They provide clear structure to a student's practice time. This gives this exact instructions to follow, forces them to play with a timekeeping device, and starts engraining good practice habits. For example, here could be a student's assignment from Lesson 1:
Play Exercises #1-8 with accompaniment tracks at "Bronze", "Silver, and "Gold" tempos (should take 10 minutes).
Play Single Stroke Roll with Rudiment Play-Along. Use "Bronze Track" and play 5 times (5 minutes)
Play Single Stroke Roll with Application Exercise Play-Along. Use "Bronze Track" and play 3 times (5 minutes)
2. These resources are not meant to be 'completed', but rather serve to continue to provide new challenges to the student for years to come. As a professional, I still continue to take on some of the more advanced offerings on the Vic Firth website to further my skills.
3. The wide variety of materials (and the different ways that they are implemented/introduced) gives the student more well-rounded and variety approach to their beginning percussion student that will set them up for years and years of future success.