Proper Care and Feeding– Percussion

Another guest post from author Cris Stiles:

10453012_10154583275870392_4882139331910899883_oCris Stiles is a native of Huntington Beach, California where he graduated with distinction in Music from the Academy for the Performing Arts.  After graduation Cris Studied at Snow College with Scott Wilson, Jay Lawrence, and Lisa Verzella.  He then returned home to prepare for an LDS mission and played in several jazz combos under the direction of Tom Kubis.  After serving a mission in Northern Utah Cris decided to move to Salt Lake City and pursue his career as a music educator.  While attending SLCC he was a founding member of Craig Ferrin’s Studio Ensembles, a class designed to prepare musicians for real world music opportunities.  While in school Cris served as the Director of Marching Percussion at Bingham High School in South Jordan, UT form 2010 to 2012, also helping with their percussion ensemble and jazz band.  In 2013 He was asked to serve as Bingham’s Visual Caption head and took up the position of Director of Percussion at American Preparatory Academy in Draper, UT.  Cris is currently a Junior at the University of Utah where he is finishing his undergraduate degree in Music Education.  He is an active member of the percussion studio, performing in the Wind Ensemble, the Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Dr. Mike Sammons, and currently is a private student of Doug Wolf.  Cris has been a private music teacher since 2005 and is a member of the Gallatin Music teaching family in Murray, UT.

Instrument Care for Percussion

Welcome to being a percussionist! I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you’re one of three types of people; A student, just starting out on percussion and could use some tips of the trade to take care of your instrument, A teacher, looking for new ways to encourage your students to take care of some of the most expensive instruments in your band room, or a Pro, looking to reinforce the information you already know.

In grade school I played trumpet. Taking care of a trumpet was pretty easy. All you need to do is clean it every once and a while, oil the valves and be careful when taking it in and out of your case. But in the end it’s only one instrument. As percussionists we have TONS of different kinds of instruments to keep safe and maintain. Below I will offer 4 simple rules that should keep your equipment working and in good condition for years of students to play.

(Disclaimer for Teachers: As a band director or a private teacher you might get discouraged by the amount of upkeep it takes to maintain a percussion section. But in this post I hope to give you 4 simple rules that will help keep your percussionists sounding great and will take care of the instruments you spent your sacred budget funds on. If you will maintain your instruments like I will outline it wont prevent any injury to your instruments, but I can guarantee it will prevent most)

Bag It Up – Keep it Covered

The first thing you can do for any percussion instrument is keep it stored in a bag or a case.  Too often when I visit band rooms I see percussion instruments stored in a drawer, or even a cabinet totally exposed. Whether it’s a triangle, tambourine, or a snare drum, CYMBALS (ESPECIALLY CYMBALS), or your mallets, these all should be stored in a case, and then stored safely on a shelf where they can return after each time they are played. When playing with multiple mallets, set them out on a stand but put a towel down first to keep them from becoming frayed.

If you have a keyboard instrument either in your band room or at home it’s important to always keep it covered. They keys aren’t as fragile as a small child, but it will keep them from accidental mishaps that happen everyday. You can’t put a marimba back in the box after you play it each time so keep it covered. (Teachers: Have your kids take some ownership. If you want them to take care of the instruments you have to show them it’s important to you.)

1600-CymbagPO729_detail2 beatoorchestr_01

Store It In The Same Place

A percussionist’s cabinet should be like a retired handyman’s tool box. Everything is in it’s right place, and it’s organized so it can be found easily. If it’s stored in a cabinet you have a couple advantages. First, it can be locked, that means no one else except your students and you are going to get into your percussion instruments. Also, most cabinets are padded so loose items, things already in cases are extra protected from harm. (Teachers: Keeping everything in it’s proper place will help show your students that it is important to you to keep the percussion instruments safe.)

Never Over-tighten Anything

In my career as a percussion teacher it is this single category where I have seen the most SERIOUS damage done to instruments. I’ve seen drum shells cracked, and hardware rendered totally useless by careless students who want to show their strength. Don’t be this kind of student. Stand nuts only need to be tightened finger tight (which means tighten it till it stops and then don’t tighten it anymore). If you are privileged to have a drum of your own or if a band director trusts you with tuning and tightening drumheads understand that less is always more. BE VERY CAREFUL! Don’t over tighten!

Also one of my biggest pet peeves is finding a stand grave yard at a school. They have overtightened and ruined a stand so they take the nuts from it and use it on something else.  Students and band directors become percussion salvagers. While this might be good if a stand is totally broken and the other parts are salvageable, then I say go for it, but if you’re taking working parts from one stand to use on another I think you’re missing the point. Parts can be ordered and it isn’t that hard to find replacement parts.

(Teachers: Explaining the phrase finger right to the students is really important in their early years. There are also resources for tuning and tightening tips at

Use the Right Tool For the Job

Mallet choice can be very important when playing keyboard instruments.  Marimbas – only use yarn mallets, Xylophone – Rubber, Polyball (plastic) or Wood Mallets, Bells (Glockenspiel) – Polyball mallets are best, be careful of brass mallets. Chimes – rawhide mallets are the best, but you can use other harder mallets as well. Make sure to only play on the tops of the bars.  Bongos and Congas are meant to be played with the hands not hard drumsticks. Be smart, and
think through your tool choices.Innovative-Percussion-FP3


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