22 Dec 5 Tips For An Aspiring Percussionist
By Nate Werth of Snarky Puppy & Ghost-Note
Nate Werth, multi Grammy Winning Percussionist of the legendary jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy and the up and coming funk powerhouse Ghost-Note, took some time to share some amazing tips for aspiring percussionists.
Tips from Nate:
1 – Play With Other Percussionists
Practice with other percussionists, and jam with other percussionists. This will strengthen your ability to listen as well as your internal sense of time. As a percussionist you will need to be able to “lock in” to another drummer’s groove. If you can’t play in time with someone else, then the bandleader can’t use you. It doesn’t matter if the drummer’s time is wobbly, you should still be able to “lock in.”
Assign roles and play follow the leader. Come up with 2 grooves, and then a small embellishment to each section. The leader will play the grooves while the follower then has to create something supportive and complimentary to the main groove. The leader can change between grooves or add embellishments as they wish, so the follower must listen carefully and be on their toes in order to never fall out of sync.
Your goals as the follower should be to “lock in” and to anticipate the transition to the 2nd groove. You should also try to blend in and take a supportive role that is tasteful of the style and more interactive than just playing light 16th notes in the background. Come up with rhythms that feel like they belong with the groove. The leader’s goals should be to keep a steady tempo, and to listen to the follower but not let the follower distract them from their groove or pocket. You want to be solid and strong. Once this is comfortable, the leader should try interacting with the follower by quoting the followers improvised pattern.
2 – Listen To Different Genres Of Music
As a percussionist you will need to be versed in different genres. Find a type of world music that really inspires you and add this culture of music to your studies. Dive in deep to this music. Focus on the grid or the inner-beats of the rhythm, the melodic and or harmonic structure, and the song form. Study what the degree of swing is and what beats push or pull as well.
I recommend studying at least 4-5 cultures of music outside of your own culture. This will give you a better sense of time and a better perspective as a percussionist. You will have greater areas of inspiration to pull from. This will also help you develop a unique voice on your instrument. Listen to be inspired and to dream up new rhythmic concepts. Try to internalize the spirit of the music you are discovering.
3 – Play Along To Musical Recordings
A great way to practice creative music as a percussionist is to play along to recordings. Start with recordings that you have grown up listening to and are very familiar with the song form in its entirety. Create your own percussion part that compliments the music. Focus on supporting the song rhythmically as well as your timbre choice. Give variety to each section of the song both rhythmically and sonically.
Choose a song that you are not familiar with and give yourself 30 minutes to study the song. Feel free to take notes or sketch out a chart so that you can understand the song form. Study these notes and focus on the transitions, hits, inner-beats and overall feel of the song. When the 30 minutes is up, put your notes away and play along with the song. Use the same approach as with playing along to a familiar song. After 2 consecutive attempts through the song, consult your notes and find the areas of the song that you may have missed or weren’t completely confident with. Study those areas for 15 minutes and give it one last go. This will strengthen your ability to learn a song and play with less strings attached.
4 – Incorporate Warm Up And Stretching Into Your Practice Routine
Percussion is very physical and can be damaging to your body if not treated with care. Before playing, do some simple stretches focusing on elongating your limbs and entire body. I recommend seated and standing warm up level yoga poses. Stay away from floor poses before playing as these can sometimes strain the arms. Plan 15 minutes of stretching before practice or performance time followed by 5-10 minutes of slow warm up playing.
During your warm up, focus on slow steady breathing and relaxing your body deeper with every note struck. Allow your mind to become clear of any thought and focus deeply on relaxing deeper and deeper with every note. A clear mind and relaxed body will put you in the best position to learn and absorb new knowledge. You will be more productive and excel at accomplishing your goals at an accelerated pace. Practice makes permanent. This should be your mindset.
5 – Practice Old Exercises Leading With Your Weak Hand
Find new inspiration and weak areas of your playing by starting familiar exercises or grooves with your weak hand. Try and make the groove feel the same as when playing with your strong hand leading. This may feel impossible at first, but with practice it will soon become natural.
As percussionists, switching the role of each hand is incredibly useful. Eliminating any weak or unbalanced feeling will strengthen your performance. Balance is key. This will allow you to produce what you hear more fluidly and seamlessly. As you are leading with your weak hand, don’t forget to focus on the strong hand’s new role.
A-B the exercise: First lead with your strong hand (A), then lead with your weak hand (B). Do this back and forth until you discover the weaknesses. Now isolate the weak areas of the exercise and dissect what feels unnatural. This will lead you to a stronger sound and more confident groove.
Ghost-Note links (Nate’s band):
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/GhostNoteOfficialProductions