OT - Writing for Younger Lines

I have a new gig this upcoming season and with camp on the horizon I'm busy finishing up writing the show. I'm ultra excited about a fresh start with a new group, a group with tons of room to grow, but they are a young line (playing wise). I've put together a (hopefully) strong exercise program to build them, but I'm afraid I may be writing above their capacity.

I'm look for tips on how to write for a young line while still keep it contemporary and interesting not only to the players, but interesting to the crowd with texture and timbre. What do you focus on with a young group? Expanding their technique and pushing their hands or focusing on musicality with precision?

I'm sure most of you have been in this boat at one point or another so I'm looking for anything that may help this great group start off on a strong path.

Thanks! :)
[quote author=J Mattson link=topic=1861.msg11889#msg11889 date=1201474211]
The very nature of teaching a high school is the constant flow of new students and graduating seniors.�� By getting incoming students involved in private lessons and spreading the ages (and talent) around the entire ensemble, you don't have to deal with up and down years.�� Kids are kids, and it's up to the staff to create the drive and level of excellence.�� It's not that the top PSW line has kids that are just insanely gifted compared to the bottom PSA line, it's smart design, writing, teaching, and managing.
[/quote]

Very wise; especially in high school teaching/writing.
[quote author=Coach link=topic=1861.msg11890#msg11890 date=1201481380]
I like to say, ";Taylor....can you explain to Larissa what our hands should be doing in this section of the music?";
[/quote]

:-D haha.

The thing that gets me is watching lines try to copy the styles of corps who play super long warmups, and fail miserably at it.  Trying to do a Basic Strokes (SCV 04ish) style warmup or super long triplet roll warmup with a line that barely has the chops or the conceptual understanding of what's going on hurts the line more than improves IMO.  Not saying those types of warmups are bad, if you have a line that can handle it, do it.  But most high school's can't.

I try and structure the warmup book around the show music.  Beyond the stock 8's/Accent + Tap/Sanford, I try to write stuff that I can insert show beats or concepts into.  Like if you have 7/8 sections in the show, play 7 on a hand instead of 8 to solidify feat.  Insert roll licks from the show into whatever roll warmups.  Play a lot of flam breakdown stuff before you dive into straight rams (same with para diddles/para diddle-diddles).  If you have a bunch of runs for the frontline in the show, use the show key signatures in your Green or whatnot warmups.

Beyond that, think up a bunch of easy variations for your warmups (off the left, invert, dynamics, and so on).  Breaks the monotony, and keeps the student's brains active.

First-hand teaching is one of the biggest things in teaching someone how to teach. I wish we were able to do more at Sam Houston.
Amen, Jesse!

The talent should be spread amongst the entire ensemble so that there is consistency of the ENSEMBLE from year to year.  I also like to get my leaders and vets into teaching the younger students so that their knowledge becomes more solid - it makes them look harder at what they are doing.  I like to say, ";Taylor....can you explain to Larissa what our hands should be doing in this section of the music?";  I am there obviously to coach this, but it really lets them take ownership of their section and ensemble.
The very nature of teaching a high school is the constant flow of new students and graduating seniors.  By getting incoming students involved in private lessons and spreading the ages (and talent) around the entire ensemble, you don't have to deal with up and down years.  Kids are kids, and it's up to the staff to create the drive and level of excellence.  It's not that the top PSW line has kids that are just insanely gifted compared to the bottom PSA line, it's smart design, writing, teaching, and managing.
All good stuff guys. Alot of this information is either straight on with what I have been told to do, or have experienced from being in a line that has the talent but sometimes the students lack the drive to practice because either the music is too hard or sometimes the music is too simple and rather than practice, they want to be the cool kid that says ";I can just read this, I dont need practice";. One thing that has always struck me as surprising is when these lines have a crazy warm up book and/or play some crazy licks in their on-field, but never play anything harder than a flam tap or maybe a flam drag in their book. To me, the warm up regimen should compliment the book, and help to work on and clean the items that need to be worked out. I agree with the whole mindset of, ";Give them a warmup book that is simple ";that will build a solid foundation of time, groove, and ensemble responsibility.";, that Tyler suggested. I have seen first hand that when a line plays something that has a simple groove to it, the entire line seems to key in just a little more to it, rather than when it is just plain Jane, they seem to lose focus because they are not really interested in things, they are simply ";playing the notes";. Well all this talk about young lines has made me want to get back out there in front of a line again lol. Hope to see some of you guys at TMEA!
I know this thread is 6 months back, but as a music educator with 27 years in public education, I've got to say that any young would-be percussion instructors should read these posts and take the information to heart.�� Several great points (such as item #7 on this list) are made that are beneficial to young lines as well as more advanced.�� To sum up what a young group of percussionists need, I've put together some of the highlights of each post.�� They are :

[b]1)[/b] Give them a warmup book that is simple ";that will build a solid foundation of time, groove, and ensemble responsibility."; (posted by TylerDurden)

[b]2)[/b] Write their show music keeping in mind that if they are ready, more demading material can be added. (posted by TylerDurden)
";...it is always better to add and boost their moral then to take away from them.";�� (posted by Coach)

[b]3)[/b] Tuning is critical -�� ";Taking the top heads of your snares down a bit and using clear, plastic bottoms on your snares will give them a thicker and wetter sound which will, in the end, sound louder than having the top headed cranked (which many people still do with small lines for some strange reason).";�� ";You just need to experiment."; (posted by Bryan Harmsen)

[b]4)[/b] ";Really the aim is development of technique, development of musicianship, and development of performance.�� You can accomplish all of that (and often more succesfully) with a simple approach to writing and programming.�� Often times people write these great warmups that sound great, but you spend so much time learning them and so much concentration performing them that the intent is lost.�� For young kids just keep it simple, keep it short and repeatable (in my opinion), and keep it fun."; (posted by Justin Belcher)

[b]5)[/b] ";You can get a lot of variety from using space and dynamic contrast, which is something I rarely hear from younger lines.";�� They're not going to have any fun, or improve, if they're struggling to grasp what's going on."; (posted by Tyler Durden)

[b]6)[/b] Not every moment in music has to be intense or busy.�� The post by kimera says it all: ";Best advice ever given to me, ";not every measure has to be bad ass.";�� Pick those key measures in the music, make it a little meaty (not a lot) and see how they respond, if they eat it up, rewrite/improve the lick as a reward."; (posted by kimera)

[b]7)[/b] ";The most important thing, though, is to care enough to write a decent book for such a group. Most of the lines at this level rarely get that."; (posted by Buehring)

[b]8.[/b] ";I really like using a variety of implements and sounds in my writing anyways, so this also translates to when I write for a small line.�� Little things like writing for snares on the rim, cross-stick or dreadlocks can be very effective -- and they don't have to be difficult to play.�� Without writing a ";grocery list"; of all of the different sounds you can use, several others that come to mind are basses playing muted, quads playing on the shells or rims and of course puffy mallets where sensible."; (posted by erath)

And to round out this post out for a [b]Top Ten List for Writing for Younger Lines[/b], here's my two-cents worth:

[b]9)[/b] Build momentum through a chart.�� In other words, get the percussion to emulate/compliment the winds throughout the chart.�� This can be done by the tenors following the alto saxes/french horns when possible.�� Or, use the snares along with the trumpets.�� When writing, don't just think battery and front ensemble - think of the entire presentation including the brass and woodwinds.�� Think in terms of rhythmic momentum, rhythmic textures/colors, and rhythmic motives.�� ��

[b]10)[/b] A [b]non[/b]-writing piece of advice: Once the line is getting the hang of it, have some social time - such as a cookout after rehearsal, during rehearsal, whatever works for your group.�� Pizza socials are great, too.�� Comraderie is great way to develop a tighter group off-the-field which in turn will help the on-the-field group focus.�� Fun has to come into play somewhere and at sometime; hopefully several times.�� Without fun, the group will be less likely to produce and buy into the program.

I applaud Josh Champagne for the original post.�� We all want to improve the end results of our students.�� Give them what they deserve: the chance to grow and the opportunity for success.



In addition to all of the really good advice already given, I'll chime in with my two cents:

I really like using a variety of implements and sounds in my writing anyways, so this also translates to when I write for a small line. Little things like writing for snares on the rim, cross-stick or dreadlocks can be very effective -- and they don't have to be difficult to play.

Without writing a ";grocery list"; of all of the different sounds you can use, several others that come to mind are basses playing muted, quads playing on the shells or rims and of course puffy mallets where sensible.

And while you are at it, it's fairly easy to add a cowbell or jam block which can really add some color in the absence of a pit or if the pit isn't very big.

I'll admit that too much of this might toe the line between legit and gimmick, but if your technical resources are limited, I don't see why you must write dumbed-down and uninteresting parts. Your students will love having parts that aren't the standard cheese and ultimately it's about the student's growth and interest.

Good luck!
The one thing that most easy books are missing is musicality. It can really seperate a group like this from the competition. There are other things that you can do to make it easier for the kids, like writing grooves or ostinatos. Just be sure not to over do it. I also like to set up rolls or any complicated passages by preceding them with check patterns that establish the hand motion. The most important thing, though, is to care enough to write a decent book for such a group. Most of the lines at this level rarely get that.
You know it's interesting... I started writing the closer very basic. I've barely written anything above an eighth note and I already like it better than most of what I did in the opener. :-P I'm going to work a lot with them on dynamic contrast, playing solid and playing clean, and I'm leaving the door open and keeping some ideas in the back of my mind on how to beef up the skeleton where we can.

Now if I could just learn to write tenor parts. ;-)
[quote author=Dave Ratliff link=topic=1861.msg9287#msg9287 date=1184852441]
[quote author=kimera link=topic=1861.msg9279#msg9279 date=1184784638]
Best advice ever given to me, ";not every measure has to be bad ass";.
[/quote]

Post of the week in my opinion.�� VERY true statement!
[/quote]

I'm behind that too! That pretty elloquently sums up writing music entirely.  When you first start writing there's this impulse to make the most innovative, technically-creative book the world has ever seen--only to find out you have this dense, ensemble-heavy, over-designed pile of notes that sounded ";ok"; in the notation software but is a mess on the field.  Simple, tasty, and clever is where it's at; silence is as musical as the most delicate roll.
[quote author=kimera link=topic=1861.msg9279#msg9279 date=1184784638]
Best advice ever given to me, ";not every measure has to be bad ass";.
[/quote]

Post of the week in my opinion.  VERY true statement!
Not always the funnest exercise, but something that is essential - block them up and get them tracking with the basic tap timing exercise. This has a lot of positives: puts their hands in different situations with their feet, gives them a strong base to build upon, and it allows you to see what their tendencies are as a group therefore allowing you to write to their strengths and working up the weak spots.

Best advice ever given to me, ";not every measure has to be bad ass";. I think I've seen some other people around here say something similar and it's true. Pick those key measures in the music, make it a little meaty (not a lot) and see how they respond, if they eat it up, rewrite/improve the lick as a reward. I wouldn't personally dangle it in front of them as an incentive, only if they put in the initiative themselves. Dynamics and different colors from the battery are always appreciated from a judging standpoint - they might even get the tag of being a ";musical"; drumline.

Other than that, infuse key licks from the show into the exercise book when you can. And the most important aspect, make sure YOU have fun. If the kids see that you are having fun and are excited by what they are doing, then they will reciprocate the experience.

Good luck!
[quote author=Josh Champagne link=topic=1861.msg9238#msg9238 date=1184591978]
Thanks for the replies! I will definitely have to readjust my thinking. Writing simple and building upon that is contrary to what I've done in the past and what I've been taught, but it certainly seems like the better approach. I have some re-writing to do. ;-)
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You can get a lot of variety from using space and dynamic contrast, which is something I rarely hear from younger lines.  It's tempting to write a bunch of 8th and 16th note check patterns at a 9-3 stick height for a lot of the show to ";fill in sound";.

Get a skeleton show going with a lot of rhythmic and dynamic variety with space.  This makes it easier to throw some rolls in over a 2 count triplet edge to center crescendo for example, and so on.

If anything, make them feel good about what they're playing.  They're not going to have any fun, or improve, if they're struggling to grasp what's going on.
Vegas feel nice to play with but they definitely don't produce a huge fundamental tone at most tunings.  I'd let your writing guide your implement choices, but in general get your kids playing with traditional mallets until you have more than just one player.  Tuning in fourths is fine, but with that distinct tonal separation and a small upper battery be careful about how your tuning relates to blend--it's easy to overbalance.

More than just another timbre, cymbals in a young ensemble is another opportunity to get kids with a lower skill-set onto the field.  That ends up being great for developing them as players if they're not strong enough to go straight to snare/tenor/bass.

The advice you've been given about writing is good, and I resonnate well with all of it.  Really the aim is development of technique, development of musicianship, and development of performance.  You can accomplish all of that (and often more succesfully) with a simple approach to writing and programming.  Often times people write these great warmups that sound great, but you spend so much time learning them and so much concentration performing them that the intent is lost.  For young kids just keep it simple, keep it short and repeatable (in my opinion), and keep it fun.  Nothing wrong with it being pleasant to listen to, just don't go for the lot show out of the gates.
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