Beginner Interviews/ Evaluations


I know it comes up all the time on other forums, but I haven't seen it here yet. Since most of us have beginner interviews for next year coming up in the next month or so, let's get a dialog going.


Ready, go...
Well, typically I work at schools which are ";take what you can get"; in their recruitment.  Unfortunately, that usually means I end up with the ";less talented"; individuals.  That said, I look for a few things...

-Can they read music?  Believe me, I get many who can't or aren't that good.  ";No, Wa-ter-mel-on is NOT how we count 16th notes!";
-How's their timing?  Do they understand the concept of 1 & 2 & etc?
-Do they count?
-Can they learn how to hold a stick properly?
-Do they practice?
-Size - I have 80% of my drumline is 5ft 5 or shorter and three kids 6ft 2 or taller. 

I teach at American Fork Junior & Senior High Schools in Utah, covering students from 7th grade to 12th grade. Each March we audition 6th grade students who want to be involved in the percussion program. The program here is huge and very competative. In a given year 40+ kids will audition for about 15 spots. And because we can be so selective, our audition reflects that level of competition.

I basically look at 4 things when I audition students and give them a number based upon a rubric that I've designed. Students are scored 1-10, with 10 being the highest number. The process is as follows:

1- Sight reading on the piano. The etude is in the key of C, has only quarter notes and a few 8th notes, is right hand only (treble clef) and only covers the span of a 5th (C-G). Many of the students who audition for our program take piano lessons and it is ";common knowlege"; in our community that prospective drummers should have a couple years of piano experience prior to auditioning. We also have an elementry band program where students learn fundamentals so it is not too much to expect students to have some basic note reading ability.

2- We do a basic ";monkey see - monkey do"; evaluation with a stick and pad. I play 8 on a hand and they play it back to me. I sometimes do a ";Pep-si Co-ca Co-la"; thing (two 8ths and 4 16ths) as well. I am not looking for anything more than some basic coordination.

3- On a white board I write a few sticking patterns:
R L R R  L R L L
R L L R  L R R L
R R L R  L L R L

Without explination, I ask the kids if they can play one of these patterns on a pad. This will show if the student has some intuition regarding notation. Lots of students will simply take one look and play the stickings without any explination and do it with steady 8th notes. Those are the kids you're looking for.

4- Lastly, I have my iPod set up to some speakers and I play some James Brown, TOP or Kool and the Gang and ask the kids to clap along to the music. I start the tune in some akward spot and see if the kids can find the tempo and clap along to the pulse. If a kid can't do this, then they are going to have some serious problems with pulse, time & tempo. Kids who can nail it, or even clap on 2 & 4 naturally, are the kids with a strong sense of time.

I give each kid a score out of 10, with the highest possible score of 40. I take the top 12-15 kids with the highest scores. Ties are broken by their ability to read (i.e. all things being equal, I'd reather have a kid that has some prior reading experience). The whole process doesn't take very long and I can get through all of the audition kids in one afternoon. I also have some handouts regarding the program, lessons and other enrollment things that I give to each student. I usually email all of the kids/parents that very night and let them know who will be invited to enroll in percussion class.

I'm not sure if that helps anyone, but there it is. And I have to give credit to Mike Hernandez at Drop6 for most of this. He's been doing these kinds of auditions in TX for years and he helped me come up with this process. Mike told me a story of having about 60 kids wanting to audition for him one year. There was simply no way to audition all of the kids. So, he put a CD in the band room stereo and started teaching the kids some silly little dance. Stepping side to side and clapping along to the music, etc. He grabbed the top 20 or so kids that looked like they were grooving and had them go through the audition process. ";Poof"; you have a percussion section......

Mike Huestis
Nice Mike!  +1 for you on the explanation!  I've been doing #2 & #3 but I believe I will add the other two as well.  Lots of kids here, and I love big percussion groups, but as we explain all the time - everyone cannot play a drum in order to have balanced sounds and a quality program.
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