Thursday, October 16, 2008

#43 Percussionists

Back when I was studying, I had a full scholarship. To pay for it, I had to work around the school, mostly accompanying the other students. On my second year in the conservatory, I was assigned to the percussion class, accompanying a good friend of mine for her graduation recital (on the marimba, vibraphone and other keyboard percussion instruments) and playing the piano with the percussion ensembles.

Percussionists are like a whole different world within the world of a conservatory, like with singers. While string players and musicians live in their closed little world of Beethoven and Brahms full of stress, forced labor and screaming Russians, right across the hall the percussionists seem to be having the time of their lives, working just as hard but having fun. Their music was a place for letting things go, while for the rest of the other students our instruments were a source of constant stress.

One of the most enriching learning experiences of all the time I studied were the two years I spent playing with percussionists. Among the things I learned from them were how to use my body more naturally when playing, the connection between rhythm and movement, the natural bounce that a stick--- or your hand--- should have when it hits the instrument so that it produces a good sound that resonates and letting go of many misconceptions about "legato", "expression" and "cantabile" when applied to the piano. Beyond the actual technique of playing (which is very useful in learning how to manage tension, relaxation and movement), I also learned a different attitude towards music and rhythm.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the piano is a percussion instrument. You hit strings to play. By getting down to the roots of how to play a simple percussion instrument: how to hit something so it produces a good sound and how to give the illusion of legato and cantabile through listening carefully to the dynamics and resonance of each note and using our movements to connect them, we can learn a lot of things that are very useful to us as pianists.

Today's tip? Find a percussionist, and learn from him all you can. If you can play in a percussion ensemble, even better. Observe what they do and imitate.


  1. "Percussionists are like a whole different world within the world of a conservatory, like with singers. "

    I'm curious to know what sort of a different world singers have.

  2. Singers live in a fairy tale world... where they are the fairy princesses, a world where everything and everybody is just so below them, so below their sensitivity and talent :P

    Ok, not all singers, but (sadly) there are MANY airheads with attitudes.

  3. Thanks weirdo ... I'm a singer. I would agree that singers are egotistical people with big heads. You mention a word of critique they'll begin to blame it on fluffy things like the air and the cold that they are trying to get over. Its true the voice is an instrument of fragility but half the time their own voice up by drinking and having caffine or dairy foods.

    I think singers are more sociable than pianists though.