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Expanding Drum Kits with Percussion

More than Cowbell!

 

by Percussion Play and Koozai (adapted by Team HC)

 

 

 

When you hear a great drummer play, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually playing multiple instruments at once. Bringing all those separate elements together into one whole is a pretty amazing feat.

Expanding the palette of sounds beyond the usual suspects might seem a bit self-indulgent, but if it’s fun and it sounds good, nobody can tell you to stop (it never stopped Neil Peart!). So how can you build your tones without ending up with a kit the size of a spaceship?

 

Wood Blocks

Scoff all you like; the humble block is one of the coolest-sounding alternatives to the cowbell you’ll find. Cheap and cheerful, wood blocks project well and add a beautiful character to grooves, similar to playing the rim on snares and tom toms, but with a character all of their own.

Plastic variants are available, too, with wackier shapes and tonal possibilities. You can mount them just about anywhere on your kit and they take up next to no space. It’s hard to think of a downside. You might as well take the plunge if you’re feeling experimental.

 

 

Additional Hand Drums

Bongos are like rhythmic honey. They encourage exploration of the feel of a groove with their sound alone and work great in funkier arrangements. They’re small and easy to mount around the kit for easy access.

Employ a couple of floor-standing congas for Cuban-inspired rhythms or just to add a broader spectrum of sounds.

They’re traditionally played with the hands, but bongos and congas can also be played with sticks for extra attack and volume. Just be careful not to beat them up too badly: the edges can be dented quite easily, damaging the skin and eventually the sound of the drum.

You could switch to percussion mallets to prevent this, but this will change the character of the attack (that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind).

 

Improvised and DIY Instruments

You can have some crazy creative fun when you make your own percussion instruments. Some people wince at the thought of not having a pristine, lovingly made and branded instrument, but if you’re prepared to open your mind you’ll be the exclusive owner of a one-off gem.

That doesn’t mean you have to make anything, though. There’s enough so-called junk out there to make finding a new instrument one of the easiest things you can do: you’ve just got to know what to look for.

Oded Kafri, famed for his incredible outdoor street performances, uses a stand-mounted water cooler as a drum – check him out if you need inspiration to expand your moves too!

 

Mallet Instruments

Xylophone, marimba, vibraphone and chime instruments are bigger, heavier and trickier to place, but they offer an opportunity to explore melody and rhythmic tonality in really interesting, pleasing ways. If nothing else, it’ll keep your musical peers from making those “stupid drummer” jokes about how you’re just thumping things – well, if you’re lucky.

It helps to have musical scale knowledge, or at least a sense of what you’re doing melodically. No, there’s no such thing as right and wrong, but if you’re playing with a group, you can’t really just mash in some glockenspiel and hope for the best: your fellow musicians probably won’t appreciate it. Play with the group, not against it.

If you’re up to it, you can begin to paint extraordinary percussive notes over the top of your grooves. You’ll find it especially helpful in small ensembles, where a bit of added variety can go a long way.

 

Hi-Hat Mounted Percussion

Ah yes, the old tambourine on the hi-hat stand trick. So obvious, so clichéd – so what? One of the oldest tricks in the book is still one of the best.

The hi-hat takes the role of master of meter and time, the expressive metronome that makes a groove sizzle and pop. Its absence is often more noticeable than its presence. It’s the unsung hero of the drum kit. Adorning the stand the hats sit on is an easy way to give it the praise and attention it deserves.

Playing the hi-hat with your foot as a count suddenly becomes extra spicy with a tambourine mounted on top. Each motion you make on the hats becomes accentuated. It’s not always right – it brings a looser feel that won’t fit every piece of music you play – but when it is right, you’ll love what it does to your sound.

The hi-hat stand offers more than just a place to drape a tambourine, though. Using clamps and booms, you can fit pretty much any small percussion instrument here comfortably.

Oh, and cowbells go quite well here too, if you were wondering. But we’re not talking about those…

 

 

Electronic Triggers

Get ready to blow some minds with this one. Players like Aric Improta are bringing trigger pads into their regular arsenal of gear to add a previously impossible dimension to their sound. Sure, it’s not traditional percussion, but it can emulate those sounds (and so many more). If you want to keep your rig small but expand your sounds beyond anything you’ve ever imagined, this is the way to do it.

There are some cons. For a start, it’s fiendishly expensive compared to traditional percussion, especially when you consider the need for amplification. Cheaper triggers can misfire. Storage and playback options can be limited too. And the limitless possibilities of zany sounds can leave you overwhelmed with choice.

But if you’re desperate to get more creative, or even considering a solo project with your drums, there’s a galaxy of limitless potential open to you.

 

 

 ________________________________________

 

 

This article was brought to you with express written permission of Percussion Play, manufacturers of custom-built outdoor musical instruments for playgrounds, schools and public spaces all over the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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