by Dave Hagedorn
other instrumental musicians work diligently to develop their technique
on their chosen instrument, percussionists must develop their technique
on five FAMILIES of instruments: drums, mallet instruments, timpani, drum
set, and auxiliary percussion instruments. Too often, percussionists take
auxiliary instruments for granted. They spend countless hours developing
their technique on the drums, timpani, mallets, and drum set while ignoring
the technique of auxiliary percussion instruments. This article will address
the proper technique for playing one of the auxiliary percussion instruments
First it is very important to have the correct
type of tambourine for each playing situation. For concert band a tambourine
that has a head on it should be used. The head is imperative for producing
sounds that blend with the rest of the musicians and also for doing certain
types of rolls. There are two types of heads: plastic and natural skin.
For most situations the plastic head works well and is not as affected
by changes in the weather and humidity.
In addition to the head material, there
are different materials used for the jingles, such as silver and brass.
It is important to try out the instrument to determine which sound is
most appealing to both the percussionist and the director. I prefer a
double row of silver jingles.
When using the tambourine in a jazz ensemble or rock band, I prefer the
headless half-moon shape. It is lighter and my arm will not
tire out as quickly. A plastic shell is lighter and more durable.
Playing the tambourine requires proper technique;
proper technique requires time in the practice room to develop. Too often
percussionists just pick up the instrument and try to make sounds, without
first understanding the details that go into making a quality tambourine
Next we need to address the way the percussionist picks up the tambourine.
The jingles are sensitive. We dont want to inform the audience that
we are going to play the tambourine before the musical passage begins.
Neither the composer, conductor, nor fellow musicians will appreciate
a tambourine sounding over a delicate flute or oboe passage. To avoid
this the tambourine should be kept head up on a trap table or padded music
stand. When ready to play, keep the head parallel to the floor until after
the first note is struck. When setting the tambourine down after playing,
take the same care to avoid unwanted sounds.
There are many ways to play individual notes
on the tambourine. Hold the tambourine in one hand and experiment, striking
it with a fingertip on different places on the head. Next make a bouquet
of two or more fingers and compare that sound. Try playing with the flat
palm of your hand in the center of the head, and also try making a sound
with your knuckles. These techniques will give the percussionist a repertoire
of dynamics and timbres. Remember that most of the time we are adding
to the ensemble and not necessarily playing a solo. Its important
to have the sound of the other instruments in mind in order to make the
tambourine blend with any and all combinations of instruments.
The basic finger technique is illustrated
on page 11 of Standard of Excellence, Book 1. This technique can
be practiced by using the rhythm studies on pages 4345 of Standard
of Excellence, Book 1 and pages 4445 of Standard of Excellence,
When playing rapid rhythms, place the tambourine
on a padded music stand and use both hands. Try to make both hands sound
Young percussionists should be sure to practice
the rhythms in the back of their Standard of Excellence books.
Another technique that must be mastered
is the tambourine roll. There are two types: shake rolls and finger rolls.
When performing the shake roll, the percussionist should start and end
the roll by striking the tambourine on the head. This gives definition
to the roll, similar to the technique used on the snare drum. This technique
should also be used for rolls requiring a soft volume, eliminating an
unwanted jingle sound when preparing to do the roll. This technique is
illustrated in Standard of Excellence, Book 2 page 9.
For more control at softer dynamics, use
a finger or thumb roll. This involves moistening the finger or thumb and
making it vibrate around the edge of the head. Some percussionists like
to use a rubber thimble or attach very fine sandpaper around the perimeter
of the head for this technique. Other percussionists use beeswax. Finger
rolls are crucial to learn, and are used for short bursts of sound that
will blend with the ensemble. The thumb or finger roll is illustrated
on page 16 of Standard of Excellence, Book 3.
In addition to practicing the exercises
in Standard of Excellence, young percussionists can benefit from
using this technique on snare drum exercises that have short rolls.
For pop music or jazz ensemble, the biggest
problem is being able to play a groove for an extended period of time
without getting sore hands or tired muscles. It is difficult to maintain
a steady tempo when we get tired. It helps to hold the tambourine in your
strongest hand, perpendicular to the floor and shake sixteenth or eighth
notes with a side to side motion for a few minutes at a time. To play
accents in a constant groove passage, hold a clave in one hand and strike
the tambourine on the accents with the clave. Its very important
to lock in with the hi-hat cymbal or ride cymbal. A good source
to practice is the Standard of Excellence Jazz Ensemble Method
using the recording and written part for Martian Square Dance
on pages 1315.
Practicing these techniques will improve
your tambourine playing and make for more enjoyable and musical sounds.
Dave Hagedorn is a professional percussionist in the Twin Cities of
Minneapolis and St. Paul. He is the percussion instructor at St. Olaf
College in Northfield, Minnesota.
All illustrations are taken from the Standard of Excellence Comprehensive
Band Method published by the Neil A. Kjos Music Company.
Copyright © 2002
Neil A. Kjos Music Company. All rights reserved.