Show & Studio

Becoming A Percussionist: MD Talks With Fred Wickstrom

by Gave Villani

At one point in your drumming career, you’re apt to ask yourself, how can I earn more money? The answer may be, become a percussionist. As a percussionist, you’ll be qualified for more jobs, which means more earning power. Concurring on the usefulness of a drummer becoming a percussionist, Fred Wickstrom recently wrote, “the show drummer, aspiring to do night club work will usually be in much greater demand if he’s able to double on (keyboard percussion, bongos, conga and timpani). Most name acts usually require a percussion player in addition to the drummer, and both bandleader and club owner will appreciate it if the book can be played by the house drummer without the added expense of bringing in an outside man”.Fred Wickstrom is director of percussion at the University of Miami. His credits include the Chicago and Miami Symphony Orchestras; the Jan Garber and Louis Bellson bands; the Howdy Doody and Jackie Gleason TV shows. He has played on hundreds of record dates and has backed hundreds of acts. Fred is both an excellent teacher and a brilliant performer.”You should learn percussion by attending a good school”, says Fred. “If that is not possible then you should attend clinics held by symphonic players and take lessons from a good teacher. If these are not available, then you can proceed with a self study program”.

“A drummer should start playing and collecting the non-pitch instruments, such as cowbell and woodblock, which should be part of the set”, Fred emphasized. “You should buy as many small accessory instruments as you can afford, such as triangle (8″), and castinetts (single handed). The trend today is for the percussionist to build his own accessories, not only for custom sounds but for lower costs.” On the subject of building the accessories, Fred suggests Music around the House, and Music in the Kitchen, both written by Emil Richards, and for learning to play the accessories, there’s Techniques of Playing Bass Drum, Cymbals and Accessories by Al Payson, (Payson Publishing), and Morris Goldenberg’s Modern School for Snare Drum, (Chappel Publishing), which has a section on playing small accessories.

Which instrument should the drummer buy next? “Conga drums!”, stresses Fred. Conga drums are a good double if an act brings their own drummer…and… Congas are adaptable to Latin, Jazz and Rock.” Fred’s book, Latin Percussion Techniques Adapted to Pop, Rock and Jazz, (Published by Payson Publishing), is an excellent book for learning to play conga and other Latin instruments. The book even has a record attached to aid in producing the right sounds.

“The next major investment should be two tympani, either 25″ and 28″, or 26″ and 29″. Equip them with tuning gauges; they will get you close to the notes. Gauges are used by the majority of symphony players as an assist in making fast changes.” For tympani study, Fred suggests Timpani Techniques, (published by Pro Art), by Thomas McMillian.

For continued growth as a percussionist, Fred feels, drummers should take piano lessons. “Piano is an excellent way to learn xylophone parts, especially if you don’t have a mallet instrument to practice on. Find a choir and go sing. This will train your ear and develop relative pitch. Obtain records such as Roy Burns’, Big, Bad and the Beautiful, which has a drum part and a percussion part available, and Classical Percussion, (MMO 4065), by Arthur Press, which demonstrates fundamental techniques as applied to symphony playing for snare drum and all accessory instruments. Most intermediate to advanced text books have complete parts to orchestra compositions. Get the records to these compositions and play along to get the feel of counting and playing in tune with musical groups. Use headphones when listening because, they give the same feel as sitting in the middle of the orchestra. Expose yourself to different types of music; attend live performances, and watch TV shows, paying attention to the duties of the doubling drummer. Play in many different types of musical situations, and above all, attend any clinic or symposium that a percussionist or a drum company holds. It is the key to concentrated study for short periods of time. They are total immersion into percussion.”