Reprinted – Permission of Percussive Arts SocietyShelly Elias is a many-faceted musician. He has played with many well-known performers such as Barry Manilow, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, and is active in recording studios, playing commercials, and doing Broadway shows. Shelly has also composed several pieces for the drumset and has two records out published by Music Minus One Record Company.This article may appear to be very simply written but is by far the most important thing that a musician needs to know for playing arrangements. There is an unwritten code on how to mark charts (arrangements), that only experienced show drummers know. It cannot be found in any drum method book or learned from some drum teachers who have never played shows. Unfortunately, when a person has to play a show for the first time; he usually is in a state of confusion about how to interpret the music placed in front of him.The secret to being an “in demand” show drummer/percussionist, which includes musical comedies, industrial shows, nite club acts, and recording sessions, is to be not only an excellent musician, but to know how to take directions from the conductor and feel secure with the music. Unfortunately, at these sessions and rehearsals, there is generally not enough time to learn the music thoroughly. At recording sessions, the music is played thru once or twice and then recorded. For live shows, the music is either played thru only once or in some cases, there is only a ‘talk over’ rehearsal. A “talk over” means that there’s not enough time to play the song so the conductor explains the different tempo changes and repeats, and that’s all. It is expected that when the show starts even though the music is being played for the first time, it will sound as though the band has played the charts for years!For the drummers who play charts all the time a certain code or system has been developed over the years to make this task much easier. The following information is very valuable to the person interested in playing shows or recording sessions.
The first thing to remember is to bring a pencil to all rehearsals and jobs. I have a supply in my trap case at all times so that I will be prepared to write down any information I need to know. There are always changes being made in this kind of music, this is the rule not the exception. The following are comments that the conductor/leader might tell the drummer and/or other members of the band at a recording session or show rehearsal.
Leader: “Please go from measure 71 to 79.” In other words cut from measure 71 to 79.” This means that the music is marked with a large letter (1) as seen in the example below:
Leader: “Circle out measure 5.” This means that measure 5 is not played. (skip over measure 5) The measure should be circled with pencil.
Leader: “Do not play repeats.” The repeat signs should be circled.
Leader: “Do not play in measure 103.” Write TACET over that measure. When a measure is circled, it means that it does not exist anymore, but when Tacet is written, the measure exists but is not played.
Leader: “Watch me for the holds in measure 36.” I always put eyeglasses over that measure to remind me to look at the conductor.
Leader: “Make sure you play the repeats at measure 76.” Always make two slash lines extending from the repeat signs. When reading fast, repeats are easy to miss. I try to extend all repeat signs.
Leader: “There will he a word cue said by the actor on the stage (“Good evening ladies and gentlemen”) then, I will give you the downbeat.”
Always write “word ‘Q'” then put the line in a box. Leader: “Drummer, watch the actor on stage do a funny walk and catch his footsteps w i t h the bass drum.”
Always write site “Q” then put information in a box.
The biggest downfall of show drummers is that they forget what the tempo of the different sections is going to be. This often happens if there are twenty songs to be played and only a ‘talk over’ rehearsal.
Always use slash marks over measures to indicate to yourself what the pulse is going to be.
It is always important to know how the conductor is going to start a song. If the band is confused about this point, the first few measures could be a disaster, if not worse. Always mark the top left hand corner of the music with the proper information.
I hope this coding system will help you, as it has many successful musicians, who do this very specialized and rewarding type of work.