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Percussionist vs Drummer: training paths in Italian public schools

Percussionist vs drummer

Percussionists and drummers! Don’t tell me that you’ve never thought “how cooler am I”:

A) as a PERCUSSIONIST, compared to him, a DRUMMER

or

B) as a DRUMMER, compared to him, a PERCUSSIONIST.

Sure, we all know that this is a stupid issue, to begin with. It’s so stupid that I don’t even want to be bothered speaking in these terms.

However, this arises an important discussion from the teaching point of view, which I have to consider.

The problem is basically this: how much time should be devoted to the study of the drum set within the curriculum of a percussionist? And if a student shows no interest whatsoever to the other percussion instruments and he/she only wants to focus on playing drums, shouldn’t he/she be able to do so? And shouldn’t the public school system guarantee this right to everyone?

These are the main questions that I’ll try to address in this post.

 

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE ITALIAN CONSERVATORIES

It’s clear that the first thing I ask myself is “who am I?” or eventually, “who would I like to be?”. Well, I’m a percussionist and I’m also a drummer. Of course, I’d like to be a better drummer. But I’d also like to be a better percussionist.

As I said in the first post that initiated this blog, regarding drummers: “if it was for me, I’d personally throw them into the same percussionists’ pot”. Because really, drums are ultimately percussion instruments. But at the same time, (and I also said this in the post regarding the percussion instruments classification) “the history and the repertoire of this instrument [the drum set] had a different and partially independent development, compared to that of the other percussion instruments”.

From this point of view during my career as a student of percussion I’ve been lucky for many reasons:

  • I’ve always loved the drum set; it has been my first instrument, which facilitated my development as a musician, also in terms of technique. And more than studying it, I’ve always played drums in different groups and bands.
  • During my studies at the Conservatory, drums was included within the final examination for the Bachelor Degree and it was divided into two specific exams within the study program of the two years of the Master Degree.

It’s clear then that thanks to my personal interests and to the study path I followed at the Conservatory, I’ve never personally had the doubt: “Am I a drummer or a percussionist?”.

But the question stands if we consider everyone’s personal ambition or the fact that in public schools the study programs don’t clearly meet those of the Conservatories.

As an example, let’s consider the Country where I live and work: Italy. Here, Conservatories have finally included, within their age-old rooms of the music tradition, those instruments called “modern”, tagging them as “jazz instruments”, which to me sounds restrictive and somehow also conservative.

 

DIFFERENTIATED STUDY CURRICULA

So, let’s get started with the fact that I have just highlighted: the curricula in the academic level are already differentiated. How to deal with the programs of the secondary schools then?

 

Lower secondary school with Musical Instruments Education

Regarding this school grade we need to consider the law, which in Italy gives compulsory instructions to follow. The law to take into account specifies 4 different percussion instruments – snare drum, timpani, xylophone and vibraphone. Then there’s also the requirement “to be able to perform small musical pieces for setup or for a single instrument with or without the accompaniment of another instrument”.

Among the different meanings of the word “setup” you could also read: drums. That law, as usually happens in Italy, could have been written more clearly and It could include more explicitly the basic study, for example, of the main pop, rock and jazz rhythms on the drum set. In this way teachers wouldn’t be left with doubts and qualms.

Nevertheless, despite not completely clear, this law states that in the lower secondary schools you must study percussion instruments, not only the drum set. But the drum set can be (and I think it SHOULD be) included within the regular curricula.

 

High Schools with Musical Instruments Education

Here we get into my field, as it’s now 4 years I’m teaching in a High School with Musical Instruments education. Which instructions do I get from the law here? Nothing or almost nothing specific.

“Almost” is referred to the Italian National Guidelines and to the Regulations of the High Schools. These Regulations state that 5-years High School curricula are divided into 2+2+1. The first two years are focused on the initial in depth analysis and development of students’ knowledge and abilities and on a first development of those competencies that characterize the single parts of the High School system”. These are words that, regarding the musical instrument education, I read as: teachers should possibly resume what was already done at the Lower Secondary School and start teaching new repertoire and techniques.

“The second two years are focused on the in-depth study and development of the students’ knowledge and abilities and on the development of the competencies that characterize the single parts of the High School system”. Identical to the first two years, where the only difference is in the words “initial in depth study” and “a first development”. Typical of Italian laws….

Finally “in the fifth year, students shall complete their full training, cultural and professional development […] and shall strengthen their vocational path towards their forthcoming studies and their entry into the job market”. Here my interpretation, at least for what concerns the field of the musical instrument education, is to give to those students who are interested the chance to study towards the admission test for a Bachelor in Music (Percussion Instruments in my case).

Drummer playing drums

 

MY IDEA

Now, given that in the Conservatory we already have a “modern” and a “classical” curriculum and given that a specific training towards these two curricula cannot be concentrated in the last year of High School, my idea would be the following:

  • To keep a general study in the first two years which would also include, among the other instruments, the drum set. All this should be deepened both in the musical and in the technical level compared to that of the Lower Secondary Schools.
  • To make a curriculum choice at the third year. One curriculum could include the in-depth study of the classical percussion instruments – orchestral instruments, timpani, mallet percussion instruments, snare drum, etc. Those who choose a “modern” curriculum could deepen the study of the drums and jazz improvisation, eventually also playing the vibraphone.

 

PROBLEMS

Lots of different kind of problems arise from my idea. The main two are:

  1. From a pedagogic point of view, we should prove that studying only drums, or at least the modern and jazz repertoire, is sufficient for the musical development of a student in his/her last 3 years of the High School, compared to all the other percussion instruments and to the so-called “Classical” music. I don’t think we can get to a convincing answer in any case without falling in the stupid issue of “classical music” vs “modern music”, so similar to the stupid issue “percussion instruments” vs “drum set”.
  2. Teachers. We should employ teachers who know the specific repertoire for the drum set and have a specific Degree. These new teachers shouldn’t be trained only from the musical point of view but, like me, also from the didactic and pedagogic point of view (despite often ignorant teachers with no direct experience in schools teach didactic and pedagogy in many Conservatories). At the same time “old” teachers like me should, according to the students who ask for it, give a chance to the new teachers.

And behind this last doubt there’s the hardest obstacle to destroy. If I could decide, I’d eventually step aside and leave a chance to new colleagues, more experienced than I am in the field of drums. How about the others…?

 

CONCLUSIONS

Dear percussionist/drummer, I do apologize if I’ve bored you this time with a post full of laws, suggestions, bureaucracy, etc. Perhaps an ordinary post regarding how cooler is playing drums than percussion (or the opposite) would have been better.

All in all, if you can give any contribution to this discussion I ask you to do so within the comments.

In the future I’ll write the second part of the dispute “percussionist” vs “drummer”, but I’ll focus on the job perspectives of both parties. Bye!

 

Question: what do you think about the suggestions I’ve introduced here today? Have you got other ideas about how the study of percussion and drums should be organized within the school system? Leave a comment!

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