As string and wind musicians progress, they begin to blend effortlessly between one another when passing off melodies within the ensemble. I had the pleasure to experiencing this a few weeks ago during a brilliant performance from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. During one particular melody, it was difficult to determine where the trumpet stopped and the oboe began. It was an amazing moment for myself and the 53 middle school students who were also attending.

Percussionists must develop the same skill with slightly different tools. Instead of airspeed and embouchure, we have roll speed and mallet density.  However, all musicians have one tool that is the same; ears.  Listening is the first step to imitation.

I personally feel Bach string literature is a great tool for teaching this technique. Not only are there are countless professional recordings, Bach’s music translates beautifully to the marimba. Before my students tackle a Bach Partita or concerto, we always listen to recordings together of the performance on the instrument on which it was intended. From there, we can try different strokes and rolling techniques to immitate the string instrument.

Imitation is a corner stone for our drummers to one day become percussionists!

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