Weapons of Choice: Essential Items from Today’s Leading Percussionists

Years ago, when I signed up for this percussion gig, I had no idea the amount of time I would spend on the road.  Between marching band contests, various pep-band events, honor band weekends, performances, gigs, clinics, festivals, and conferences, I travel more frequently than Lebron in the paint.  For the most part, I don’t have a problem with this at all.  I love getting the opportunity to travel around, and I honestly think it’s a great experience for students to get to perform in other  places.  Also, I am a big fan of the continental breakfast at the Days Inn, and I am pretty sure I have been to every Pilot and Flying J in the southeastern United States–a personal goal of mine.  The problem with travel is that, no matter what, I almost always end up forgetting something fairly important. There is no worse feeling on earth than to arrive at your destination and realize that you forgot a very important and essential piece of equipment.  After one too many times of showing up at the gig/contest/clinic without a needed item, I try to remember to always pack a few essential things, most of which are obvious: sticks, pad, mallets, drum key, etc.  But regardless of my prior planning and awesome preparation, more often than not, I show up at the gig missing something that I wish I had brought.

I have been a reader of G.Q. magazine since I was in high school.  A long running strand of articles is “Ten Essentials,”  where famous celebrity and political figures list the ten items that they can’t live without.  Most of these items are the sort of items you could assume celebrities would list;  Rolex’s, Louis Vuitton back packs, etc.  Reading these articles got me to thinking, what would be the essential items of some of today’s top percussion educators and performers? What sort of items would one pack first when preparing to depart for a gig, or clinic? The following guest contributors represent various aspects of the percussion universe, from university educators, to marching specialists, to jazz players, to world percussionists.  They were kind enough to give me their lists of essential items–the items that enable them to do what they do.  The items they listed were not specifically percussion items that we would all think of, but rather items that allow them to perform or teach at a higher level.


Paul Buyer


  • Director of Percussion
  • Clemson University
  • Essential Item – A Clock

“As obvious as it sounds, the one essential tool that allows me to do what I do is the clock, and more specifically how I use the clock.  Without question, time is the most important value for putting myself and my students in a position to succeed.  The value of time consists of time management, priorities, being organized, saying no, and punctuality.  The ability to know and predict how long things will take throughout the day and the ability to use every minute productively, are keys to success.  I simply never waste time.   Legendary coach John Wooden said, “Wasting time is like throwing a gold coin into the ocean never to be recovered.”  He also said of punctuality, “Being late not only shows disrespect for others, but disrespect for time!”  In rehearsal, I always start and end on time, which provides consistency to our process as we work toward excellence.  Because my students know I respect and value their time, morale is always high.  Another way in which I use the clock is beginning with the end in mind.  This habit, coined by author Stephen Covey, teaches us that every day matters and is an opportunity to grow and improve.  I don’t tolerate complacency, stagnation, or mediocrity.  Every decision I make as a leader is based on knowing how much time we have to achieve our goals and what it will take to get there.”


Michael McIntosh


  • Marching Percussion Educator/Clinician
  • Essential Item – Flash Drive

“I carry upwards of 15 programmed Yamaha MOTIF files and programmed Yamaha  DTX Multi-12 sampler files as well as some generic samples (bass drop, 808 release, string gliss, water phone, suspended cymbals etc.) on my flash drive and it is always with me when I travel to assist in programming and electronic design for groups I work with.”


Marcus Santos 


  • Brazilian Percussion Master
  • Essential Item – Timbau

“The first thing that comes to mind about one item that it would be hard to live without would be the Brazilian Timbau. It is a super versatile instrument that I grew up playing and its powerful sounds gets me Fired uP!

After some thought though, I realize that the Timbau works as a vehicle to the real reason why I enjoy playing music with it. If one day music stops being a catalyst for my development as a person or a catalyst for community outreach for social change. It would make no sense to play music at all. I guess the Timbau is the easy answer but it leads to deeper thoughts of why I would not be able to live without it!”


Drew Tucker


  • Vibraphonist/Director of Education for the Arts Garage
  • Essential Item – Papyrus notebook

“I have a book I bought in Union Square, large Leather with Papyrus. I write my notes from each clinic and performance. Mistakes I feel I made things I need to remember for next performance. It’s always with me.”


Each one of these percussionists provided an item that allows them to function uniquely.  In our day to day teaching and performing schedules, the use of such an item allows us put our own special stamp on how we teach and play.  Whether it be cutting edge electronic samples, authentic indigenous percussion instruments, a simple notebook, or the abstract thought of time, how we as percussionist use the tools of our trade propel our art form forward.  The next time you find yourself standing over top of your suitcase or backpack, wondering if you have forgotten anything, think about what these percussionists bring on the road.  And, don’t forget your phone charger.



Paul Buyer

Paul Buyer is Director of Percussion, Director of Music, and Professor of Music at Clemson University.  He received his Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees from the University of Arizona and his Bachelor of Science degree from Ball State University. He is the author of Working Toward Excellence: 8 Values for Achieving Uncommon Success in Work and Life, published by Morgan James Publishing and Marching Bands and Drumlines: Secrets of Success from the Best of the Best, published by Meredith Music Publications.  He is also a contributing author to the second edition of Teaching Percussion by Gary Cook, and his articles have appeared in American Music Teacher, Teaching Music, and Percussive Notes. Dr. Buyer is a former member of the Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps and placed 2nd in DCI Keyboard Individuals in 1990. In 1992, he was a percussion staff member with the Dutch Boy Drum and Bugle Corps. Dr. Buyer serves as a clinician/endorser for Vic-Firth, Remo, Sabian, Grover, and is a consultant for Mike Balter Mallets.  He is a member of the PAS Education and Marching Committees, the PAS Board of Advisors, and is Career Development Editor for Percussive Notes.  Connect with Paul on his website atwww.paulbuyer.com.


Michael McIntosh

Mr. McIntosh is a graduate of Butler University earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with an emphasis in Composition.

In addition to freelance composing and digital sound design, he is the Percussion Coordinator for the Music For All Summer Symposium. Michael is on the creative team and one of two percussion designers for The Cavaliers drum and bugle corps. As of 2014, Mr. McIntosh assumed the role of percussion caption head. In 2011, The Cavaliers were the recipients of the DCI Fred Sanford High Percussion award. From 1997-­‐2011, Mr. McIntosh was a percussion specialist at Carmel high school in Carmel, Indiana and part of a program named the 2001 AAA National Champion, and the 2005 and 2012 BOA Grand National Champions. Leaving the WGI judging community to design, Michael is the Program Coordinator for the Gateway Indoor Independent World WGI percussion ensemble from St. Louis, Missouri and also arranged for the George Mason Independent Open ensemble. George Mason was named the 2012 WGI Independent Open World Champion. He is involved as a design consultant with Palmetto Percussion.

Mr. McIntosh is an active clinician and adjudicator, giving clinics throughout the US, Europe and Asia having performed clinics in Japan and Beijing.

Michael is a Yamaha artist/clinician as well as a signature drumstick artist with Innovative Percussion. Mr. McIntosh also endorses LP Percussion, EVANS drumheads, Zildjian cymbals and Planet Waves Cables.

Compositionally, Michael has had works commissioned for the Midwest Band Directors Convention as well as the West Point HellCats. Currently, he has works published by SmartMusic, Row-Loff Publications, Yamaha Sounds of Summer, Tap Space Publications, Key Poulan Music, Drop 6 Media, The Hal Leonard Corporation, Innovative Percussion, Marching Show Concepts and Dynamic Marching.


Marcus Santos

Bahia, Brazil native, Marcus Santos is a contemporary percussionist and educator. He commits his life to the study, teaching and performance of his hometown’s Afro-Brazilian music and heritage.

Marcus has performed for the President of Brazil, and on TEDx, Telemundo with the “One World Band” produced by MTV. He also played on Sony Pictures, Oscar-nominated movie, ‘Rachel’s Getting Married’ with Anne Hathaway. He has received several industry honors including the KoSA Recognition Award (2013), Outstanding Arts Performer Award by the Brazilian Immigrant Center (2008) and Outstanding Percussionist Award by Berklee College of Music (2004).

Marcus is the author of the DVD ‘Modern Approach to Pandeiro’. He also performed on the DVD ‘Musically Speaking II’ by BOSE. In the education field, Marcus has lead workshops on Afro-Brazilian percussion and music for social change at notable universities and conventions including Carnegie Hall, PASIC and Harvard.

Marcus the director of the network project, Grooversity, and artistically directs fifteen drumming groups throughout the U.S. and Canada.


Drew Tucker

Drew Tucker is a Vibraphonist, studio drummer, clinician and Director of Education and Outreach at internationally acclaimed Arts Garage in Delray Beach Fl. Educated at Berklee College of Music and Florida Atlantic University, he’s recorded and performed with artists, ranging from grammy award winning stars such as Deana Martin, Englebert Humperdink and Diana Krall to renowned classical & contemporary giants from around the globe including Nebojsa Zivkovic, Cellist Jonah Kim, Nancy Zeltsman, Mark ford and more.

Drew is also an active clinician, drawing on his experience in Vibraphone performance, studio work starting music based businesses and developing successful education programs for non profits to deliver powerful lessons from technique to entrepreneurship. Notable, Drew sits on the board of directors At Delray Beach Center For The Arts, and the Plumosa School Of The Arts Foundation, tours with several regional hip hop and jazz artists and fronts several of his own projects .

Drew plays exclusively on a Malletech Omega Vibraphone with Mallettech Pickups and Innovative Percussion Mallets.

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