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Let’s say you’re teaching a new high school a cappella group that wants to perform pop music. They’re energetic, passionate, and ready to learn. They’re developing a solid blend, picking up on their voice parts quickly, and performing with nuance and emotion. Everything is falling into place…except the vocal percussionist, an eager but out-of-their-depth sophomore who’s almost as clueless as you are when it comes to making drum sounds with their mouth. What do you do?
Great question! Here’s what you need to know to teach vocal percussion, even if you don’t know how to do it.
Find good resources.
There are so many videos and tutorials for virtually any topic on the Internet, which can be a bad thing if you just don’t know where to start. Fortunately, we’ve put together a site on everything a cappella that includes a whole section of videos on vocal percussion. Anything else you need can be found through quick Google searches. If you’re not familiar with percussion in general, here are the basic sounds you’ll need for most popular music today.
Listen to the kind of music you want to emulate.
According to Jeff Smith, vocal percussionist for the group m-pact, “I spend far more time listening and analyzing how the best drummers and percussionists work with different kinds of ensembles than I do in learning how to make different kinds of sounds.” Charlie Arthur, a high-school-vocal-percussionist-turned-professional, learned by “spitting along to each song that [he] heard” on the radio. Many students who are interested in vocal percussion won’t know how to go about learning it; encourage them to listen to the artists whose songs your group is performing that semester.
Musical cohesion > cool sounds.
Jeff Smith says it best. “Spend 10% of your time learning and developing a set of basic sounds that you can use (kick, snare, hi-hat). Spend the other 90% of your time working on rhythmic accuracy, learning a variety of rhythmic patterns, and understanding the role of the drummer in an ensemble. A VP who uses just a few simple sounds but who has GREAT time, accuracy, and musicality is FAR more valuable to an ensemble than someone who has a mind-blowing array of cool sounds, but doesn’t know how to groove with a group.”
Work with the group (especially the bass).
Most arrangements don’t have a written VP part – in part because most high school and collegiate vocal percussionists, even if they can read music, haven’t learned drum notation. But the bass part is written out, so the vocal percussionist can follow along with the bass to help set their groove. A good tip for beginning VP’s – try using your kick drum sound with every bass note for a few measures, then analyze. Did it sound good? What else does it need? What needs to be taken away?
Do you want free arrangements, expert advice, and access to professional a cappella events? You can have all of that and more by becoming a member of the A Cappella Education Association. Join us today and help shape the future of a cappella.
Image via YouTube.