Improvising For Classical Percussionists

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

Improvising is a crucial and important aspect of making music. During my own musical journey I have had times where I did little to no improvisation and other times where it was all I did. In this post, I'll explain my own background in Musical Improvisation in my own life and different ways to incorporate and think about improvising.

When I first started playing drum set I always felt creatively free. It was fun to create new grooves, change existing grooves, create brand new music in a sense! I wasn't rhythmically or musically mature enough to identify with the perfection that most classical musicians strive for and technical drummers dream of obtaining. But all in all, IT WAS FUN! At that point in my life that was what I striving for!

During my college years, I found myself focusing a lot on learning notes and techniques. I stopped thinking in a creative manner because I felt I had to catch up to my colleagues musically. The ironic aspect of this is that only now, entering into my second year of my Masters Program, do I feel creative again musically!

It's been a hard road, but here are a couple of ways that I find Improving and creatively using my knowledge to create my own unique music.

1. Scales and Chords

These basic music theory tools are exponentially helpful when improving. The method that I'm using above is actually quite simple. All I'm doing is play a fifth in my right hand, using alternating strokes. And in my left hand I'm playing the accidentals of the C minor scale. Occasionally I let my hand wander. This allows me to find new sounds and ideas while staying within a key region.

2. Rhythm

Rhythm, the word itself is stoic and unmoving. But realistically, its the core aspect of improvising on non-pitched percussion and mallet percussion. It may sound cliche, but one method that I use to improvise rhythm is by playing a groove on drum set or any other instrument for that matter, I let my mind think of a random rhythm for the next bar and I simply move my hands/feet in that rhythm while letting where the sticks strike to dictate the sound. I find this to be the best way to improvise on drum set and it is refreshing to do so. By doing this, I'm able to have a completely free environment.

3. Rudiments

This one goes hand in hand with Rhythm. But the rudiments are the tools to how the hands can move, by mastering them and applying them across all instruments of the percussion family it allows us to develop new ideas as a whole. There is a great Drumeo video of John Wooton discussing this concept below.

4. Freedom and Ideas that Just Flow!

As a musician we always have music running through our head. It's hard to write it down or play it most of the time. But sometimes if we just enter the practice room and start playing it will just flow out. Allowing absolute freedom of expression.

Thank you so much for listening and reading my blog post on Improvising. There are many ways for Musicians to think about improvising, and everyone has different ideas on improvising. As a classical musician, I tend to think very technically in the way I improvise. I hope this helped you find some fun new ways to think about improvising!

About The Author


Musician / Music Educator

M 608-576-2455 E W

If you, or someone you know, is interested in drum set or percussion lessons in the San Diego area. Please head on over to the Lessons page for more information on lessons with Sam! Online lessons are also available!

If you are interested in booking Sam for an event such as a wedding, business reception, or any other event in the San Diego area. Please click on the Contact/Booking page for more information.

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