March 2020
Melody through Rhythm, Rhythm through Melody:
Adding Percussion to the Recorder Ensemble
by Nina Stern and Peter Maund
Rhythm informs melody; melody informs rhythm! Learning about percussion and adding it to your recorder ensemble can be rewarding on many levels. Adding a rhythm instrument helps melody players not only feel the pulse, but better understand and articulate the structure of the piece. Ensemble players will improve their musicianship, meet new challenges, and create more engaging performances. Plus, playing a drum is fun!

Play a Membranophone! Percussion instruments are those that are struck, shaken, and occasionally plucked. In early music ensembles, the most common percussion instruments are membranophones (i.e., drums played with the hands or sticks) and idiophones (e.g., bells, cymbals, castanets, bones, etc.). We’ll focus on hand drums for this article because they are (i) appropriate for early and traditional music; (ii) are easy for beginners to play and (iii) are inexpensive and easy to acquire.
For the following playing techniques, we suggest using a frame drum with a diameter of 16” or 18” for a deep bass and wide variety of colors.
Frame Drums: Frame drums, which are wider than they are deep, may be held upright or rested on the lap. For beginning percussionists, we suggest resting the drum vertically on your lap near the knee of your ‘weak’ leg (i.e., the left leg of a right-handed person). The head faces the audience and the drum should be slightly angled toward the body of the player. This enables the player to comfortably reach across the playing surface with their strong hand. The weak hand rests on top of the frame without muffling the head of the drum. 
In order to clearly articulate a meter and provide various colors and timbres, we use three contrasting strokes on the frame drum. These three strokes are played with the dominant hand.
(1)   Dum - a low, resonant stroke played with the four fingers held flat and together. With the shoulder relaxed and the forearm parallel to the ground, the four fingers strike at the edge of the drum and bounce off, creating a deep, resonant sound. (The base of the fingers should be at the rim, striking at the 3:00 o’clock position, as illustrated*.)
(2)   Tek - a high, dry stoke played with the pad and first joint of one finger (usually the ring or middle finger for beginners). The stoke is played with a flick of the wrist, striking the drum with the pad and joint where the drum head meets the rim. It is similar to a “rim-shot” on a snare drum.

(3)   Pah - a flat, muffled stroke played with the pads of the fingers and thumb. The stoke is played with the hand relaxed, striking the center of the drum and leaving the fingers and thumb in contact with the drum, thus muffling the stroke.
In addition to the three primary strokes played with the dominant hand, the weak hand plays Ka, which is a Tek -like stroke played by tapping the ring or middle finger at the top of the frame drum.
Create your drum part:
Now that we’ve learned the basic strokes, what do we do with them? How do we create a part?
In western European early music, percussion plays a role similar to its role in non-western traditional folk and classical music. Percussion instruments articulate the metric structure while providing color and contrast to the other instruments. In early Western music the percussion part is determined by the historical period and the piece itself. For example, a polyphonic renaissance dance requires a different approach than a monophonic medieval tune.  
There are standard rhythms and meters associated with renaissance dances which provide a useful starting point for creating a part. Thoinot Arbeau provides several examples of drum parts in his Orchesographie (1588).
These patterns can be varied with contrasting strokes, ornaments, and cross rhythms.
In monophonic music, the challenge for the drummer and melody player(s) is different. Here we don’t have harmonic tension to drive the music. There is not a prescribed or assumed drum part for the percussionist. It is up to the melody and rhythm players to create the musical tension using ornamentation, color changes, dynamics, contrasting phrases and cross-rhythms to propel the music forward.
For example, in a fast triple meter Saltarello the percussionist might establish a basic 6/8 meter:  
then add hemiolas or shift the Dum around to add variety or, e.g., provide momentum to a cadence:
The drummer may also add subdivisions to thicken the texture as well as dynamic contrasts to accentuate or contrast the phrasing and form of the piece.
“Open your ears” to new ways of music-making
Adding percussion to solo and ensemble recorder playing will provide both rhythmic grounding and variety to your performances. Additionally, attention to the metric structure of the pieces will “open your ears” to new ways of music-making. We recommend that all members of your ensemble learn some drumming and take a turn at providing the percussion part for the ensemble. Learning to be the “heart” of the ensemble by keeping a steady rhythmic pulse throughout a piece will strengthen your music-making abilities as an ensemble player and as a soloist. And, don’t forget: it’s fun!
The authors have performed and taught together frequently at festivals and workshops nationally for organizations including ARS, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Seattle Recorder Society and the Texas Early Music Project. Here they are jamming at the Port Townsend Early Music Workshop.

Peter Maund
Peter Maund has performed internationally with early music and contemporary world music ensembles, including Alasdair Fraser’s Skyedance, American Bach Soloists, Anonymous 4, Chanticleer, Hesperion XX, Musica Pacifica, Pacific MusicWorks, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Voices of Music, among others. He is the author of “Percussion” in A Performer's Guide to Medieval Music, Indiana University Press, 2000. Described by the Glasgow Herald as “the most considerate and imaginative of percussionists” he can be heard on over 60 recordings. ( )
Nina Stern
Nina Stern has carved a unique and extraordinarily diverse career for herself as a world-class recorder player and classical clarinetist. She has appeared as a soloist or principal player with many of North America’s finest period-instrument orchestras. She has recorded for Erato, Harmonia Mundi, Sony Classics, Newport Classics, Wildboar, Telarc, MSR, Smithsonian, and Good Child Music labels. Recent projects include performances and recordings with her ensembles Rose of the Compass and East of the River. Ms. Stern was appointed to the faculty of Juilliard’s Historical Performance program in 2012. She is founder and Artistic Director of S’Cool Sounds, an award-winning music education project serving public school and disadvantaged children and adults in the U.S., and abroad. ( )
When we asked Nina to co-author this piece, she wrote: "In recent years, working with percussion and with percussionists has become central to my music making - both as a performer and as a teacher. In my own performances and in my educational work with children, I have explored traditional music from other parts of the world, traditions with a strong emphasis on the importance of rhythm and percussion. Learning about this music, about how rhythm informs melody and how melody informs rhythm has also come to influence how I play western early music." Nina and Peter, thanks for sharing your passion with us! - the ARSNova e-mag team
*Drawing by Molly Levy. It is from the the S'Cool Sounds Lesson Plans that will be posted on the S'Cool Sounds website , and about which AR magazine will publish an article.
Do you enjoy our ARS NOVA emails?
Click here for our archive s , with articles on many topics ranging from how to care for your recorders, to useful apps, to scholarship and grant opportunities though ARS. If you've received this from a friend, sign up for your own monthly subscription using  this link .
How to Join the ARS
Take advantage of our 1/2 price rate for first-time members! Get immediate access to all the information available on our website, as well as other member benefits including the quarterly American Recorder magazine.
USA: First year $25
Canada: First year $30