Percussion repertoire and performance tips at Grades 6 to 8

If you’re taking your Grade 6, 7 or 8 Percussion exam, then there’s some excellent repertoire available, covering some well-known percussion classics alongside some brilliant new compositions. But this music isn’t just there to be played in the exam room. Many of these pieces will be great to have up your sleeve for years to come. So let’s delve into the syllabus and discover what’s on offer.

Performance pieces for concerts

  • Grade 6 Snare Drum – New Orleans Sunrise by Jill Jarman features in ABRSM’s Principal Percussion It’s a piece that shows a range of techniques on the snare drum which give variety and visual interest to the audience, along with a great piano accompaniment to add melody and further texture.
  • Grade 7 Timpani – Feuertanz by Cameron Sinclair features in 3 Tanzen, which also includes Kontretanz (Grade 6) and Neuertanx (Grade 8). These were written as performance pieces and offer opportunities to play groove-based music and add colour and expression
  • Grade 8 Tuned Percussion – Frogs by Keiko Abe is a great piece to move learners towards professional marimba music. Keiko Abe wrote many of her compositions around her own improvisations so there’s a lot of room for interpretation and freedom with expression in this piece. She wrote many pieces for marimba, so this opens up a world of repertoire.
  • Grade 8 Combined Percussion – Dance for Five Drums by Jan Bradley is written for 3 tom-toms and 2 boo-bams/bongos. This well-established piece has been performed on BBC Young Musician of the Year and at many music college recitals. It’s definitely worth looking into!

Tips for your percussion performance

  • When choosing a piece to perform as a percussionist, there are more things to consider than just programming. When thinking of the musical outcomes, you could consider how showy or theatrical you would like it to be or perhaps the programme requires a more sonorous piece. If you’re putting on a performance where you get to choose more than one piece, you could consider a range of contrasting instruments, styles, tempos and feels.
  • Logistically-speaking however, when choosing pieces, make sure you have the correct instruments available or space to get into the venue. With timpani repertoire for example, some are played on four drums so do check this ahead of time.
  • Make sure you plan your set-up and pack-down time. It’s often preferable to perform at the start of a concert or after an interval if you have a lot to set-up so that you don’t need to rush getting everything in exactly the right place. Or perhaps you could have all your percussion ready before the concert begins in a place where it won’t need to be moved when it’s your turn to play. In a whole concert of your own pieces, think about moving between the instruments and how to make it as slick as you can.
  • Don’t forget that whatever outfit you choose shouldn’t just look right, it needs to feel right too! Comfortable shoes are a must for balance and they may need to quiet for moving around too. Sleeves shouldn’t hinder your sticks when playing or clicking buttons on sticks/marimba notes.
  • Most percussion instruments can become very loud when played at dynamic peaks. Consider the space and resonance of the room you’re in and adjust to an appropriate dynamic level.
  • Consider playing from memory. When watching a performer, you want to see engagement and communication. Show the audience that you’re involved with the music and let yourself relax into the movements.
  • And finally, if you don’t have any performance opportunities, filming yourself is a great way to add some pressure and to challenge yourself to play at your very best. Then watch back and see how you’d like to improve.

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