Monday, February 25, 2019

Beginning snare drum books

Winner 1
A brief roundup of some available beginning snare drum books— books for first year students who have never played before, roughly age 10 and up. May also use them with more experienced players with little reading background.

This is one of the main types of books I use in my teaching, for learning to read, count, and play rhythm, and understand basics of drumming and of musical structure. Technical issues and rudiments are secondary, but I appreciate a summary of rudiments.

I generally prefer short one or two line exercises covering basic rhythm in 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8. Covering single notes, flams, ruffs, and rolls. I like for there to be duets included.

Most of these books include an introductory chapter explaining the very basics of what a drum is, how to hold the sticks, maybe a picture of a dude in horn rimmed glasses wearing a parade drum. Some attempt to teach drum technique via print, resulting some very cluttered-looking books. I think technique should be handled by the teacher, and I prefer books that don't try too hard in that respect. I like a clean page.


Here are the books:


Elementary Drum Method by Roy Burns and Sandy Feldstein
For about the last ten years this is the book I used younger beginning students. It has a little bit of everything, none of it is too hard, and the studies are short. It has a few too many studies written in school band style notation, for snare drum and bass drum, which I do not dig— learning how to count endless measures of boom-chuck is what band class is for. But overall it is solid. Includes a summary of drum rudiments.



Vic Firth Snare Drum Method - Book 1 by Vic Firth
Excellent book, with short studies in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8. Well-designed one page lessons, which I like a lot. I live for well-designed one-page lessons. Rudiments covered are flams and various short rolls— mostly 5-stroke. Studies are short— 1-4 lines long usually. No duets, but I can print those from other sources. I'm currently phasing out Burns/Feldstein, and starting most of my beginner students on this book.


Winner 2

Elementary Snare Drum Studies by Mitchell Peters
I'm very fond of Peters's materials, and this may be the best book here for serious, talented, mature beginners. More in depth than the others, with lessons covering some finer points of musicality than the other books. The book is thorough, but the pace of the materials is nice and brisk— Peters keeps the studies to a moderate length. I'm not as wild about the style of notation (stems-down) and the page design, but you can't have everything.



Primary Handbook for Snare Drum by Garwood Whaley
Very good, well-organized book. Progressive daily assignment pages include two short musical studies, a rudiment, and a stick control-type pattern. Rudiments are presented in textbook form, with no context or supporting studies. Odd meters are prioritized more than you would expect— there are studies in 5/8 (including a long duet) and 7/8 even before 16th notes are introduced. Gentle learning curve for technical elements like rolls, flams, and ruffs. Includes some multi-drum studies, and student composition assignments. Has practice logs on every page, which I don't like seeing, but they're probably effective. I would reserve this for more talented, engaged students. Includes a CD. Whaley has another beginner book which predates this one, Fundamental Studies for Snare Drum, which I have not seen.



Basic Drumming by Joel Rothman
Not a snare drum method per se, but it could be pressed into service as one. It's a compendium of all standard snare drum and drum set vocabulary from beginning to moderately advanced. A lot of technical studies, somewhat fewer musical studies. Mostly easy to read, with some good things not found in other books. There is a lot of material, and little explanation, so a teacher will definitely be needed to give appropriate assignments. With so much stuff, you have a lot of flexibility assigning things helpful for the individual student.



Runner up
Alfred's Drum Method - Book 1 by Sandy Feldstein & Dave Black
Not a terrible book, but I have a difficult time with it, for a lot of small reasons. The introduction is good, and I like the general scope of it. A number of style elements bother me. For me there is a general uncomfortable institutional feel. I don't like seeing two measures of an exercise spread across a full page. The one line exercises are just multiple measures of the same rhythm— if that was what I wanted for this purpose, I would use Reed. In a snare drum book, I prefer that the studies make a musical phrase. The “solos” are long school band-style pieces for snare drum and bass drum. They're exactly like any number of junior high band parts, without rests. The whole enterprise feels like it's made for creating school band percussion section students, rather than musicians.



Snare Drum for Beginners by Morris Goldenberg
Very good, maybe not for its advertised target audience. Mostly focused on reading rhythms, including ties. Flams are the only technical/rudimental element included. Rather strangely, there are no dynamics indicated anywhere in the book, and no triplets, no compound meters. My major criticism is the pace of the materials. It starts out glacially slow, with six dense pages covering quarter notes and quarter rests, rapidly progressing to complex 8th note/8th rest and 16th note studies. By the end we're reading pretty advanced jazz style syncopation. To me the tie studies are unnecessary at this level. The practice pieces are longer than they need to be— mostly full page. I've used this with a few younger students, and found that it needlessly tried their patience.



Haskell Harr Drum Method by Haskell W. Harr
Book 2 of the Haskell Harr method continues to be one of my favorite books for traditional rudimental drumming. Book 1 is definitely a beginner book; probably the definitive book of its type circa mid-20th century. It is heavily marked up with technical detail, and is too rudimentally oriented for me. Most studies written in band music format. At this point I think Book 1 is out of date, and there are better options for beginning drummers.



Stick Control by George Lawrence Stone
This is not a method book at all, but it is mentioned so often on the internet as the only snare drum book people use, I should talk about it on the same terms as these other books— how it functions as a beginning snare drum book. I do teach beginners some exercises from its first page, and sometimes the first short roll combinations. There is nothing in it dealing with the other things I need for beginners. Using Stick Control as your only snare drum book would be like taking up the piano and only working on fingering patterns, never learning an actual piece.



Progressive Steps to Syncopation by Ted Reed
I should also include this, because though it's not supposed to be a general purpose beginner's book, it kind of looks like one, and it's very tempting to use it as one. I do use it in in lessons before the student has his own book, for first learning rhythmic basics. And of course I use it for all levels of drumset instruction. But as a snare drum book it's really boring, and doesn't cover rhythm and meter as broadly as is needed to give novices a true understanding of it. And of course there are no other technical or musical elements present at all. Get a real snare drum book.

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