OUR NEW PERCUSSION SETUP

This past Sunday, we began our new “percussion journey.” I’m a sucker for aux percussion in a live band and we’ve always used congas, bongos, djembe, etc. in addition to shakers and tambourine.

However, a few weeks ago, I was really taken back by the percussion setup for Todd Bragg, percussionist for Andrew Peterson’s Behold The Lamb Of God tour. I had seen Todd’s setup before but for some reason, this year it grabbed me.

There were a few things I specifically loved about the setup:

1. Texture – lots of shaker, tambourine and swells. In fact, I loved how closely Todd synced up with the drummer’s playing. Instead of some conga or djembe fighting with the hi-hat or kick pattern, Bragg’s playing was designed to communicate transitions and dynamic changes.

2. Better use of space – Having the percussion sit allowed him to closely see the drummer and communicate during the songs. By moving to more percussion “touches” instead of playing patterns all the time, percussionist could sit, relax and contribute easily to songs.

3. Different – I try to not to do “different for different’s sake” but I did think this new setup would both challenge and bless our percussionist. He’s an outstanding player and I knew this new thing would be fun for him.

Our setup:

Cajon – this also served as drum throne for our percussionist. This is, in my opinion, the best, most organic way to duplicate programmed loops. (Why would we use a programmed loop when we can have a dude actually play it?)

Snare (w/ brushes) – A lot of our slower tunes (and hymns) utilize march rhythms and I always hate that the drummer has to move off brushes when the song gets big. Snare gives a good way to keep that and a nice new way for intros and verses.

Caxixi shakers – Fell in love with the variety of these shakers, specifically the hit on the base of the shakers. (We call this the “dart throw” method.)

Cube shaker – One of the most unique shakers we’d ever seen. This wasn’t from the Andrew Peterson show, but I saw it in the music store and bought it immediately. And no, none of us can get it to work yet. BUT WE WILL.

Soft shakers – This double shaker sounds very nice on our mic setup. Really bright without being too shrill.

Seed shaker – Our percussionist has always dreamed of having one of these and once he realized he was free to embrace new instruments, he bought one as soon as possible!

Surdo drum (w/ mallet) – This was a biggie. Love having another low “tom” sounding drum at the percussion station. Allows us to accent some deep low hits while the drummer does tom work on the kit.

IMAG1110_Kevin_Black
How it went: Our original mic setup wasn’t ideal. During the first service, we noticed that the large condenser microphone over the surdo was picking up too much ambient noise from piano and drums. We also had the cajon mic’d front and back, which was overkill. In between services, we removed the overhead and close mic’d the surdo. We also removed the back mic from cajon since the front one was carrying plenty of lows. This helped even out stage volume.

As to groove and support of the songs, it worked pretty great. We need to keep experimenting with our shakers (since we have so many!) to see how versatile they can be with the tunes. Snare with brushes was a nice addition to a full kit – allowed us to continue to shuffle the beat even in the bigger backbeat parts. Cajon worked great – always does. The surdo was deep and rich. We didn’t use it a lot, but I think it made the impact needed.

We’ve got a different percussionist sitting in this week, so I’m sure we’ll do more tweaking at rehearsal to see if we can make it work again this Sunday!

Anybody else out there use auxiliary percussion in their setups? What do you use?

If you’d like to know more about our setup, you can find our percussionist on Facebook!

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2 comments

  1. Frank Favacho

    Hey, Todd. Nice write up and very nice what I’m seeing as your percussive focus. That’d be the overall sound of the group – percussion being only a part. Very cool.

    Being a drummer/percussionist myself, I can say that drum set is typically easier for part creation and instrument/tone/tuning/etc selection because drum set is, well, drum set. Bass/Snare/Hi-hat are the majors. Toms & cymbals help out. Occasionally there’s the tom groove taking the forefront. Oversimplified, that’s drum set (especially in the typical worship setting).

    Percussion, however, is what I find takes more of an artistic approach for the two general scenarios: 1) accompanying a drum set or 2) stand-alone percussion.

    In playing with a drum set I’m more often thinking about (as you nailed) transitions and dynamic changes as well as subtle enhancements to grooves the drummer is laying down or accents in the songs. I once heard it described in scenarios like this as “spices to enrich the meal.”

    In playing a stand-alone setup w/o a drummer… yeeeaaaaahhh, that’s the stuff. One does not simply lay down a percussion groove. *a-hem* Rather, two questions need answering first: WHAT (does the song/moment need?) and HOW (can those needs be met?). That’s where the art really comes into play. Now rather than JUST a spice, this moves percussion into more of an actual food group.. or something. (meal analogy is now butchered) (MAN I’m punny today) The more intentional and resourceful one is with those questions, the better the product will be. (IMO)

    What’s on the percussion palette?
    Most often broken down into:
    TUNED PERCUSSION
    – Bells (glockenspiel)
    – Crotales
    – Xylophone
    – Pans (steel drums)
    – Chimes (tubular bells)
    – Marimba
    – Vibraphone
    – Hang drum
    – Tuned toms
    – Timpani

    UNPITCHED PERCUSSION (mega-creativity, GO!)
    – Metals
    – Woods
    – Shakers
    – Cymbals
    – Whistles
    – Drums (just about all types)
    – Kitchen sink
    – Etc

    And just to blow your mind on easily available percussion instruments that you NEVER knew existed: http://www.larkinam.com/

    Rock on, man.

  2. toddwright

    Dude, I LOVE “Lark In The Morning!” I wanna’ play all of those! Thanks for you insight here…feel free to chime in any time with percussion/drum related info. We need wisdom from guys like you!

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