The Advocate

A newsletter for the music education community of Western PA

Beyond the Bell Kit

Most students start their musical journey on an entry-level instrument, and upgrade to a performance level instrument after a few years. For wind, brass, and string instruments, this is pretty straight forward - but for percussionists it is a little different. What does a percussionist need when they have outgrown an entry-level rental bell kit?

There are many different options for percussionists depending on the path they take on their percussion education. A logical step would be to graduate to a concert snare drum and a practice marimba, given that these are the two most common instruments within the percussion section in a concert band. These instruments are vital for students to progress. We surveyed a collection of the finest band educators in western Pennsylvania, and they agree on recommending these instruments for a student who has outgrown the typical rental percussion kit.

A concert snare drum allows the student to learn about sound production and how a drum responds. This is not possible on a drum pad. While these practice pads do help to develop grip and stroke technique, a snare drum will introduce greater emphasis on sound and tone production.
A 3.3 octave practice marimba with graduated paduk bars is a sound choice. This will allow the student to continue progressing on practice instruments that are closer to the type of instrument they use in the concert band setting. The 3.3 octave range is appropriate for most concert band literature. The bars are graduated, meaning as the notes get lower, they get wider. This is standard for modern professional marimbas. Also, practicing on bars made from real wood provides the student a better approach for learning appropriate technique.
Where does drum set fit in all of this? A common misconception is that all percussionists play drum set. If a student chooses to learn to play drum set, this requires additional instruction separate from band class. Purchasing a drum set is a good option if a student is interested and willing to put in the time to learn a new instrument!
If you're not sure what the best next step is for your percussion student is, contact your teacher or your local music store for advice!

A special thank you to Kimberly Glover for compiling our survey results and adding her expertise to this article. Kim currently serves as the Vice President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Percussive Arts Society and has over 30 years experience teaching percussion. Her most recent teaching positions have been with the Norwin School District, Slippery Rock University, and Propel Charter Schools. If you have percussion questions for Kim, you can reach her directly at


Be Part of the Music is a recruitment, retention, and advocacy resource for music programs across the country. This organization offers several free resources available to music teachers, including pre-made recruitment and demo videos, customizable web pages, and documents for parents and students that can be edited as needed. These resources can save a great deal of time and energy for teachers planning the recruiting process, now more than ever!

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See a sample customizable web page here, and visit to get started!

Student Spotlight: David Gale

David Gale is a violinist who has been playing since he was in fourth grade. He has also played guitar since he was ten years old, as well as a little bit of piano and mandolin. He studied at Johnstonbaugh's Music Centers for several years with Gil Bigenho and Matthew Korbanic. A graduate of Plum High School, David is currently a sophomore at Ohio Wesleyan University pursuing a BA in Music Performance (Violin).

What did you enjoy most about taking lessons at Johnstonbaugh's?

I enjoyed how much I was able to learn and grow with my teachers' help. They pushed me to do the very best I possibly could and to take more self responsibility.

Do you have a favorite piece of music to play? Why is it your favorite?

I don’t really have any particular piece I like to play because I like a lot of music. Vittorio Monti’s “Czardas” is one piece I have been playing recently that I enjoy very much. It has a nice range of dynamics and tempo that is fun to play.

What did your teachers do to help you prepare for college auditions?

I was helped tremendously by my teachers giving me a lot of strategies to practice effectively.

How did life as a music major change when your college made the shift to online learning?

The main thing that changed for me was that my orchestra was split into smaller groups to play. Outside of that, nothing else really changed too much for me as a whole.

What advice would you have for anyone auditioning for music programs this year?

I would first say to trust in yourself and your practicing because if you don’t believe in yourself, you will set yourself up to be stressed and disappointed. Furthermore, just have fun playing. Playing an instrument seriously in this way should be something you are passionate about, so just relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor because you are ready.

Want to nominate a JMC student to be featured in a future newsletter? Reply to this email or send a message to!

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PMEA All-State Clarinet Excerpts Session

Monday, Feb. 8th, 7-8pm

This is an online event.

Auditioning for All-State? Have students auditioning for All-State? Join Dr. Amanda Morrison and Dr. Rosemary Engelstad for a FREE clarinet excerpts session! Learn more about classes offered on their website ( and register for the free session here.

Tell us what you think.

This newsletter is for you! If there is something that you wish to know more about or have questions about, please let us know. We will do our best to get you the information you need.
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Issued February 3, 2021

Newsletter by Dennis Emert and Allyson Huneycutt