Percussionists at Contests

Anno Draconis

Well-Known Member
Bands have players that can cover bass trombone or sop parts, or learn to play the instruments.

Percussion is a completely different skill and not so easy to learn for a brass player.
Not sure I agree. If you're vaguely musical a lot of the basic percussion stuff is learnable quite quickly.. I'm a cornet player, but wild horses wouldn't drag me near a soprano. Apart from the fact that it's clearly an instrument for nutters :) I've spent my playing career pretty much specialising in back row playing - no solos and the bare minimum of high notes, which is the antithesis of what's needed on soprano. I have, however, played percussion on a contest stage - St Magnus in Yorkshire - and although I wasn't great I didn't make a massive pig's ear (band finished in the top six, anyway). With a brief bit of training doing stuff like bass drum, cymbal rolls, basic tubular bells, tambourine, triangle etc was perfectly manageable. I'd need a lot more than "brief training" to play soprano in the same piece, despite being a cornet player already!

Of course I wouldn't have attempted the timp or xylo part, but the more basic stuff was no problem.


New Member
Great to see this being debated although as a percussionist it fuels my rapidly growing angst towards brass banding to see a continued acceptance of things that are the fundamental points behind why we are having this debate!
  • Paying percussionists - I cannot say enough about how soul destroying it is to turn up to every rehearsal, sometimes being asked to deviate from your own part just so the band can get a feel for what the kit part will be like on the day, and for the kit player (or tuned, whatever you need..) to appear the night before the contest (if you are lucky) and then walks away with a cheque. I'm all for covering expenses but beyond that is just an insult to the entire band. Let's start investing the money that goes towards this to bring in the appropriate people to teach percussion within our organisation at all levels.
  • Using a spare cornet/horn/whatever player - This is great when said player actually knows a bit about basic technique, and I get for many reasons that it is our only option. If you are going to do it, please have the decency to check with your actual percussionist if they have time to spend with the individual, to give them a briefing on the part and to allow for some basic guidance on sticks and technical must-knows. Don't just thrust an unwilling and sometimes rejected player to hit whatever they can.
  • Stop talking about percussion as if it's nothing but a hassle - Comments about how "musicians" can pick up hitting one drum (because generally that's all we ever do... SIGH!) are not cool. In any one percussion part, you may very well have to read bass clef and treble clef, switch from something you hit to something you tune then hit and often have to tune something else whilst preparing to hit it too. When was the last time a cornet player had to read different clefs in the space of 12 bars? Is it common for soprano player to switch to BBb bass then to bass trombone and back to sop within a few bars? That's the type of thing that we have to do -- and for many of us, we may be very competent at playing snare drum but the idea of picking up 4 mallets and playing xylophone would make us run for the hills.
The only way we can tackle this is to work together to find solutions. We must invest time (and money) now in attracting new people to our organisations. Don't just reach out to those folk who are already playing. Learning isn't exclusive to the younger generation. Do something in your local communities - have open days and let people come in and pick up random instruments, let them explore their own hidden talents without handing them a piece of music straight away and give them the opportunity to speak to the existing band members to find out more. If I had a new percussionist for every time someone came up to me at a concert and said they had always wanted to have a go at playing drums, this thread wouldn't exist! We need to attract the next generation of players too by getting in to the schools and promoting that we can provide FREE musical education - something which every council seems hell bent on taking away from our future generations.


New Member
This is an interesting thread, once again about the lack of percussion players, one suggestion that has come up time and again is about percussion being registered separately to brass players, because as has also been pointed out time and again playing percussion is a completely different skill set to playing a brass instrument. Separate registrations would allow players who can play both brass and percussion the option to register for two bands. This would give more bands the option to recruit more players without having to pay or train players. I know I would gladly register for two bands because it would give me the chance to do both things I love without having to choose.


Some good points there Fiona.

I agree, paying percussionists actually adds to the problem in that it will get round all the local pros/semi pros/peris that your band pays and you won't be able to attract any of them in to help unless you keep getting your chequebook out. How about offering them the opportunity to borrow the band's percussion (like timpani) instead provided they look after them and it doesn't clash with one of your own band gigs. Or offer storage for their percussion instruments if you have the room in your bandroom. Also don't dismiss the fact that banding is attractive to percussionists who like challenging music, your average championship section testpiece now offers much more demands on technique than almost anything in the orchestral rep. I almost see it as gym for my playing (not that I know much about proper gym!)


New Member
If you want percussionists at contests... I think the solution really is have percussionists in your band. For all but a few test pieces you only need the same number as you need tuba players - are there really more tuba players out there than percussionists?

Our band - a pretty ordinary just-gone-up-to-third section band - will be going to the areas this weekend with four percussionists, all long-term players with the band. (Unlike our bass, cornet and euph/bari lines, which all have gaps.) I don't think there's any particular secret - just, if you only have one or two percussionists, try to recruit like you would for any other empty position; and then, of course, keep them around by playing music that actually has parts for three or four percussionists. Just like you wouldn't organise a brass band concert then have half the repertoire be for brass quintet, if you want to attract and keep several percussionists you need to make sure a large part of your concert repertoire is music that uses them.

If you're actually recruiting rather than looking for a stand-in, there should be a bigger pool to recruit from than for brass players. While, as Fiona says, you can't just throw a brass player at a percussion part and expect them to be up to speed immediately, you can recruit a competent musician to your percussion section and have them give a useful contribution far quicker than you can turn a flautist into a horn player. Most people who can read music can become a competent auxiliary player with a bit of practice; pianists make good mallet percussion players. Kit, snare and timp are a bit trickier - but you can train them as easily as brass if your learners programme covers both.

I think most of the proposals on here sound like terrific ways to kill off brass band percussion playing entirely in a decade or two. We'd have a lot more trouble keeping percussion players in our band if most test pieces only needed one player, or if you could just turn up to the contest and have a team of good percussionists standing in, or if it became usual to pay or bring in from other sections - any of which would mean that an inexperienced player at their first contest would know that everyone they were competing against was far more experienced and they were probably doing their band more harm than good by being there. Recruit to your empty percussion positions like you would to any other position - by finding keen new people, giving them things to play and letting them know they are wanted.


Active Member
I played with a band some years ago who managed to attract players by investing in QUALITY percussion instruments and approaching the local music college/orchestras and offering the bandroom as a free practise room for them... as long as they committed to the band. I think they got two decent players out of it.


New Member
How does limiting the number of perc parts (say 1 in the 4th section) help to attract new players ??
If your 4th section band has 3percs, what do you expect the other 2 to do ??
This kind of idea will only serve to drive more percs away from brass bands.


New Member
I've been a percussionist in brass bands for 20+ plus years. I stopped full time brass band playing in late 2014 for the simple reason that I was bored of rehearsals week in week out.

For me that is one of the big reasons why most bands (certainly below Championship standard) struggle to retain or recruit experienced percussionists on a full time basis - limiting the parts in test pieces would only serve to drive away more percussionists for the very same reason.

I'm helping at the areas this weekend in the 1st section, but was also asked to play for at least 8 other bands in the county, ranging from championship to 2nd section.

If I agreed rehearsal schedules in advance with all the relevant bands, there is no reason I couldn't feasibly play for 4 different bands in 4 different sections over the weekend - however - what good would that do to a young percussionist in the 4th section if he knew a championship standard player was in a competing band? Likewise, what good would it do bands in general in terms of training young new players when the easier option would be to draft percussionists in.

I've watched so many young players come in and do one of two things - progress and love it or get bored and leave. This can only be put down to enjoyment: how many other percussionists have rushed home from work, scoffed down tea to get to band on time only to sit there doing nothing whilst the rest of the band are playing hymn tunes.... I know it's a brass band and I have absolutely no issue with hymn tunes, but why not ask the percussion team just to come once a week or come a bit later so that when they are at rehearsal they feel like a valued member of the band rather than someone who the MD 'will get to later'

As TimP said, most people who can read music can become a competent auxiliary player with a bit of practice, that being said it can be more difficult to find higher standard players that are willing to help a band on kit, snare, timp or technical tuned parts. For me it would be reasonable to allow bands to borrow 1 percussionist from the same section (as long as they are not competing) or the section below.

Bottom line is there are tons of drummers and percussionists out there - just look on 'joinmyband' - but it has got to be enjoyable or players are not going to stick around.

scaba Media

Here's the scaba rules on this which I think covers part of one of the points you raise;


UPDATE: scaba do have some changes planned for these rules so anyone attending one of their contests should seek the current position from the association. The form I have quoted may be slightly out of date. However, the example is still valid as a foundation for change to national contest rules.
Thanks Pauli.
scaba have just amended their rules for contesting, registrations and day transfers. The main change to the rules quoted above are that 2nd and 3rd section bands can now borrow up to 6 players on a day transfer, 3 from 1 section higher.
The updated rules and relevant documents have been sent out to member bands' Secretaries today and can be found on
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