The Mouse
by Mike Coers

A great way to begin the spring training season for the high school marching percussion section is to play exercises that incorporate both pit and battery. I have found that sometimes, due to time constraints and lack of “ tech “ personnel, it is advantageous to have full ensemble exercises available which incorporate multiple learning concepts. While the battery works on grip and stroke to unify technique, the pit needs to work on playing in various keys and developing ensemble listening and phrasing concepts. Here is an exercise that accomplishes several very useful concepts in a condensed form.

The Mouse is a well-rounded combination of single, double, and triple beat strokes, which also incorporates timing and listening concepts for the pit.

It starts out with a basic pattern in 4 / 4 of two taps, one accent, and a triple beat. The battery should work to find uniform tap and accent heights and also make sure that all three notes of the triple beat are speaking clearly. There is the very important element of “consistent touch “ which will ultimately determine the overall battery sound quality, which needs to be a consideration for each stroke as well.

The pit gets to play a single handed ascending and descending pattern in which they should look for proper playing areas on each specific instrument as prescribed by the instructor. The keyboard players should concentrate on consistent sound quality from each bar. They should also listen to one another to begin to find a nice balance and blend so that no one person sticks out of the mix.

The next section is in 7 / 8. All players should continue to mark time in 4 / 4 through the 7 / 8 section to build 4-way coordination. If this is done correctly, the feet should back “ on the beat “ every two bars. If you march with left foot lead, then your left foot will be back on beat one at the end of this four bar section.

Again, during the 6 / 8 section, keep the feet moving to the quarter note pulse. This will create a two against three feel on the upbeats as the lead foot changes on every bar. The mallet players get some descending thirds and scale passages here which they must lock into the battery groove by listening and being sensitive to the overall pulse of the ensemble. You will find that starting each descending line lightly and building energy toward the end of each bar will create a very nice dynamic phrase. This will also enable the mallet players to be sure they are locked into the battery groove at the beginning of each phrase.

At the 3 / 4 section, all accents are back on the beat with a very definite quarter note pulse. The battery really gets to work the triple strokes to match heights while the pit gets more scales and some arpegiated figures. There are new harmonies and some contrasting lines included here so that the pit once again has to listen for balance and blend while still maintaining the groove being defined by the battery. The latter two bars of this section allow the pit to catch some air as the battery reverts to the upbeats in another brief two against three phrase. This is another great opportunity for the pit to listen back to the battery and self check the pulse control, timing, and sound quality on the dotted quarter figure.

The final “ out “ section kicks into a new gear. The feet should now go to the dotted quarter pulse to match the accents of the battery book. The actual hand speed and tempo remain the same, but by shifting the feet into a new subdivision the whole feel of the body is quicker and more energetic. This creates a new level of drive physically, and thus creates the illusion of more excitement musically as well. The snare stickings work for tenors and really create a unique feel as the foot speed is increased and the accent patterns jump back and forth from hand to hand. This is another really good coordination demand on the battery and creates nice phrasing opportunities for the pit.

As for the “ advanced “ section, I find it fun to add one advanced segment at a time. Do the first rep of the exercise as written. On the second rep, have only snares play the advanced part. On the third rep, only tenors. Fourth rep, only basses. Fifth rep, all battery plays the advanced parts.

Doing all five reps at three or four varying tempos makes for a nice ensemble workout that is good for the players and also fun to watch and hear!

Chop, Chop, Chop,

Mike Coers

to download THE MOUSE for the battery

to download THE MOUSE for the pit