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The most common mistake high school percussion students make when playing the tambourine – one which I see (and hear) all the time – is that they swing the tambourine toward the free hand in order to play a note. This results in a lot of jingle sound after the impact with the free hand, instead of a clean, crisp attack. If a series of notes are being played, the repeated swinging back and forth produces so much jingling that it becomes difficult to hear the actual rhythm.
The basic tambourine strokes
To play louder passages, the tambourine should be held with a relaxed grip at a height more or less in line with the bottom end of the rib cage, and at roughly a 45 degree angle or flatter. With the free hand made into a fist, the knuckles and the bottom of the palm should strike the tambourine at its centre.
For lighter sections, your students should strike the instrument with the fingertips more toward the edge. For even more delicate sections, the student should rest the heel of the striking hand lightly on the head toward the centre of the tambourine, again tapping the edge of the instrument with the fingertips. This technique will produce a crisp jingle sound while eliminating the sound off the head.
For passages that are too quick to be played with one hand, the instrument can be placed on a soft base and played at the edges with two hands. Sometimes it is placed on a piece of foam or a pillow. Frequently, percussionists will put their foot on the rung of a chair, and play the instrument as it rests on the extended thigh.
Rolls can be played two ways. The first is by holding the instrument vertically and, while maintaining an axis through its centre, shaking it rapidly with the wrist so that the top and bottom edges move in opposite directions. The volume of the roll is dependent on the distance the jingles are moved. It is important to note that, if the roll ends in a stroke on the head, the instrument is to be stopped in a flat position and struck by the free hand as outlined above.
The second roll to be discussed is reserved for very quiet passages, and will be examined in an upcoming article.