This month I sat down with Jeff Hassan, 1998 Drum Corps International Snare Individual & Ensemble Champion and long-time Phantom Regiment instructor and board member, to discuss creating and performing solos.
Armey: Why do you think performing a solo is important for percussion students?
Hassan: As percussionists, we spend most of our time practicing to perform as part of an ensemble. While we certainly need those experiences and grow from them, they don’t always push us to maximize what we can do as individuals.
Think of a solo as an opportunity to play under a microscope. Every strength and weakness will become apparent to you while you practice. If you’re a young player, this might help you identify areas needing improvement. If you think of solo performances this way, they can be powerful tools to accelerate your development.
Armey: How do you go about putting a solo together?
Hassan: In my experience, I found it was best to follow a theme, tempo or motif from a previous piece that I loved. If you’ve enjoyed your part in a piece, toy around with it and see if you find it easy to expand upon. Don’t be afraid to explore. Exercise your artistic freedom and make the solo yours.
Think of your solo as you would a story, where the chief concern is to keep the attention of your audience. Too much of the same thing won’t work, so try introducing an idea (a rhythm or theme), develop the idea, then conclude and move onto the next. This will also help you provide enough variety to entertain your audience.
Armey: What are your top pointers or pitfalls to avoid?
Hassan: The best advice I ever got was to play my solo in front of people as often as possible. Friends, family, anyone you can think of. Take note and learn from their reactions. Are they bored, excited, entertained?
A very common problem is the role that fear can play in the development of your solo. Doubts can creep in for even the best of us. The best thing to do is put in solid preparation, so that you are as confident as possible when it’s time to play.
About the Author
Lane Armey is the battery percussion coordinator for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. During the past 15 years, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University and the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.