‘Play skilfully with a shout of joy’. Psalm 33 v3
We understand that to play with skill is to play with technique, musical knowledge, speed and dexterity, control and precision and with professional attitude. Great attributes to have but the word here is the Hebrew word, Yatah, and has similarities to Sakal. The translation ‘skill’ in itself however isn’t enough. To play drums with Sakal is also to play with wisdom and sensitivity, not proud or showing off but with a heart that is open to the Holy Spirit, playing with obedience, passion, humility and authority. Drumming is a response from the heart; it should be both spontaneous and reactive. We should bear this in mind when we have the honour and privilege to worship our Father in Heaven, whether we play kit, djembe, congas or shaker.
Advice for playing shakers
- Just start with one shaker before using two or starting to incorporate other shakers sounds
- Start with the two-handed technique: Pick up the egg and hold between two cupped hands. – your hands should interlock at 90 degree to each other. Use the middle of the palm of each hand (not the fingers) to trap the egg. Warm up first by creating the two hand shapes that will be necessary – open and closed. The open hand shape – keep pressure on the egg with both palms but now open the fingers until the hand has changed from a cup shape to completely flat. That hand shape is for your open note. Now the closed note – with the egg still trapped between your palms close your fingers back to a cupped shape. That’s it! Initially you will just try open notes so fingers straight again and start by holding your hands at chest height and against your chest. Throw your both hands forward and the shaker will create a sound. The first beat is when the sound strikes and your arms are extended. Try and play from your elbow – long forward and straight motion. Pull the hands back and repeat – keep the sound even by making your arm stoke (movement) the same length and duration – try relaxing a little as you play – don’t be too rigid. Try varying open and closed notes e.g. 3 closed, 1 open. The open note is then becoming the accent note.
- Single-handed technique. Pick up the egg and hold in your playing hand, Trap the egg between the ends of your middle finger and thumb along the shortest side of the egg. The egg should now be in the correct orientation for playing. This is also your open note position. Slide the egg into forward a little at the same time as wrapping your other fingers around the egg. This is your closed tone position. The trick now to revert back to the open note and to use your thumb to slide the egg back up onto the top part of your middle finger at the same time as opening your other fingers. Before playing both open and closed notes try practicing the slide transition just of the open to closed and closed to open hand shape. Your now ready to play.
- The shaking sound effect I use I call the ‘Shimmy’ and it’s all in the wrist action, whilst holding the egg in the open note hand shape I rotate my wrist from side to side through about a quarter-turn. I use this just for accents, or just prior to the first beat – see video clip.
If you are playing shakers in a worship band I have to make the assumption that you are being mic’d. Perhaps a little obvious but if you’re playing in a large church service and you’re not being amplified you could be wasting your time. For smaller settings, home/cell groups, small meetings, acoustic settings, yes great, no need for amplification. Play close to the microphone otherwise the accents and dynamics won’t carry.
It does depend a bit whether you are playing percussion with a kit player, doing both kit and percussion or playing as the solo percussionist but on most occasions I will play a 16th note even pattern. Tapping your foot does really help keep time and an even groove. Listen to where the accents fall within the rhythm and then start to add accents on the shaker (open note) and evolve the sound. The shaker can add real texture to the sound so experiment with the dynamics i.e. if the band volume builds and then cuts back just to the shaker to keep the rhythm going. Talk to other band members about how they can use and integrate your sounds. If you’re not careful, being a small voice among electric guitars and drums your sound can get lost so pick your moments.
If the volume increases I often switch shakers for a larger one to increase the volume or use a tambourine – usually in the chorus and then switch back to egg shaker for the verse. Did I mention that the eggs come in different colours these also denote different pitches and volume? You really have to pick the right songs, and the egg shaker won’t suit them all. It certainly works well with quieter songs, worship songs that are often used for response or reflection or choruses that build musically. Happy shaking.
Other posts you might like:
Psalm Drummers Association
Book suggestion: A Heart to Drum by Psalm Drummer Terl Bryant
Meinl, Toca, LP eggs available from most music shops or on-line at Amazon.
Musicademy produces instructional DVDs for Beginning Drums as well as Intermediate players which include lessons on percussion. There is also a drum work-out CD.