Warren Benson: “A Primary Tutor for Snare Drum”

16 Jun

Warren Benson: “A Primary Tutor for Snare Drum”
(Edited by Robin Engelman & Gordon Stout)

Warren Benson(1924-2005) was a brilliant scholar, composer, percussionist, poet, and an inspiring educator who by deduction, strove to discover and convey the essence of everything he taught. He was also an early mentor to Nexus, and produced its first concert in 1971.

Warren believed the essential techniques for percussion instruments were simple and few in numbers. Once analyzed and understood, any Intelligent, reasonably coordinated person could apply them.

“A Primary Tutor for Snare Drum” was begun during Benson’s tenure at Ithaca College, in Ithaca New York. It is a compendium of the lessons he gave to music education students and percussion majors during the 1950’s and early 60’s.  As Warren said, “the Tutor does not tell one how to play a snare drum, but how snare drums are played”.

After 12 one-hour weekly lessons, the music education students were required to play the 13 Essential Rudiments of the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (N.A.R.D.) as well as the “Downfall of Paris”,  “Three Camps” and other drum solos in the Ancient or Open Style.

Warren also taught basic techniques for the other percussion instruments, but he considered the snare drum to be the most appealing to young percussionists and the most useful instrument for a beginner’s technique and for ensemble playing.

Warren begins his Tutor by explaining how snare drum sticks should be chosen by their shape, size and pitch -“The beginning of ear-training”.  He explains the grip and how physical laws govern how sticks bounce. He explains the development of human growth from the largest to smallest muscles and how that growth comes to influence a drummer’s technique.

Thus, “A Primary Tutor for Snare Drum” is not a series of progressively difficult etudes. As Warren states in his forward, “The concern in the Tutor, is The Rudiments of Playing, not Playing the Rudiments”.

Warren never completed his tutor. He left his multi-course teaching position at Ithaca College to teach composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and for years the manuscript, a rough and complicated mixture of type written or pen and pencil pages remained filed away. His last draft ended with  the “down–up–taps” applied to some of the 13 essential rudiments. This technique for teaching rudiments is common knowledge and both Gordon Stout and I felt that this incomplete part of the tutor need not be published; the heart of Warren’s unique Ideas lie in the pages offered here.

In November of 2003, during a dinner in Columbus, Ohio given the night before Warren was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, the subject of the Tutor and its unpublished state, arose.  Gordon Stout, like me, a former student of Warren’s, was present and said for years he’d been using ideas from the Tutor to teach his students. Gordon and I then promised Warren we’d edit his Tutor for publication.

I want to thank Gordon Stout and the Benson family, in particular Kirsten Benson, for their dedication to this project. Through our work together our friendship has grown and so too has our appreciation for Warren’s life and work. Warren died in October of 2005 just as Gordon and I were reaching the conclusion of our editing.

Sometime during the Fall of 2011 “A Primary Tutor for Snare Drum” will be available for downloading from the Warren Benson web-site,  My advice to teachers and students is to study this unique document. There is much within the tutor which will shed light on how we play snare drums.

warren Benson and Bill Cahn after 1st Nexus concert, 1971.

      1996, Nexus 25th anniversary concert, Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School off Music. L. to R., Bill Cahn, Russell Hartenberger, Warren Benson, Robin Engelman, John Wyre, Bob Becker.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: