the economics of percussion, or how to make sure nobody ever plays your piece

Some lucky composers will participate in a higher-ed program that offers a multitude of percussion instruments from all over the world, built via a combination of decades of collecting and/or a deep institutional budget.

There’s a growing popularity of the “mallet quartet” instrumentation, alluding to Steve Reich’s piece of the same name. This calls for 2 vibraphones and 2 5-octave marimbas. It was commissioned by a consortium of professional ensembles that have the budget to own and store these instruments. Any amateur ensemble outside of an educational institution will surely not have access to this gear.

You ever wonder why Reich’s Drumming is so often presented as the first movement alone?

There’s no formula for what a backline rental can cost, as there are so many variables; where you are, how long the instruments will be rented, who you’re renting from, if they’re delivering…the list goes on. Just for fun, take an instrument and find its retail price. Multiply that by 5, maybe 10%, and imagine that that’s what it’ll cost for 1 week of rental. This might be too low or too high, depending on the aforementioned variables. Need a vibraphone for your concert? A few hundred dollars (at most) should suffice. Trying to program George Crumb? You might need to fill out some grant applications..

I don’t mean to stifle anybody’s creativity, but it’s crucial to understand how extremely expensive percussion can become. Doing so can increase the probability that your own music will be programmed.

Look to John Cage’s percussion music; the setups are inexpensive.

One reason Iannis Xenakis’s Rebonds has maintained its popularity is because of how simple the setup is: drums and woodblocks.

Not only is there the cost of acquiring the instruments, but also a space in which they will all fit.

Writing a G#2 could make the difference between your piece being played or not.

Bigger does not mean more expensive. Small(er) items such as chorales, almglocken, and tuned gongs quickly add up to very high costs.

The cost of


shit’s expensive, yo.

4.3 > 5.0

don’t use timpani

Be sure to ask yourself as you write if every instrument you’ve written for is necessary. It’s extremely frustrating to need a large instrument for only one note.

what the fuck, Steve Reich?

common instruments

cheap instruments