what to do when you have a disastrous snare drum performance

having a bad snare drum performance can be one of the most heartbreaking, hopeless moments in your life.


snare drum is supposed to be the core percussion instrument. we usually start on snare drum because our technique for all the other instruments is built on our snare drum technique. 

and because of that, it feels like the one instrument that you should be good at, or that should feel the most natural. 

but snare drum is the instrument that requires the most intricate, small-muscle control. it’s the instrument where, if the tiniest shake happens or if you lose focus for a split second, the étude you’re playing goes up in flames. you’re most LIKELY to deliver a bad performance on snare drum.

  • in delécluse, when you have those extreme ff->pp dynamic changes it’s so easy to lose control and play ghosted notes.
  • in capriccio espagnole, it’s easy for one hand to be a smidge uneven during the long soft roll.
  • in lieutenant kije, the impossibly tiny measurements of timing and dynamic accuracy seem so monumentally important that any error is a glaring and potentially fatal mistake.

i want to take a minute to help you figure out what to do when you personally have a bad snare drum performance. that includes auditions, recitals, juries, orchestra performances, or anything.

enrollment in the snarehacker formula: spring boot camp is closing tonight at midnight! 


build a powerful, complete snare drum practice system and work with me to transform your technique in a 10-week step-by-step course. enrollment closes on march 4th at 11:59pm eastern.

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first of all, it’s important to remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE when this happens to you.

every single professional percussionist has struggled with the burden of an embarrasing snare drum performance.

we’ve all had shaky hands, we’ve all mangled the sticking, and we’ve all stopped, said “oops, sorry!” and started the measure over.

i remember after a mock audition, a friend in college got so mad afterwards that he threw his keys against the wall as hard as he could. 

there was the time where another friend of mine heard the result of an audition and immediately went into the practice room and started cruelly forcing himself to run the excerpts he made mistakes on over and over, even though there was no audition left to prepare for.

my worst performance happened on april 30th, 2009.

i was 22. it was my senior year of juilliard. i had the best training… imaginable. and i should have been good. but i wasn’t. 

i had a casual performance of delecluse 9 for performance class. it was only for the 12 or so students in the department and dan druckman. we all filtered into the room, me on one side with my drum and everyone on the other side waiting for me to play. i was so nervous that even before i brought my hands up to the drum i started shaking. 

i was supposed to be the big kahuna in the juilliard percussion department, having been there for 4 years and studied with the best teachers. but i was scared.

i wasn’t scared of the other students. i wasn’t scared of my teacher. they were all rooting for me.

i was scared of myself. 

i had to focus all my attention and concentratoin on my sticks and the drum because i knew that what was about to happen could be disasterous. 

so i started playing. it was terrible. i barely got the notes out. the first 5 notes happened. they were inconsistent. i shook. i counted to the next bar. i played the next figure. my grace notes turned into mush. nothing came out. i couldn’t play. i kept going. my field of vision became shallow and my fear grew that i wouldn’t be able to play what was coming up. 

every measure of soft playing was worse than the measure before. the only saving grace was that the end of the piece wasn’t as far away as it was when i started.

it was terrible. 

i finally got to the end of the piece. there was stunned silence. and then, a low murmuring clapping. it was the type of clapping that says “am i supposed to clap? at that? how much clapping should i do so that he doesn’t feel too depressed? that was bad. really bad.”

here’s the thing. bad performances are actually a healthy part of your development.

you might’ve thought that the reason i told you that story about my terrible snare drum performance is that i don’t want you to ever EVER experience that. but you sort of HAVE to, at some point. 

see, each performance tells you something

on the positive side, it’s a collection of all the musical and technical achievements you’ve made combined into a short period of time. 

but what any particularly rough performance also does for you is expose what needs to be worked on next. it provides direction.

it also provides urgency. because after you feel disappointed, embarrassed, and hopeless, then eventually you have this feeling like, “I NEVER EVER WANT THIS TO HAPPEN TO ME AGAIN.


so, bad performances give you two of the most important things you could have to make improvement: an indication on what needs to be improved, and the motivation to do it.

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so here’s what to do when you have a bad performance:

  • first, let yourself dive in. succumb to the obsession.

it might be tempting to take a break. and you should make sure that you’re emotionally healthy. but waiting 3 weeks is too long. (although jumping back into the practice room the same day of a failed audition just to run the same excerpts you messed up is a little too much.) give yourself a couple days and then dive back in.

whatever is going to fix your snare drum technique is going to be something new that you haven’t discovered yet. it’s going to require some deep thinking and some deep searching to find it. it’ll take some extended hours of practicing but if you are able to find an exercise or an approach to working on something that actually works, it’s a beautiful thing.

  • second, take time to specifically sort out WHAT issues you’re having and want to be better at.

every bad performance comes with a short list of things that aren’t going right and need to be improved upon.  

the more specific you are when choosing which problem to work on, the more likely it is that you’ll find a solution. you might say your rolls were sucky… but that’s generic. it’s better to say that “a roll that decrescendos from ff to mf right after a flam” is sucky. or “i’m having trouble clearly bringing out the final note of a soft 4-stroke ruff” is quite specific.

  • third, think through the things you’ve already tried to fix this problem…and try to find ideas along the way.

it’s easy to say I’VE TRIED EVERYTHING AND NOTHING WORKS. that’s what you say the first day after a bad performance when you’re feeling down. 

but the next day, once you’ve recovered a little bit, you can re-explore the exact things you’ve done before to fix a problem. the solution to a problem is usually something relevant to something you’ve already tried.

whatever you did before? it didn’t work. you can’t do the exact same thing again and expect it to fix your problem. but you can do something similar and see what happens. you can go down the same direction but choose a new exercise. or approach.

anything that you haven’t tried before is a new thing that might work.

every problem is solvable

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the road to discovering the solution to your problem is difficult, it’s frustrating, but it’s there waiting for you. it’s up to you whether you have the patience and persistence to work through it.

and you should remember something. a bad performance isn’t a measurement of you as a person or a musician. it’s another moment in your own story of how you became a great snare drummer. 

your progress as a percussionist isn’t measured by how you played a particular performance… it’s by how you improve over the long term.

it’s measured by how you practice. it’s measured by how you consistently respond to problems.

YOU can reach the same kind of goals of your snare drum heroes.

YOU can win a spot in a top tier drum corps or get into the college of your choice. YOU can play in a world-class professional orchestra. who cares whether or not you’re there yet?! you can set up a practice routine that pushes you towards those goals faster than any of your friends, your classmates, your competition. it’s not about talent, it’s about systems. and approach.

what matters is that you’re building a better practice system, every single time you practice. it’s that you’re not only practicing for more hours than your classmates, but that every single minute is the most productive it can possibly be. 

i want you to build a system where every day you can enter a technique warmup where you’re methodically expanding your ability. i want you to learn music effectively, sculpting phrases and muscle-memorizing every motion and note along the way. where you’re engraining passages for life instead of for tomorrow. i want you to be able to identify your core obstacles and write the most effective, perfectly targeted exercise that methodically knocks down everything between you and a successful snare drum career.

this is where my new snare drum training course,
the snarehacker formula, comes in.

it’s a complete snare drum practicing system, from your daily technique workout to your long-term repertoire study. it’s a step-by-step guide to building an effective, methodical daily practice routine.

you’ll learn how to practice to methodically overcome obstacles, build chops for life, and perform with confidence. your next audition should feel like an achievement, not a disappointment.

enrollment is open right now until sunday, and if you want to use the next 10 weeks to transform the way you practice snare drum, just follow this link:



i can’t wait to work with you. let me know by writing a comment or sending me an email or tweeting me or facebooking me or whatever. talk soon. :)

rob knopper

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.