Blow it, bow it, bash it, smash it…


I am regularly asked by members of the audience “how many instruments do you play?” I normally reply “200 or so” and why this many? Each percussion instrument is different, has it’s own feel and balance, has different tones and timbres to one made by another manufacturer which can only be drawn from the instrument by playing it in a unique way. It takes weeks and sometimes months to initially become familiar with all the sounds available and then work to be able to instantly draw the required sound or sounds from the instrument.

As well as the different makes and models of tambourine, triangle, rasp/guiro/scraper, shakers, hand drums… the percussionist is often asked to perform and/or create sound effects. Examples of this are whip cracks (slapstick),

champagne cork pops (pop guns) and

bird calls (decoy whistles from the hunting and fishing shop).

In the photograph there are (left to right back) two swanee (slide) whistles, a peewit call 2 nightingale calls, a duck call, two cuckoo calls and a four-tone whistle. The front has a crow call, boatswain’s pipe (or call) and referee’s (pea) whistle.

Each one of these whistles is capable of a number of timbres, the one that they were made to imitate as well as some interesting overblown or softly blown sounds. In the recently published Toot Tango 2 ( I have explored some of these sounds as part of a percussion quartet with the option to add drum kit, tambourine and castanets (to make an ensemble of 5, 6 or 7 players).

Another technique I have explored in the work is quickly changing from one instrument to another during the music. The rapid change from one instrument to another is a common feature of much of the music I have performed in the more commercial music styles and that includes whistles and decoys. Time to prepare for the next sound or effect can be limited or non-existent and knowing the instrument very well is a necessity in this situation.

In my assortment of whistles, decoys and effects there are over 40 different instruments ranging in size and sound from a kettle whistle to a goose decoy. My collection of instruments have been considered, practised and I feel confident performing on each one so that is 40 down with another 160 to go.

You can buy a recording of Toot Tango 2 at or download the music (complete set of score and parts for up to 7 players) from my store and I hope you and your audience enjoy the music.

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Thank you for the messages and why I will not stream

Steaming 1

I compose music and have now created over 1,000 works. The majority of this music features percussion instruments and sounds that percussionists are often asked to produce (that is any sound that cannot be extracted from other instruments). The music is not mainstream although there is a worldwide audience. I know this from experience as I have promoted the music via a website from the mid 1990s and the music has been sent to North and South America, Europe, Scandinavia and the Middle East as well as the UK.

Some of the works are participatory and are communicated in a written form and others are considered only for recording. This music could be performed ‘live’ but the number of performers required would be financially prohibitive. The accessibility of the music for both the performers and the audience is often a consideration when I am composing and I hope that both parties can appreciate (and enjoy) the results.

The Long Tail (popularised by Chris Anderson and Clay Shirky of music is trailing to Pluto and growing by thousands each day with the prospect of any significant income to sustain the creators disappearing into the Kuiper belt. Promoting the music in a cost effective space where you have control of the offer can be far more beneficial for the independent artist.

“Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More” (another book by Chris Anderson) is based on making products more bespoke or personal for the consumer although the offer is still the same product with a few added elements to make a special edition. For many years music was marketed as a product by the record businesses and they invested in the preparation, imagination, development and action (the creative cycle) of composers/musicians to produce the recordings which they could sell as their product.

The change to digital from analogue was seen by businesses as a way to increase sales with new hardware as well as the re-release of material in the new format. The development of more space efficient software and the shopping habits of customers looking for a bargain, or sharing it for free, soon burst that business bubble. This has left many businesses in trouble and many creative musicians having some difficult choices to make.

Do I try to get the record contract that was the golden ticket of the recent past or is that now extinct? Do I speculate on a royalty only return when there are so many other partners wanting a share as well? What can I do now and where might the industry go in the future? Do I go it alone?

I cannot afford to produce disposable, buy for next to nothing, throw away music. I have tried to measure the time spent creating music and for me it roughly equates to one hour of composing equals one minute of music. Even at a conservative estimate of hourly skilled labour rates that would equate to £200 ($310 or €278 at today’s rates) for five minutes of music and that is not including anything for the inspiration or putting it in the right format (recorded or written).

Some websites like Bandcamp or Sellfy could be the way to earn a realistic amount from the music. They take a small commission from a price that you determine rather than having a rigid pricing structure or monthly fee dictating the cost of production. My recordings are on Bandcamp and some of the sheet music can be downloaded from, the printed material is available from the website

Nor everything gives an income as I promote the music by making some of it freely available on Soundcloud and YouTube. Of course there is a need to market, promote, publicise, network, create an audience base, gig… and any other ways of meeting with and connecting to people that might like, enjoy and use the music. There are also commissions to pitch for, competitions to enter and leads to follow and with all this sometimes time for rest and inspiration.

Thank you to my fellow LinkedIn users for the comments and likes on the 36th anniversary of the publishing company. Back then I wrote, printed and bound the sheet music before setting off to gigs and popping in to the local shops to try and get them to stock the music before I got to the soundcheck or rehearsal. I have a few good contacts left from that time but most of the shops I used to visit have now gone. Not all as a result of the changes in customer habits, in some cases the owners have retired and their businesses are merged with others, although the music shop is becoming an endangered entity.

I would welcome any comments or experiences regarding the state of the composer business or the music business in general and would you stream?

Streaming 2

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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This is the week


This week 60 years ago the song Rock Around The Clock (written by Max Freedman and James Myers) recorded by Bill Haley and the Comets took the top spot on the Billboard chart in America.   It had earlier been released as the B side to another record but was re-released in 1955 after it had been included as part of the soundtrack to the film Blackboard Jungle. In America it stayed at number 1 for eight weeks and in the United Kingdom it was in the charts in both the January and November of 1955.

On the Wednesday of this week (2015) the Rotherham Children’s Festival One Voice concert takes place at the AESSEAL New York stadium.  Most of the music performed during the concert will have been influenced by the rock and roll revolution that changed many peoples listening habits 60 years ago.  One Voice is a celebration of singing with thousands of children taking part and this year there is a special song in the programme.  The song is the winning entry from the Rotherham Songwriting Competition called This Is The Day and written by the West Melton School Choir.

I have been involved with the arrangement and production of the song and also preparing the backing tracks for other schools to use. I visited the school and recorded the choir which will feature as part of a film and music project to be completed in September. The pupils in the West Melton School Choir were a credit to the school and the village, we discussed music and songwriting and they performed the song for the recording with pride. I am looking forward to hearing a massed voices version at the concert.

This week is also another choral celebration in Germany, the European Choir Games, with Great Britain being represented by another choir I have had the pleasure of working with recently the Barnsley Youth Choir. They enjoyed a great deal of success in the World Choir Games in Latvia last year and this week two coaches of singers and volunteer helpers have made it to Magdeburg to sing, learn and grow from the European competition.

I hope everyone involved in both the events has a great experience and will continue enjoying and participating in music making for many years to come. This Is The Day backing track and lyrics are available at

If you want to know how the European Games are going the Barnsley Youth Choir Facebook site is full of information

© P.R.Birkby 2015

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Strings, reeds, mallets and mouthpieces update

cartoon by Andy Pitchforth

It has been a month since the introduction of the Study Suite for… concept and I am happy to announce that the versions for the different instruments are progressing well. Each collection of studies is edited for the specific instrument and all the instrumental versions are compatible with the free album of accompaniment tracks available at the Urban Skyline Bandcamp site. Follow the link to listen

The studies now available are:

Study Suite for oboe

Study Suite for bassoon

Study Suite for alto saxophone

Study Suite for tenor saxophone

Study Suite for cornet or euphonium

Study Suite for guitar

Study Suite for bass

Study Suite for glockenspiel

Study Suite for vibraphone

Study Suite for violin

Coming soon are the Study Suites for trumpet, trombone, flute, viola, cello, clarinet, xylophone, marimba, tubular bells (chimes), horn in F, tenor horn and tuba. Please email if there are any other instruments you would like me to include in this series.

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The artists’ dilemma


To become or never to start

To consider commercialising art

To have a presence, a business plan

To work to deadlines, a creative span

To produce to order in multiples of ten

To limit an edition for a premium of yen

The music, design, craft and installation

The photograph, film, plan and collection

The novel, sculpture, painting and rap

The fashion, concerto, print and map

The song, play, performance and comedy

The dance, poem, story now parody

All promoted online with graphics and dots

All with fifty word descriptions and a few still shots

All have the walk through showing threesixty degrees

All in a virtual space dressed up for the needs

All with the gallery owner who shares all the sales

All for recycling a package of tried and tested tales

All to interest the buyers, bait them with a promise

All to do with investment, return to silence doubting Thomas

What is the alternative?

Why is it so competitive?

Where should I look to grow?

Who’s the person in the know?

How will I survive?

Will the press release help me stay alive?

For many centuries a patron was the key

For the artist they were a necessity

Forward looking cultural supporters

Fortunes spent on creative courtiers

Formal works to mark an occasion

For a better life not tax evasion

Now the patrons are hiding away

Now the choice is too difficult to play

Now the artist is an enterprise

Now a company is the disguise

Now all educated with a degree

Now with the skills for everyone to see

The web

The pins

The blog

The shop

The merch

The videos

The photos

All cropped

The social connections

The online directions

Converge on a landing page

Two clicks away from a sale is a maximum

Set up for websites that give of the optimum

It’s starting to sound like a load of old patter

But written with passion and a sense that it matters

Many the offers pop up to take the strain

But with expensive monthly fees that will just drain

Any cash for the artist that could be invested

In time and space for new ideas suggested

Be wary out there as a buyer or seller

Your newest connection could be a cave dweller

Solitary life with the time to think

Something we all need before we sink

In the corporate money chasing scheme

We sense we’re free but it’s all just a dream

Get back to it now, must create to order

And don’t forget to set the video recorder

© Peter R. Birkby 2015

The collection of poetry Travels of a peripatetic percussionist will be available soon.

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Machine heads, mallets and double reeds

Violin_half_Scroll copy

Just some of the essential parts of instruments that rarely get a mention but for my recent publications they are a necessity.

Study Suite for guitar promoStudy Suite for bass _promoV2

The machine heads are needed in the Study Suite for guitar and Study Suite for bass so that all the keys come out in the right order.

Study Suite for guitar

Study Suite for bass

The choice of mallets for Study Suite for vibraphone and Study Suite for glockenspiel will change the balance between instrument and accompaniment track.

Glock_promo    StudySuite for Vibes Picture

Study Suite for vibraphone

Study Suite for glockenspiel

The construction of the double reed will dictate the responsiveness over the whole range when performing the Study Suite for oboe or Study Suite for bassoon.

Oboe_promo       Study Suite for bassoon promo

Study Suite for oboe

Study Suite for bassoon

All titles and more available now at

Accompaniment tracks to the Study Suite for… series are freely available at at slow, medium and concert speeds.

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Reaching the audience (customers) on social media

Study Suite for bassoon promo

Who wants Study Suite for Bassoon and where are they? A case study.

Publishing so many books for different instruments during the recent weeks, and there are more to come, has made me consider the “how to reach your audience/customer using social media?” question again. Marketing is all about building a relationship with your customer so all the sales articles indicate and on social media how do I find the audience to start that relationship?

First a little research into who my customer might be so that any emailing or page promoting is targeted at the relevant musicians rather than having a scattergun approach which is more likely to lose customers than start a conversation. There is no specific age or demographic segment to a music audience although the Study Suite for… series ( is aimed at the more advanced performer so teenage and older would be the target range. I hope that music (and art of all kinds) does not depend on social status so identifying one segment of social grading in the A to E range (not a perfect 5th for the musicians amongst the readers) cannot be used to narrow down the target group. (If you want a little more information about how the pollsters look at the society they are quizzing from Ipsos-Mori is a good introduction).

For this study I decided to use the search terms bassoon or #bassoon and then broadened this out for a more general search to bassoon network or bassoon teachers.

The searches

A Facebook search resulted in a number of pages linked to Wikipedia of people that had or do play the bassoon, one add friend button (with a bassoonist) and like pages for orchestras, general music related groups and pages.

Twitter results were mixed showing a number of possible people to follow with bassoon as part of their name and #bassoon revealed more results that were often different to the bassoon search.

In Google I used the search terms network and teachers alongside basson which resulted in a list of sites for shopping, library music, cartoons, a masterclass promotion and various teachers and databases compiled by interested companies and one for the British Double Reed Society website (

LinkedIn was the most immediately productive search with a list of bassoon players and teachers (all had some shared contacts) and I easily invited many to connect. Within a couple of hours many had replied and connected as well and for those that did, welcome.

Study Suite for Bassoon is now published through the Sellfy store prbpnews

© P. R. Birkby 2015

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