Studying Percussion at Berklee

At Berklee, you will find your own voice and develop your own style. You won't be limited to one direction. We encourage you to experiment with other styles that interest you, so that you can challenge yourself and improve your skills. Berklee prepares you for today's music by building on traditional aspects of learning. Percussion Department instruction emphasizes a solid foundation in the standard technical challenges of professional performance. Principal instruments include:

Drum Set: Snare drum technique/reading, drum set chart/lead sheet reading, time feels, improvisation, brush technique, and creative soloing.

Vibraphone: Scales, reading, chords, improvisation, interpretation, and standard repertoire.

Hand Percussion: Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Middle Eastern/North African, and West African styles; stick drums (timbales, drum set, etc.), hand drums, and all accessory percussion instruments.

Orchestral Percussion: Orchestral percussion studies including snare drum, mallet percussion, timpani, hand percussion, multiple percussion, and drum set technique. The orchestral percussion principal can also include an emphasis on marimba, with additional studies in other mallet percussion and concert percussion instruments.

Marimba: Marimba studies include two and four mallet technique and repertoire interpretation; solo works are emphasized in addition to utilizing the marimba in ensemble settings. Marimba transcriptions, standard repertoire, and student composing skills are are utilized in the learning of solo works.

Steelpan: Technique, sound production, scales, sight-reading, repertoire, accompaniment techniques, and improvisation.

Watch Berklee students record orchestral percussion parts in this video:

Private Lessons

In your first week at Berklee, you will be auditioned by the Percussion Department faculty and placed with an instructor best suited to your needs for private instruction. Every student will take at least four semesters of private lessons and must pass a final exam at the end of each semester on the skills he/she has learned (music education and professional music majors will take six semesters; performance majors will take eight semesters).

Instrumental Labs

These group lessons bring together percussionists of similar skill levels and provide training in specific aspects of percussion performance. Many of the teaching materials used in these labs are created by the Berklee faculty who will be teaching you. Offerings include required lab subjects such as basic grips, sticking techniques, basic time feels, and snare drum/drum set reading skills, as well as more advanced chart/lead sheet reading, brush techniques, odd meters, polyrhythms, and improvisation studies.


The courses at Berklee are continually reviewed and evaluated so that they consistently reflect today's musical needs. In percussion classes, you will learn the history of your instrument and analyze its present-day challenges while also pursuing a more in-depth study of styles and techniques. 


Through ensembles, you will hone essential performance skills and techniques. They will help you broaden your stylistic range, expand your network of musical friends and colleagues, and give you experience playing with a variety of groups. Ensembles are offered in multiple sections for varying levels of ability. You choose the group and style that appeal to you. Your eligibility is determined by ongoing auditions that measure your growth as a performer. This system enables you to move into more advanced ensembles as you develop your skills.

Watch Berklee percussion faculty and students perform in a variety of styles:

Some of the more than 350 ensembles that rehearse weekly at Berklee include:

  • Avant-garde Ensemble
  • Count Basie Ensemble
  • Berklee Recording Orchestra
  • Art Blakey Ensemble
  • Brass Choir
  • Cannonball Adderley Ensemble
  • Chord Scale Madness Ensemble
  • Commercial pop/rock recording ensembles
  • Concert Band
  • Eight- and nine-piece jazz ensembles
  • Funk bands
  • Woody Herman Ensemble
  • Jazz/Rock Ensemble
  • Latin ensembles
  • Buddy Rich Ensemble
  • Wayne Shorter Ensemble
  • Symphonic Orchestra
  • Trombone ensembles
  • Berklee Percussion Ensemble
  • World Percussion Ensemble
  • Mixed World Ensemble
  • Advanced Bata Ensemble
  • Marimba in Mixed Chamber Music Ensemble
  • West African Drum and Dance Ensemble
  • Berklee Drum Line
  • Berklee Steelpan Ensemble
  • Marimba Ensembles 1, 2, and 3

View the full list of ensembles.