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Steel Drum Sheet Music: Why I Write My Own

Sheet Music is just like recorded music, right?

I can listen to arrangements on any device, and preview as much as I want?  I have multiple options to buy or use the music?  Access to arrangements is clear cut, and quickly available, right?


One of my goals is to make Sheet Music easy to access. 

I believe easy access is a goal of companies like SheetMusicPlus, as well as Noteflight, and MusicNotes.

I came into writing for Steel Drums through my job at Mount St Joseph. We had an opportunity to acquire some pans, and did. All that remained was to get musicians, and play gigs.

Kind of.

Once we had the pans tuned up we needed music to play.  I started where my college band had, with music traditional to the steel drum–the music of the islands.

It was simultaneously easy, and very difficult.

After the first couple of tunes, I ran into the  “Old Model Wall.”

It was the same wall I ran into with music for concert band.  Arrangements were generally available 4-6 weeks from the order date…except when they weren’t.  If you lost a part, extra parts could be had by buying the entire arrangement again. No digital copy was ever provided.

To make matters worse, sound recordings and score previews were rare.  Instrumentation lists were non-existent.

I decided to try my hand at arranging steel drum sheet music.

i had already arranged successfully for percussion, and even for some non-standard instrumentation bands.  Plus, I found myself needing approachable music. Music that’s familiar, as well as not too difficult to learn. My Steel Drum group rehearses  once a week.

YMCA for Steel Drums was my first effort, and has had the best reception so far.  My version of Auld Lang Syne is more arrangement, and I’m working on Mary Did You Know.  Like YMCA, my version of Africa for Steel Drums is almost a straight transcription.

With well arranged pop tunes, we have found success time and time again.

As the program has grown, I have used some stock arrangements.  I only do so when such an arrangement can match the benefits of my DIY arrangements.

1.) Digital copies, as some of my students never print their parts.

2.) A full length sound recording is available ahead of time. Nothing is worse than buying a piece because you liked the first ten seconds, and then finding out that the next 3 minutes are terrible.

3.) Reasonable pricing. Seriously, if you’re going to charge me $40 to $80 for an arrangement in an outdated format, why wouldn’t I attempt to do it myself?  It’s not like we pay $20 for a floppy disk anymore!  Why wouldn’t I customize parts with my players and pans in mind?

4.) Instant availability. Why anyone buys or publishes a hard copy anymore is beyond me. Digital inventory management is cheaper than physical inventory management.  Let’s not even talk about how many trees we could save by cutting the paper!

I have found it very rewarding to write my own arrangements, and encourage you to do the same!

With Sheet Music Plus, self publishing has never been easier.

Please let me know if you’ve found similar success or challenges.

It’s like I tell my students–we’re all on this musical journey, just some of us are in different places!

Learn more about me and what I do here!

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New Directions

I’ve played gigs for crowds, for empty rooms, and taught hundreds of students.

At times, I have lived for the next gig, that next break through with a student, that chance that there would be a “moment”.

I am not in that place any longer. Don’t get me wrong–I teach everyday, and am immensely fulfilled by helping improve a students abilities! I am glad, though, that my teaching has continued to shift towards students who WANT to be there, and away from students who are going through the motions.

I am also still thrilled to get a call for a gig, or to be counting off the first tune in front of a crowd–there’s little better than an appreciative audience.

However, my life has changed, and I feel like it’s time for a new season. I have intentionally cut back on pick up gigs, and on certain types of teaching.

Partly, my work at MSJ, while fulfilling, takes A LOT of time!

Partly, I have found that I would rather spend the evenings with my wife and son, than playing one more tune for drunks trying to talk louder than the band, or teach one more quarter note to a student that hasn’t practiced since last week.

Partly, there is an area of music I feel I haven’t explored enough–composition and arranging.

I’ve always enjoyed this activity, and the arranging courses I took in school changed my perception of music.

Perhaps, it’s a cyclic thing–when I first left school, I pursued private teaching headlong. When I had become established as a go to teacher, I pursued gigs in the same way, and slacked some on my hunt for new teaching opportunities. I have slowed down gigging, perhaps initially because of outside influences, perhaps because of the same, low average payout, but also because the interest began to wane.

Please, join me, as what fires my passions now, is putting notes on the page, improvising new melodies, and re-imagining the old.