Overview - Percussion

Percussion students performing at Open Day 2020. Photo by Toby Kearney

Developing your skills

We create a bespoke timetable for each student which allows them to develop an excellent skill set in all fields whilst encouraging them to discover their specialisms and enhance their employability.

Orchestral Percussion

Our extensive syllabus uses orchestral repertoire from Tchaikovsky to John Williams to build a solid technical base for all students. Whether auditioning for jobs or freelancing in the real world, we aim to cover all the tricky hot spots alongside typical day-to-day orchestral playing.

For years 1-3 orchestral percussion tuition tends to be shared between two tutors specialising in snare & tuned percussion (eg Chris Bradley) and cymbals, bass drum & auxiliary percussion (eg Andrew Herbert). Senior students have the option to work with other tutors such as Adrian Spillett and Kevin Earley to enhance their development.

Matt Hardy teaching on our Dörfler timps. Photo Alex Henshaw


Our timpani tutors use orchestral repertoire and studies to give all students a solid technique and develop their musicality and flair. Students use our two sets of calf-headed Berliner timps (Dörfler Berliners and Adams Philharmonic Classics) for lessons and RBC orchestras.

Undergraduate students will most likely study with Matt Hardy and have regular classes with Louise Lewis-Goodwin, Grahame King, Marney O’Sullivan and other visiting timpanists.

Rhythm & World Music

This syllabus is a fantastic opportunity to study music from around the world. A unique course is designed around the needs of each student, and places great importance on the historical and social context of music from around the globe. RBC has assisted with international study trips to Cuba, Brazil, Spain and Ireland and encourages students to attend workshops across the UK with some of the country’s leading specialists.

We offer tuition on music from Havana, Matanzas, Bahia, Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuala, Haiti, the Middle East, India and Ireland. Having covered styles including Cuban essentials, Brazilian carnival music and classical Indian tabla, students will be able to draw on these varied traditions and apply their playing to other styles of music.

Samba masterclass with JP and co, group stood around percussion instruments smiling and laughing

Drum Kit

The wide-ranging RBC drum kit course has been created to support all students from less experienced to more advanced kit players. It has been designed to expand each student’s existing knowledge and performance skills, with a strong emphasis on creativity, encouraging students to build their own playing opportunities and generate work.

Lessons focus on the essentials of time, flow, groove and feel, building an understanding of how movement and technique can be used to influence the time and feel of music. The expectations of a working drummer in the music industry, and an understanding the musical requirements of different types of gigs are important considerations for emerging performers and both are key points of reference during the course. The ability to identify styles and make connections to the music through historical and social knowledge will help students play with commitment, staying true to a wide range of genres. Working with click tracks in theatre and studio settings is a crucial skill and is given high importance within the course; all of our drum kit tutors are specialists in musical theatre.

The business aspect of being a musician is another important part of the drum kit course. Alongside teaching the mechanics of music, the psychology behind becoming a master drummer and achieving musical greatness is analysed in detail.

Student Cathryn Lynch playing kit in the LAB. Photo Alex Henshaw. Drummer in darkened room playing the drums

Ballet and Opera

We are the first UK institution to offer a module in Ballet and Opera repertoire. MMus students on this course have access to specialist tutors from whom they can learn about opera and ballet classics from Puccini, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky to Britten, Janáček and Bernstein. Alongside this MMus module, our specialist tutors give classes to the whole department, exposing all students to the different demands of pit and stage work.

Contemporary Percussion

For those interested in Contemporary Percussion, we offer an exceptional MMus module with tuition from Owen Gunnell. This gives advanced students the option to specialise in solo, chamber and orchestral repertoire written by the likes of Ades, Andriessen, Boulez, Knussen, Reich and Ligeti. All percussion students are regularly involved in performances and recordings of new music written by RBC student composers.

APD student Tzu-Jo Huang. Photo Alex Henshaw. Student playing xylophone in dark room

Solo Percussion

On top of the annual solo recitals given by all BMus students, we help develop skills in programming and presenting recitals through our regular series of student-led concerts at The Woodman pub and the annual Percussion Prize, which is sponsored by percussion retailers and manufactures. Recent students have also gone on to perform in St John Smiths Square, Centrala, The Foundling Museum, The Pound in Corsham, Royal Spa Centre in Leamington, the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the CBSO Centre. Tuition is with Toby Kearney, Owen Gunnell, Adrian Spillett, Tim Palmer and Jason Huxtable. Extra one-one tuition is also available with our International Solo Percussion Consultant, Alexej Gerassimez and other visiting soloists.

BMus student Andrew Woolcock performing at Centrala. Photo Alex Henshaw. Student playing drums in dark venue


Recent guests include Adélaïde Férrière, Vassilena Serafimova, Shaun Trubiano, Le Yu, Emmanuel Sejourne, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Adam Betts, Tom Greenleaves, Nebojsa Zivkovic, Neil Percy, Alasdair Malloy, Pete Lockett, Sam Walton, Colin Currie, Paul Clarvis, Matt Skelton, Graham Johns and Zands Duggan. Other classes include Practice Pad Workouts, The Latin Hour, Audition Approach, Rock and Film Timpani, Junk Percussion, Workshop Leading, Moeller Technique, West End Shows, Sight-Reading, Pedagogy, John Williams Film Music and Auxiliary Percussion Methods.

Tambourine masterclass with Jon Herbert . Group holding tambourines looking into camera and smiling

Performance Opportunities

The RBC Percussion ensemble performs several times a year, playing ground-breaking new repertoire alongside classics from composers like Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis and John Cage. In recent years the ensemble has performed Reich’s Drumming, Mallet Quartet, Electric Counterpoint, Music for Pieces of Wood, Music for Mallets, Voices & Organ and Six Marimbas.

Since 2018 the ensemble has collaborated with the RBC Music Technology and Stage Management departments on a series of concerts at Centrala, which are now major dates in the RBC calendar. With concerts every year, this series is an opportunity for Millennial Percussion to perform some of the most cutting edge repertoire out there, with a focus on multi-media. Recent performances have included Stockhausen’s iconic Mikrophonie & Zyklus, Anna Meredith Brisk Widow, Reich Pendulum Music, Takemitsu Rain Tree, Varèse Ionisation, Alexander Schubert Star Me Kitten and Andy Akiho to wALk Or ruN in wEst harlem.

Other recent performances have included the Gymnastics World Cup at Arena Birmingham, performing Ben Wallfisch’s Apex, and BBC Young Dancer Competition 2019 where the ensemble played live on BBC2 TV.

Rehearsing in Centrala. Photo Alex Henshaw. Darkened room of performers

RBC Ensembles

As a percussion student, you'll have regular performing opportunities with RBC ensembles making use of the amazing new facilities here. From the amazing acoustics of Bradshaw Hall and Recital Hall to the tech-filled LAB and the intimate Eastside Jazz Club, all our students play in public concerts several times each month.

These are just some of the ensembles our students perform with:

  • Symphony Orchestra
  • Opera Orchestra
  • Thallein Ensemble
  • Brass Band and Symphonic Brass
  • Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra
  • Big Band
  • Alternative Orchestra
  • Composers Orchestra
  • Repertoire Orchestra
  • Final Projects Orchestra
  • Folk Ensemble


In 2022 the percussion ensemble travelled to Orkney, Scotland to give the UK premiere of George Crumb’s The Winds of Destiny. Students spent a week giving performances and school workshops.

In November 2019, Millennial Percussion spent 3 days in Munich, Germany rehearsing and performing with Alexej Gerassimez and his students from HFM Nürnburg.

After the gig in Munich with Alexej Gerassimez. Performers in studio with brick wall backdrop

March 2019 saw Millennial Percussion make their debut at the Cartes Blanches Music Festival in Geneva, Switzerland working with musicians from Ensemble Contrechamps and percussionists from the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève.

In June 2018 Millennial Percussion played at the Festival Ibérico de Música de Badajoz, Spain.  They performed an epic programme of Mikrophonie 1 by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Persephassa by Iannis Xenakis in the stunning Palacio de Congresos Manuel Rojas. 

Batá residency in Spain. Photo Alex Henshaw. Student in sunglasses playing instrument outdoors in the sun

In Easter 2017 and 2018, the department travelled to Spain for an intensive batá residency. Staying in a beautiful permaculture centre in the Andalucian hills overlooking the coast, the students immersed themselves in the magical and hypnotic rhythms of Cuban batá away from the pressures of daily life and everyday routines.

In May 2017 four students travelled to Taipei to participate in the Taiwan International Percussion Convention Competition. After some intense rehearsals and thrilling performances, the students were awarded 3rd prize in this prestigious event. 

Summer 2016 saw MMus student Danny Martinez travel with the Conservatoires' Thallein Ensemble for performances at the Beijing Modern Music Festival and Tianjin Conservatory. 

In December 2016, MMus student, Yu-Tzu Kung performed at the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels.

Working with lights and multimedia in Centrala. Photo Jack Davis. Students playing the drums under spotlights

Professional Guidance & Your Future

Our orchestral students can take advantage of professional training schemes with the CBSO, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Opera North in addition to the RBC Welsh National Opera side-by-side scheme.  In addition, senior students are offered funding towards extra work auditions/feedback sessions with numerous orchestras including BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Opera timps masterclass with Dominic Hackett from ENO. Group of percussionists posing behind drums and speakers

For students specialising in drum kit and rhythm percussion we help to arrange sit-ins with touring shows at the Birmingham Hippodrome and offer senior students funding towards auditions for new West End and touring shows. We encourage all students to collaborate with others from the music technology department so they can make use of the world-class studios and editing & mastering suites at RBC.

Recent RBC percussion graduates can be heard performing all over the world including in London's West End and with professional orchestras such as the LSO, CBSO, LPO, RPO, WNO, BBCSO, BBCCO, BBCPhil, BBCNOW, OAE, LCO, BBCNOW, BSO, Aurora Orchestra, London Mozart Players, National Theatre and the RSC.

Internal Employment

The RBC Percussion Department offers two employment opportunities exclusively for percussion students. The Percussion Porter’s responsibilities include organising percussion instruments for visiting companies as well as assisting the Head of Percussion with repair and refurbishments requirements. The Student Assistant to Head of Percussion is an administrative role geared towards the day to day running of the department.

Christmas Family Shows - group of students in festive fancy dress holding instruments and smiling/laughing


We also offer a unique outreach programme.  This gives our students the opportunity to develop their workshop skills and to lead projects, reaching out to the community.  Recently students have worked with some of the UK’s most talented youngsters from Wells Cathedral School, Chethams School of Music and The Purcell School, and have been involved in projects in some of Birmingham’s most deprived areas as well as giving family concerts in venues around the city.

Tutor and outreach presenter Owen Gunnell. Photo Upstream Photography. Owen performing on darkened stage with varied facial expressions