Drummers Weekly Podcast: Interviews with Jack Bell

Episode 59 Podcast Interview Part 1 : Jack Bell

Today, Drummer’s Weekly Groovecast welcomes master percussionist Jack Bell. He was the principal percussionist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for 32 years and an associate professor and coordinator of the percussion division at Georgia State University. In this episode, Jack discusses his early fascination with drums, and his studies with legendary teacher Harold Firestone. He details the method books he taught from and Firestone’s teaching style, as well as winning a contest judged by the legendary Charles Wilcoxen. Jack then discusses studying at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music with Cloyd Duff, timpanist with the Cleveland Orchestra.  Next, a unique audition with Robert Shaw initiated his eventual move and long-time job as principal percussionist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. We round out the show with numerous stories about wonderful experiences, along with a mortifying moment that come during his orchestra life. Make sure you visit Jack Bell’s personal web site: www.melodiousmerchant.com. At this site Jack has compiled an incredible amount of invaluable information for all percussionists including detailed biographical, educational, and performance material. Jack also has a series of videos available that highlight his instructional methods as well as his performances.
Part 1

• Listen to interview Part 1 on Soundcloud
• On Itunes
• On Stitcher


Episode 60 – Interview Part 2 – Jack Bell

Master percussionist Jack Bell is featured in an exclusive interview. This week we spend time on his lengthy and story-filled teaching career. Areas covered are: his 1967 move to Atlanta and initial job teaching the band and choral department at Columbia High School, followed by the development of his private percussion teaching studio.  Then, in 1968, Georgia State University approached him to establish a Percussion Department. His program’s impact was reflected by the growing number of successful percussion students enrolled. Bell’s teaching approach on this podcast includes a performance of the rudimental swing interpretation of Wilcoxen’s All-American Drummer method book. We finish off the show by putting Jack through the rigors of the DWG Rorschach Test! Make sure you visit Jack Bell’s personal web site: www.melodiousmerchant.com. At this site Jack has compiled an incredible amount of invaluable information for all percussionists including detailed biographical, educational, and performance material. Jack also has a series of videos available that highlight his instructional methods as well as his performance. Please check out his rudimental video demonstration.

Part 2

• Listen to interview Part 2 on SoundCloud
• On Itunes
• On Stitcher


Drummer’s Weekly Groovecast available on SoundCloud

Jack Bell : Podcasts

Letter from a violinist in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra regarding Porgy and Bess:
Happy Birthday Jack- you played the Xylophone part like nobody so far has played it in the Atlanta Symphony. I will never forget this virtuoso and precise playing. Gershwin decided to add the xylophone to double the first violin section that always has been a challenge from the first performance of this great work and until today!! 

Juan R. Ramírez Hernández is a violinist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, a celebrated composer, and Founder and Artistic Director of the Atlanta Virtuosi Foundation, Inc. Under the auspices of this Foundation, he founded the Buckhead Youth Orchestra and Casa de la Cultura-Atlanta, both in residence at Covenant Presbyterian Church. This season marks his 14th year as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra. 



Fancy Footwork: Bach’s Toccata in d-minor

Posted by Giulliano Chiampi on Monday, June 30, 2014

Jack Bell Conducts

Tom Gauger's Gainsborough Mvt III performed by Flowery Branch Advanced Percussion Ensemble.

Posted by Jack Bell on Friday, May 6, 2016

Shepherd's Song was a challenge for players with limited mallet experience but became a favorite for its peaceful melody

Posted by Jack Bell on Friday, May 6, 2016

Undisclosed performed by the Flowery Branch Intermediate Percussion Ensemble.

Posted by Jack Bell on Friday, May 6, 2016

Your Life and Career as a Musician

Music is a beautiful art form but a very difficult profession for many musicians.

The artist inside of you often must struggle to become a capitalist to survive. Where are you in this lifelong process? Interested? Committed? Frustrated? In Doubt? Sorry!

How are you going to survive your career in music as a successful musician and business person?
Listen to me: No musician with talent, flexibility, resourcefulness and a savings plan needs to end the last years of a music career in poverty.

First, you must in all aspects be an excellent performer regardless of your chosen area of specialization. This means you must be able to play at a level comparable to national competition standards.

No self-promotion techniques will work if they are unsupported by your abilities. You must be a self-starter and willing to practice long hours. You should have a great teacher, but you must remain self -motivated. When you win an audition, you must be willing to work evenings, weekends, holidays and be willing to travel for great lengths of time.

What do you do if you never win an audition?

Quit now for even considering the question! You MUST develop the ability to rebound after losing – call it your soccer ball concept: dented for the moment but bounce right back.

Second, you must be able to teach your knowledge to others in a practical, useful way. This preserves the art form and is still one of the best ways to make money in the music industry. Advanced degrees may help you secure a good teaching position, but you must care deeply for your students. You must have short and long- term goals for all those you teach. You must be highly organized, able to sell yourself and your teaching concepts and be willing to work long hours.

Third, regardless of the proficiencies of your primary performing and teaching areas, you must develop secondary areas of competence.

Those secondary or related areas of competence could be in non-related fields such as marketing, accounting, computer science, etc. or you could develop your performing and teaching skills to a professional level in more than one area of music – voice/piano, percussion/guitar or bass, all woodwinds, all brass and so on. In addition, you must be knowledgeable in the areas of music history, conducting, composition, improvisation and arranging.

Fourth, developing and marketing a new or improved concept or product in the music business is as frustrating, time consuming and expensive of a challenge as in any area of business.

It requires absolute persistence and determination. At the same time, the inner development and outward expression of your creative abilities can become some of the most positive and rewarding experiences you can have as a working musician. You’ll find these experiences to be rewarding both financially and emotionally. So, make it a habit to expect a new idea. It may be a hunch, inspiration, intuition or even a momentary stroke of genius. When something new comes out of your mind and you are inspired, your life will be more fun. You will take on a new meaning and will discover more about the wonders of life itself.

Fifth, regardless of whether you are a performer, educator or innovator as a musician, it is important for you to remember that you are first and foremost also a business person.

You and what you produce are the products. The position you occupy is where you are when marketed against your competition. The marketplace is all the possible places you can work and sell. If you are a performer, the seller is your agent, the buyer signs the check. Advertising is your bait for the public consumer of your service. The asking price is how much your audience is willing to pay. Your profit is what you have left after all your expenses are deducted.

Music is business. To be marketable you need a resume, biographical information in outline and paragraph formats, references, recommendation letters and a CD and DVD of your performances and teaching. Your portfolio needs to be the highest professional caliber and available in multiple formats suitable for multiple career areas. And you need it all NOW! 

As you can see, the business of making music is not all the music business. After all, it’s probably easier to make a musician out of a businessman than it is to make a businessman out of a musician. If you don’t spend as much time and effort in the business aspects of the music business, as you do in making the music – you won’t make any significant money.

  • Students and amateurs don’t make substantial money.
  • Professionals – businessmen – make large amounts of money.

You should strive to make at least $100,000 a year gross as a musician – however hard you must work and however many jobs you must work. Understand that this gross income could put you in a high federal and state tax bracket. There could also be a larger deduction for Social Security and Medicare. These and a wide variety of other deductions substantially reduce your net income. As a tax balance to your primary income, work at the very least “X” number of days of each year doing performances, recording sessions, clinics, private lessons, sales of inventory and so forth, where you gross an extra $1,000 in an “X” period of time. Put all this extra income into a separate savings account.  Use that account to pay your annual federal and state income taxes.

You should strive to have at least $1,000,000 in total cash assets or the equivalent in income producing assets when you retire!

You should have multiple health insurance benefits (1 primary and 1 secondary); life insurance; disability insurance; long term care insurance; car and home insurance; personal umbrella insurance, as well as instrument insurance.

You should have a balanced investment portfolio for your retirement that includes stocks, bonds, employer-sponsored retirement plans, IRA’s and various cash assets.

You should strive to save a minimum of $500/month or more after paying all other monthly expenses – including home, car, utilities, insurance, medical services, credit card bills, contributions and unexpected expenses.

You should budget all expected expenses to equal no more than 75% of your net monthly income.

You should run a home business so you can deduct a portion of all utilities, phone, gas, etc. and all other business-related expenses from your income.

You should use only two credit cards. 


  • A Visa Card for your personal expenses
  • An American Express Card for your business-related expenses

You should pay off your American Express card each month. If possible, also pay off your personal Visa card monthly as well. This commitment will build excellent credit while disciplining your spending.

File an aggressive tax return each year. Your greatest risk is not taking all allowable deductions. In the Yellow Pages throughout major US cities, music and musicians come right after museums and right before mutual funds. Look for yourself. You must find the balance.


Do whatever you choose to do as a musician a little better than anyone else around you and you will succeed. Never measure your journey toward success by watching the clock.

Instead, wisely use every second of every minute of every day so that someday when you look back, you will realize your life has been successful and seems twice as long.

Remember: In life, everything is changing and all things will pass.


Learning to be Creative

Learning to be creative : The process of learning is a creative process

In the next few moments, I will try to rekindle you – by attempting to help you understand a little more about yourself and how to learn creatively.
Had I studied the topics of Learning and Creativity extensively before presenting this lecture, you would be offered many sophisticated definitions and interpretations. However, what you are about to be given, and hopefully accept, is based on my life experiences and is a result of personal applications.
Introductory Comments
During your college years, it is often difficult for you to see and understand yourself clearly. Perhaps you are too close to yourself, trapped in your own illusions. Or perhaps you are too far away from yourself, lost in your dreams.
When you understand more about who you are, how you learn, and what you might become, you have a better chance of breaking away from the repetitious patterns or habits of your past.
Do you realize that your learned habits are often too subtle for you to recognize and yet, at the same time, are too powerful for you to change!
As students, musicians… people – real self-knowledge or learning about yourself is not just a matter of chance. It is a matter of your choices – determined by what you learn, what you say, what you do, and whom you trust.
Let’s talk about learning more about yourself, by discovering how you learn something new… and in a creative way. First, you can’t get excited about learning something new until the spirit of learning propels you. Feeling excited about learning prompts more learning, which in turn leads to greater excitement. Thus, the learning experience is a continuum – constantly reinforcing itself. To reduce life to a simple truth: “You are what you have learned!”
So, how do you learn? What motivates you to learn? What interferes with your learning process? You take in information through all of your senses, but at college, most of your learning occurs through your auditory, visual, or kinesthetic channels. For most of you, one or two of those sensory channels are more efficient than the others.
If you are a visual learner:
You remember best what you see.
You put information into visual forms.
You often write things down or draw pictures to help yourself understand and remember.
If you are an auditory learner:
You remember best what you hear and say yourself.
You enjoy class discussions.
You are easily distracted by noise.
You need to talk through new learning.
If you are a kinesthetic learner:
You remember best what you do and experience.
You have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time and are easily distracted.
You find or would like to find ways to move about in the classroom.
You lose interest when you are not actively involved.
Ok, now we have learned a little about learning. What about creativity? I say Learning to be Creative is the act of making something ‘extra-ordinary’ or extraordinary out of the ordinary.
My students in Developing Rhythmic Sensitivity have said:
“Creativity is the unique ability to add to the ordinary an inventive, imaginative flair and thus make something new and unusual.”
“Creativity is the means whereby a performer establishes an interpretive style and expresses his own individuality through music.”
“Those in the fine arts and humanities are concerned with creating beauty and with expressing, studying, and preserving ideas and culture values. Students should leave our schools with their creative abilities aglow. Creativity implies that leap of imagination and understanding which enables individuals to grow in dignity and purpose in the world. Creativity also implies the ability on the part of the creator to carry others with him in the endless quest for insight…”
I have found that being creative requires sweat producing energy and enormous amounts of new learning to take place. Creating something new often involves changing a small segment of the way the world is … not an easy thing to do. For instance, my change from the ASO to GSU started with an undefined awareness, a vague feeling, and an urging that something needed to change. That became a thought – one of the most powerful forces in the universe– a thought must be nurtured and developed and worked out. The thought became an intention and intentionally became an action – which lead to the change… it took over 5 years!

Learning: to be Creative
The 3 areas to consider as I attempt to bind Learning and Creativity:
Enabling Skills
Enabling Conditions
Thought Processes
Under Enabling Skills, you will see the following categories:
Aptitude – Present abilities
Flexibility –  Willingness to change
Extensiveness – Invested time
Conceptual Understanding – Factual knowledge
Originality – Taking a chance
Craftsmanship – Attention to details
Sensitivity – Ability to internalize
As you see, each category is accompanied by a few key words to help you remember what I am about to say. And, to a degree, the listed order is progressive – one must occur for the next to take place – you may want to change the order – that’s ok.
When you are about to learn something new you must, at that point, be aware of your level of ability, your present level of competency, your capacity to learn, and of course, your talents.
Flexibility has to do with your willingness to try to make a change in your life in order to learn something new or to adopt something new. It is your ability to be influenced or persuaded to change from a prior, wrong (or weak) concept.
Extensiveness is a developed enabling skill based upon the amount of time or, as a musician, practice you are willing to invest in self-improvement. How hard are you willing to try in order to learn something new?
Conceptual Understanding
Knowledge or factual understanding is absolutely necessary in order for you to achieve a successful application of your newly acquired information. Definitions and a working vocabulary are a good starting point.
Be it music or art, theater or dance, originality hinges on taking a chance. Choices, alternatives, failures, or doubt… be a person who works all of them out!
Craftsmanship requires absolute attention to all details. It is your ability to carefully use your new knowledge. If you are only a ‘big picture’ person and ignore the details – life will ‘catch’ you!
Sensitivity as an enabling skill is your ability to internalize deeply and accurately what you have learned. In music, it will allow you to both read and demonstrate the deepest levels of your personal musical understanding.

Attention to detail affects the verification part of thought processes as part of Learning: To Be Creative. I will look at that in a moment.
Enabling Conditions
In addition to personal enabling skills, there are a number of influences or enabling conditions that might mingle with your skills in delicate and complicated ways. The following are 3 Enabling Conditions:
Personality – self-identity / self-awareness
Your personality attributes contribute significantly to the enabling of your skills. (A-G above)
Are you spontaneous and open? Do you have a sense of humor? Do you prefer to keep things simple or do you make life complex? Have you established your self-identity to the point that life’s difficult questions can be answered with a yes or no/ (Me either)
Motivations – reactions and personal drive
Motivation is a host of psychological factors that influence your reactions and drives. When learning something new it allows or stops you from ‘staying on task’.
Environment – surroundings / circumstances
Environment includes the characteristics that define both a learning atmosphere – is the room too cold or too hot- and your own personal requirements for wellbeing- financial resources, family conditions, and personal relationships or even peer pressure.
Thought Processes
In Learning: To Be Creative these concepts are my favorites. Let’s talk about four concepts as students at college.
Preparation would mean, in part, gathering all class lectures and textbook information- getting organized and memorized. Practicing would mean as much as necessary to ‘get the job done right’!
Incubation is a period of subconscious imagery: mental activity that occurs apart from your conscious mind. It is ‘problem solving’ mental activity occurring while you are occupied consciously with other concerns. It is your mind’s way of working through what you have experienced in preparation. It can occur only after adequate preparation.
The ‘Eureka’ or ‘Aha’ moment when your hard work appears to all come together. Now you understand! Now you can do it!
Time and testing and more testing and time will tell if you are really right – if you have really learned properly. That’s why music schools have a faculty! If your preparation was wrong – incubation still takes place, illumination still occurs- but you learned wrong from the beginning – you didn’t think, watch or listen carefully enough. Now you must ‘re’- rethink, reconsider, refine, rewrite, replay, reconceptualize,… re-do!
Well, Learning: To Be Creative, as you have now learned, requires absolute persistence and determination on your part. All our lives hang on a very thin thread. The cancer of time is complacency. What you can dream, you can learn to do – begin it now!
Remember, feeling excited about learning prompts more learning which in turn leads to greater excitement and the learning experience becomes a continuum – constantly reinforcing itself.

Jack Bell

Music: Present and Future

After 20 years at the University, I finally reached the level of associate professor and was beginning to think toward the future rather than just living in the present. This is a document that I wrote while on a tour of Europe with the orchestra.

In 1988 I fully realized what a wondrous series of events had been occurring in my percussion division at Georgia State University. For my own part, I stopped living only in the present and began projecting all things, visualizing the future.  I created this document hoping that the School of Music might share some of my forward-thinking visions.
Jack Bell

Thoughts on Leadership

My experiences as a working musician, college professor and business entrepreneur have taught me the importance of leadership.

Leadership is influence. Leadership is the ability to obtain followers. Nothing more, nothing less. If you think you are leading and no one is following you, all you are doing is taking a walk.

People seldom follow you because of your title. They follow you because they know how much you care, and they appreciate your ability. A leader must personally facilitate and invest in the lives and careers of those being led. I believe this is what happened in my music division at the Georgia State University School of Music.