My district has been doing a lot of experimenting in recent years with beginning percussion. The junior high and high school teachers had been frustrated with being fed lots of drummers from the elementaries. Few of these students had experience with pitched percussion like marimba or even timpani, and all of whom wanted to play snare.
Two or three years ago, we began experimenting at selected schools with having all beginning percussionists learning to play orchestra bells until Christmas. Then they had the option of switching to snare or sticking (ha!) with bells. Last year, that system was expanded to all the elementary schools. We used a practice pad/bell kit like this one.
In terms of numbers, this cut my beginning percussion sections way down, but perhaps too far down. Some students may have been turned off by the bells and decided not to join the music program, some chose a different instrument instead, and some took up the percussion challenge. Among those who started percussion, some have been successful and some have not.
Since I am in year two or three of this program, I am feeling the effects of having very few good advanced percussionists. On one hand, the memory of 13 mischievous elementary drummers standing in the back of the room is still fresh in my mind. On the other hand, at one of my schools, I had no advanced percussionists and had to recruit some of my advanced string players to play percussion in band.
So the purpose in writing about all this is to ask your input on how you handle beginning percussion in your schools. Do you have limits on how many percussionists you will start? Or limits for any instrument? Do you teach bells in addition to snare? Please chime in here (pun intended!) and share your experiences.