Dissertation Download!

My Ph.D. dissertation from Michigan State University, The Early Percussion Music of John Cage:1935-1943, is available for Free Download on my website! Here’s what Robin Engelman says about it:

“If you are searching for clear, authoritative insights into Cage’s early works for percussion, you should read B. Michael Williams’ Ph.D. thesis, The Early Percussion Music of John Cage, 1935-1943. It is superb.This one handy text contains information gleaned from many sources and includes interviews of Cage by Dr. Williams. His meticulous analysis and thoughtful questions drew insights from Cage that lift veils of ambiguity and illuminate these seminal works for today’s performers. For example, Cage’s description of the thundersheets he used in First Construction (In Metal) is revelatory. It resolves irksome interpretive issues and alone is worth the price of the book. Much has been written about John Cage and, in my opinion, Dr. Williams’ thesis should be on any essential list of reading for all percussionists; performers, teachers and students.”

– Robin Engelman – Member of Nexus, The Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, Conductor/Director the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Percussion Ensemble, 1975-2007.

1333127842-ln1uth25edxiht5n-1Just click on John Cage’s smiling face here or on my homepage for an instant download.


Welcome Back to the New BMW.COM!



Welcome to my new website! It’s clean, neat, and….NEW! I’ve been test-driving the features and I like the way this site handles. Kudos and thanks to my webmaster and colleague at Winthrop University, Joe Miller (http://soundslikejoe.com/). Joe is a film composer/guitarist/tech guru and overall terrific guy! In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting updates on some exciting new ventures and experiences that have come along for me and my students at Winthrop University. It’s been a fun ride this past year and a half since I’ve been away from the blogosphere, and I am looking forward to sharing all the fun with you!

I’ll be on the road in March performing and giving clinics at the University of Central Arkansas Percussion Festival with Blake Tyson and the West Tennessee Day of Percussion with Josh Smith and Bethel University. On the way, I’ll visit Julie Hill for some djembe drumming with her students at UT-Martin. Look for more posts coming soon!

UCA Percussioon Festival

West Tenn DOP


Winthrop Students Tour Ludwig Industries

The Winthrop University percussion studio recently toured Ludwig Industries in Monroe, NC. I remember touring Ludwig when they were located on N. Damen Avenue in Chicago while attending graduate school at Northwestern University in 1976. In the early 1980s the entire facility was moved to North Carolina. Many of those old machines I saw in action at the Damen Avenue facility are still in use today. “We had some incredible engineers designing machines,” said plant manager Jim Kinsey. “When we moved to Monroe, we figured ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ so we’ve just kept using those great old machines.”

Some little-known facts I learned on this tour:

Since there is such limited demand for 20″ fiberglass timpani, they don’t use a mold for the 20″ drums. If you order a complete five-drum set of fiberglass timpani, the 20″ will be made of aluminum and painted the same copper color. The original color of the fiberglass is whitish grey, and the original color of the aluminum is a dull silver.

Rack of timpani bowls ready for drilling

Drilling timpani bowl for the tuning gauge assembly

It takes two hours of sanding on a specially-designed machine to bring a copper timpani kettle to the mirror-like finish we are accustomed to.


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Artie Lieberman’s Mallet Instrument Service

Artie’s father was a bread deliveryman in Manhattan. One of his best customers was Lionel Hampton, who liked to have his breakfast at a certain coffeeshop in Greenwich Village at 4:00 AM, when Mr. Lieberman typically delivered fresh bread. Artie’s father asked Lionel Hampton if he would recommend someone to teach his son to play drums. Hampton referred Mr. Lieberman to Freddie Albright, who agreed to teach young Artie, on the condition that they must begin on the xylophone. Once Artie learned to read music on the xylophone, they could begin to split the lessons between xylophone and drums. Lessons progressed nicely, and later on Mr. Lieberman again approached Lionel Hampton asking about the purchase of a used vibraphone for his son. Hampton replied that he happened to have one he wasn’t using and would sell it for $300.00. The recently refurbished instrument remains in Artie’s collection and is pictured above.

Artie has dozens of vintage and new instruments in his collection, including many one-of-a-kind instruments such as those pictured below. Highly sought-after instruments such as Deagan roundtop bells, Deagan songbells, specially-made bass marimbas and extended-range chimes are available for rental. (more…)


Shumba Ya Ngwasha Revisited

Hello All,

I recently revisited Chartwell’s Shumba YaNgwasha in nemakonde tuning and discovered some errors in my original transcription. Check out the original post and you’ll find the corrected version, which includes some funky additions of the RT 1 key  (on beat 2 in the 3rd and 4th quarters) that I had simply neglected earlier, as well as an easier movement to UL 1 on beat 10 of the 2nd quarter. This correction makes for a much nicer harmonic movement that I simply didn’t hear the first time. Check it out and let me know how you like it.



Taireva Basic

Here is a version of the mbira piece “Taireva” that is a bit different from the one published in my book, “Learning Mbira: A Beginning…”  I call it “Taireva Basic” because it really is a more basic version, and includes the essential melodic material of the vocal melody. This basic melody can be heard by playing the right hand notes alone, yielding the following tune in solfege:

do sol sol mi mi

do sol sol fa mi

do sol sol mi re

re fa fa mi re

This transcription also reflects the metric orientation I hear when I play the piece alone (that is, without the kushaura/kutsinhira interlock). In this orientation, I hear the first note as a “pick up” rather than a “downbeat.” This is the version I teach to any student new to “Taireva.”  Once the student has a firm grasp of this basic version, we move on to the versions presented in my book.





Taireva BASIC

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Peyton Becton at Winthrop University

Peyton Becton, Principal Percussionist with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, presented a clinic on orchestral percussion techniques at Winthrop University October 2nd, 2009. Peyton covered essential techniques and repertoire for snare drum and tambourine.
Peyton Becton demonstrates his flawless thumb roll technique!

Peyton Becton demonstrates his flawless thumb roll technique!

Peyton Becton demonstrates roll techniques on snare drum

Peyton Becton demonstrates roll techniques on snare drum


Peyton Becton with Winthrop Percussionists

Peyton Becton with Winthrop Percussionists



I’m very sorry to report that the NAFDA South event in the Atlanta area scheduled for September 12 has been cancelled. The NAFDA leadership made a valiant effort, but as the date drew closer there were too few pre-registered participants. My understanding is that they will go back to the drawing board and look into other possible dates/venues in the near future. Stay tuned!



NAFDA South – Atlanta 9/12/09

NAFDA South Flyer

Dear Friends,

This is a terrific opportunity to immerse yourself in frame drumming for a day in the Atlanta area September 12. You get five workshops with notable frame drum experts plus an evening concert for just $100! I think it’s a great deal. My students and I will be there performing some new works in the evening concert. Check us out on YouTube here:


To reserve a spot at NAFDA South, send email to nafda1@gmail.com or visit www.nafda1.com/nafdasouth.php.

Hope to see you there!



Kariga Mombe Basic

Here is a transcription of Kariga Mombe in tablature notation. Kariga Mombe means “taking the bull by the horns.” It is a song about determination. This is a the basic version that most beginners play. In my book, Learning Mbira: A Beginning…, this is the same as the standard kushaura without the right index finger.  I’ve found that beginning students get a much better introduction to mbira with this most basic version because it uses only the two thumbs in a limited range. Try it!

The notation is described in my article, “Getting Started with Mbira Dzavadzimu.” You can find it here:




 Kariga Mombe basic

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