Percussive Arts Society

Keys to a Portfolio Career by Don Johns

Developing a career in percussion requires as many intangible skills as tangible ones. The more skills you can cultivate, the more in-demand you can become in your pursuit of a viable career in percussion. Here are some tips and insights on creating a portfolio career, combining a variety of diverse experiences and skills sets into a sustainable profession.

Maximize your time in school, becoming proficient in as many areas of percussion as you can, including orchestral timpani/percussion excerpts, marimba, drum set, Latin percussion, accessories, etc. Learn from your classmates as well as your professors, knowing that more time is spent around your colleagues than your teachers.

Develop relationships with people who are in positions you want to hold (in character and title). Create opportunities for yourself and be solution oriented. 

Set goals that are lofty but attainable, and set them in increments, including both short-term and long-term expectations. Make your goals consistently visible. Have a person or people who keep you accountable and vice versa. Manage distractions. Know your strengths and weaknesses and embrace the process (nothing happens overnight).

Allow yourself to be fallible (human). Learn from failures or mistakes and move on wiser and stronger. Consistently practice self-care.

Value experiences, not just income. Find people who are strong in areas where you are weak and vice-versa. Each person can offer unique abilities that will help build. Most things of worth are created through relationships.

Don JohnsDon Johns is an in-demand percussion performer and educator in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan area. He is a regular substitute musician with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Johns is also principal timpanist of the Apollo Orchestra in Bethesda, Maryland/Washington, D.C. and the lead percussionist for Soulful Symphony (Columbia, Maryland). Additionally, Johns is a proud member of the Gateways Festival Orchestra (Rochester, N.Y.) and the Colour of Music Festival Orchestra (Charleston, S.C.), two groundbreaking groups that spotlight professional black classical musicians. Johns is the Adjunct Professor of Percussion at Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland. He is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Percussion Performance at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. He has a Master of Music Degree in Percussion Performance (2011) and Bachelor of Music Degree in Music Education (2005), both from the University of Maryland. Johns serves as President of the Maryland/Delaware PAS Chapter as well as the PAS Education Committee. In 2017, Johns created a 501c3 non-profit organization called the DMV Music Academy ( Its mission is to expose, engage, and enrich young people through all forms of instrumental music education.

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