Meet Milton Salazar: Our OCMD Percussion Instructor

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@miltontheguy Milton Salazar is a freelance percussionist and educator living in the Orange County area. Even though he did not start playing music until high school, he earned a Bachelors of Music from the University of California, Irvine, and went on to earn a Masters of Music from California State University, Fullerton. Milton now performs as a freelance percussionist in many local orchestras and community groups throughout Southern California. Milton has also performed as an improviser in the experimental music group, THE DECISIVE INSTANT, and he is a member of the New Music Ensemble at CSUF. As an educator, he has experience with students of all ages and skill levels and has the ability to teach drum set, orchestral percussion, keyboard instruments, and auxiliary percussion.

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I was first inspired to become a musician when I was watching the marching band rehearse after school. During my first week of high school I would watch them practice on the field, and I was incredibly impressed by their work. Though I didn’t know how to play an instrument, they let me join because I was willing to learn how to play percussion and join the front ensemble. It was a lot of fun to play in the pit (I was in charge of cymbals, shakers, and I even played the spoons). From there I moved on to to play snare drum, bass drum, timpani, and other auxiliary instruments, and participated in the concert band.

I was not very good at the start! But I was always pushing myself to become a better player, and I wanted to learn how to play as many percussion instruments as I could. It helped that I was surrounded by so many other great musicians. They inspired me to want to become as good as them, or better.  I loved it so much that I decided to pursue a degree in music at UC Irvine, and graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance.  Later, I earned my Master of Music from CSU Fullerton in Percussion Performance.


Percussion is very accessible to the new student — because everyone can hit things! But, learning how to hit things really well and getting good at it is the hard part. A good percussionist is able to listen to themselves when they play, They think about playing loud or soft and what kind of sound they are creating. If they’re playing with other musicians, they have to listen to the other players to make sure they’re playing together and on time. There is a lot of musicality that goes into playing percussion.


Everyone thinks they can play the drums, but having a teacher can help you understand things you would never realize on your own. It’s hard to become a good percussionist, but with a teacher, a student can get ahead much faster.  A good percussion teacher can also help direct your learning in other percussion instruments.

For example, many new players think that drum set is the only thing worth learning, but that’s not true. Developing a good snare drum and mallet instrument technique is incredibly important because that technique translates to many other instruments. A good snare drum technique will make a student a better drum set player and a better mallet technique can help the student develop as a musician. A mark of a good percussionist is not just versatility and technical ability but also musicality; it is possible to be just as musical on the drum set as it would be on the marimba.


One of my favorite drummers is Neil Peart. He was famous for being the drummer for the band RUSH. He is known for having huge and complicated drum sets and playing long and incredible drum solos. He was a very impressive drummer to watch. He combined the drum set with other percussion instruments like cowbells, gongs, chimes, and also included electronics and samples in his set-up, something that was very innovating at the time. It gave him a unique sound and style.

The biggest reason why I like Peart so much, apart from him being an amazing player, is that he wrote the lyrics and helped compose the songs for RUSH. He was an incredibly talented musician, percussionist, songwriter, and improviser, and everything he did was very thought out. His interviews and recorded clinics show how intelligent he was as a musician and as a person. People nicknamed him “The Professor” because he was so intellectual. He broke away from the stereotype that drummers are not very smart.


Teaching music gives me the opportunity to point students in the right direction from an early age. I started taking music lessons very late — my first music lesson wasn’t until college. Compared to most of the other musicians in my class, I was just starting out, and it was very difficult for me to play “catch-up.” That’s why I appreciate teaching younger students, because I can help them begin honing their musical skills and abilities early on.  My goal is to see them become a much better musician than I ever was!

Teaching older students is a different experience that I also really enjoy. Most young students have a certain degree of parental pressure to take lessons, but the older students really want to be there for themselves. They’re the ones who really enjoy working on the important stuff that might seem boring to a younger student.

Most of all, I enjoy helping my students grow and develop their musical skills much faster than if they were on their own.  Having a teacher is something very special that I wish I had earlier in my life. I am very grateful for the teachers that I did have, and I am always happy to be able to pass on my knowledge to my students.



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