Tap into the Magic of Drumming, Part 1

There’s something magical about kids and drums. “My students are drawn to them like magnets,” says Susan Keeble. Group drumming from West Africa can address diverse student needs regardless of age, aptitude, or musical style preference. Active listening, playing instruments alone and with others, developing improvisational skills, and creative movement are all natural components of African drumming activities. Keeble models her teaching on Mande ensemble drumming:

The Setup

Main rhythms:  “I recommend key-tuned tubanos,” Keeble says. “Although djembes produce a wonderful sound, they can be difficult for elementary children to hold and easy to drop. However, djembe stands can alleviate these problems. Students in upper elementary and beyond would benefit from the high “slap” of the djembe, not easily produced on the tubano. Accompaniment rhythms:  These are performed on the dunduns. “Although there are typically 3 sizes and 3 separate rhythms for these side drums,” Keeble says, “I have included one rhythm to be played on any size drum for the practical purpose of teaching large groups of beginning drummers.” This part is best played by the teacher for lower elementary grades. The Master Drummer:  “Although it takes a lifetime to develop the skills to become a real master,” Keeble says, “the music teacher must humbly take on this role.” The duties include playing a drum that can cut through the ensemble (preferably, a good djembe) and shouting out the counts to start and end the arrangement. Students will need to watch your hands.

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The Sounds

The low bass (b) of the djembe or tubano is produced by striking the drum in the center of the head. The tone (t) is produced by striking the edge of the drum with the full length of all your fingers, minus the thumb. This sound should be higher than the bass. The high slap (s) is produced by striking the rim of the drum with all fingers (spread slightly apart) to your first knuckle minus the thumb. Note: The slap can be replaced by the tone on the tubanos, as long as the two contrasting high and low sounds are clear. To provide an authentic cultural context for the lesson, Keeble interviewed master drummer Moussa Bolokada Conde from Kissidougou, Guinea. He said, “We don’t have machines to do our work. We do all the work by hand. So if you work hard, it’s very, very difficult. You’re going to be tired, but if you don’t do it, your family is not going to eat. So to make it easy, we have rhythm. For example, if 40 people from a village go do the farming, we might all make food for them. The drummer plays for them. Nobody complains; nobody is angry. If there isn’t enough food, the rhythms still make everyone happy. If they don’t have music, you’ll have a lot of problems and complaining!” See Keeble’s lesson plan for the rhythm “Kuku” in My Music Class. Part 2


NAfME member Sue Keeble teaches at Sangamon Elementary School in Mahomet, Illinois. —Linda C. Brown, November 16, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)