by Kalani Das, MT-BC (Part 1 of 2)
Community drumming is one of the most popular forms of community musicmaking on the planet. With the recent rise in awareness and the availability of drums and percussion instruments, community drumming has become a popular staple in schools and community music centers, wellness centers, corporate events, beneficial musicmaking, and music therapy settings. While there are many forms of community drumming, there are a few core competencies and skills that will help anyone achieve success, no matter what the setting or the population. I've divided the following into 2 categories; musical skills and facilitation skills. When taken together, this skill set forms a solid foundation for any community drumming facilitator (CDF). In part 1 of this post, I discuss Musical Skills.
1. Be able to keep a steady beat.
Keeping a steady rhythm is the central for providing a solid ground or foundation upon which others may build. Common instruments used for keeping a steady beat include the dun dun, table drum, surdo, cowbell, shakers, rattles, and shekere.
2. Be able to play the basic sounds on a few drums and percussion instruments.
For example, be able to play the dun dun properly. Be able to play the bass, tone, and slap on the djembe or conga drum. Be able to use a rattle, cowbell, shaker, woodblock, and claves properly. If you're not sure how to do this, get a DVD, book, or better yet, take a lesson with a percussionist.
3. Be familiar with the common musical roles of the instruments that are predominantly used in community drumming.
These include categories such as bass drums (dun dun, surdo with table drum), hand drums (conas, djembe, bongos, cajon, darbuka/doumbek, etc.), frame drums (tambourine, nesting drums), and hand-held percussion (shakers, rattles, bells, and blocks). Bass drums are often used to provide a rhythmic ground or framework. Hand drums provide a melodic content and tonal ostinato or repeated pattern. Frame drums can provide both a rhythmic ground and add a melodic element. Hand-held percussion often serves to subdivide the primary beats, thereby providing both variety and musical stability. And hand-held percussion is often at the top and of the pitch spectrum and can serve to balance the lower frequencies that come from the bass drums and the lower-pitched hand drums.
4. Be able to demonstrate and teach basic drumming skills
Demonstrating and teaching any technique or skill involves a process of deconstruction, making the steps that lead up to and include the technique both clear and accessible to the student or participant. Components of demonstration can include; showing someone how to hold an instrument, showing someone how to hold a striking implement such as a stick, showing someone how to orient themselves to the instrument, showing someone where to strike the instrument, and showing someone the appropriate amount of force to apply to the playing technique. The goal of demonstrating and teaching is to increase the persons ability and enjoyment when using the instruments. It's also to help keep the person and the instruments safe.
5. Be able to maintain a steady beat under musical stress.
Musical stress occurs when one or more people are playing at a different tempo or in a way that creates tension with your planning. Being able to maintain your rhythm while others are playing in such a way as to create tension is an important skill for any facilitator. The degree to which you are able to maintain your own music is called fortitude. Musical stress is caused as participants experiment with techniques and rhythms, and find their way towards the music they wish to create. In a group setting, musical tension can occur as individuals following their own musical impulses, listen to each other, and try to form a collective musical expression. This 'falling in and out of rhythm' is especially common in a drum circle, which is an entirely improvised community drumming experience.
6. Be able to gradually speed up, slow down, raise the volume, and lower the volume of the music.
A community drumming facilitator (CDF) may find a reason to raise or lower the volume, or speed up or slow down the tempo of the music. While the overall goal of this action may be to facilitate a positive overall change in the dynamics of the experience, this facilitation goal is entirely dependent on musical skills. Being able to gradually speed up the tempo requires a great degree of musical fortitude, sensitivity, and leadership. The same can be said for slowing down and raising or lowering the volume. In my many years of teaching the art of facilitation, I've come to appreciate just how much time and attention it can take to develop what may appear to be fairly simple skills that are easy to execute. In the real world; however, what often seem to be fairly simple changes in the music, often prove to be more challenging and require a greater degree of skill than one might expect. This especially holds true in musical facilitation, where the main strategy is to use one's own musical playing to shape and guide the group, rather than relying on verbal or visual cueing (conducting).
Working to develop your musical skills will help you to be able to focus on your facilitation skills. Mastering the basics of rhythm and techniques will free your mind and body to attend to the finer points of facilitation and make the experience more enjoyable for you and your participants. Developmental Community Music (DCM) training courses are one way to expand your skills and reach new levels of skill and competency.
I'm always interested in hearing about your successes as well as fielding your questions. Leave your comments below and let's get the conversation going!
To learn more about Kalani and his instructional materials, please visit the Kalani Das Google+ page.