This post is part of the Michael Pluznick author residency at X8Drums.com. Enjoy!
Some people are very interested to learn how to play percussion or to try and jam but are not sure which is the right style of drumming for them. Is it freestyle or traditional? Afro Cuban or West African? And which is the right instrument to play or study? A question I often hear is, "should I stay with one instrument or style or play many"?
My opinion is when you are first beginning hand percussion you should try as many different instruments as possible. Don't get stuck thinking you have to be a djembe player or a conga player. Maybe the Shekere (aka Sekere) is the best instrument for you or perhaps talking drum or dununs. You won't know unless you try.
These days many people are attracted to the the djembe as it is relatively portable and can be played in a variety of scenarios. Last night for example I sat in with a Latin band with my djembe. Of course it was not traditional, but it worked. When I first started drumming it was conga drums.
When I was in Cuba on my first trip many people played the claves (two wooden sticks) -- that is all they played. They never touched a drum and they were perfectly happy. They were the center of the rhythm, the cornerstone that everything is built upon. It was very meditative and mantra-like; repeating without any change whatsoever.
Once you have found the instrument(s) you feel in tune with and comfortable on, then I do suggest focusing on mastering them one at a time. Spend a lot of time simply hanging out and making friends with the instrument. When I first started playing the Shekere (aka Sekere, the bedded gourd) for example I could not play it at all. It felt awkward and clumsy in my hands.
My teacher at the time the late, great Simbo, taught me how to make one. By making the instrument it some how connected me more to it. But that was not enough. I had to walk around the house with it, take it hiking and hang out with it all the time. As ridiculous as this might sound gradually I was able to play it on my own. Of course the teacher showed me patterns that I was able to adapt to it as well.
As far as which styles you would like to learn or play, that is a matter of personally choice. Some people are better suited for playing in drum circles and "freestyle" situations where the rhythms are much less structured, easily attainable and not based on traditional hand patterns or compositions.
I suggest visiting drum classes, dance classes, drum circles and searching videos on line to see what you resonate with. It is something different for everyone and this is the beauty of it.
In freestyle drumming there is more freedom (or so it seems in the beginning anyway). For me it gets repetitive. But this is the best style for some types of people who just simply want to have fun. Others are better suited for traditional studies which are more formulated and structured.
I do suggest whichever instrument you choose to play you try to learn the techniques to play that instrument. This means how to make the sounds for that instrument and how to make it "speak". This will make your experience more enjoyable as well as those around you too.
Some people would like to learn to play percussion to play in bands. If it is Latin music then you will need to learn and play Latin instruments and playing styles. If it is a rock or funk band then you need to learn to play the instruments and styles for that genre as well
I understand not everyone needs to be serious about playing percussion and for some people it is just about casual occasional fun and that is fine in my book. However, If you would like to go further then this then I have some more information for you. And that is why I am here writing these articles.
I believe strongly that no matter what style or instrument you choose to play, at some point you should be rooted firmly in strong rhythm fundamentals. It is the concept of building a house on a strong foundation rather then a flimsily one on sand. The stronger your foundation, the stronger your house.
In this case your house being your playing style. Rhythmic foundations are also known as "the basics" of rhythm. Understanding how parts go together, interrelate and moreover the math or numbers and demystification of hand drumming. Now don't let this scare you. It can be totally fun learning up beats and downbeats and trying to find and understand "the one" or where a rhythm starts.
I was terrible at math in school, but I love to dissect rhythms now, at least when I have to. And it does not have to be learned like this. You can simply learn all the different concepts and interactions of rhythms and not even deal with numbers. For example the 6/8 long and short bell, the clave principle in Afro Cuban music and so on and so fourth.
I will deal more with these principles in future articles and videos as well.
by Michael Pluznick
Internationally-recognized musical djembe drummer and percussionist, Michael Pluznick has introduced his new Signature Eco-Pro Djembe Drums and Instructional DVD for Djembe Players now available at X8Drums.com.