teaching Feel

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teaching Feel

Postby Carl » Thu Sep 17, 2009 2:06 pm

In last nights class, we were discussing feel. We were working on a solo technique that is in-between a 3 and 4 feel. (Mamady's traditional solo for Djabara for those who know it)

What I find is a challenge is to find a way to get a student started on a technique, it might not be "correct" but it gets them started on the road.

So, I taught them the "3" feel of the technique. I demonstrated a "4" feel, and I demonstrated some variations between them. We then got into a very interesting conversation. On one hand, may students could not really "hear" the difference. They could tell that it was different, but they couldn't really say how. (that and a lot of eyes glazed over)

In the end I feel that it is all about listening. Unfortunately up here there are no dance classes in which to see and hear the music in context. So the best thing I can do for my students is to give them a version which is "playable" for them, and then point them to cds to listen to. (for djabara I pointed them to wassolon and sila laka which have excelent versions of this tune)

Also, I am very clear that what they are learning is "almost" correct. That the real thing is just that much different. With this group, I am beginning to stress their responsibility as students to go out and listen to the music outside of class.

So, what has been your experience with feel? what has helped you? any favorite experiences?

For myself: Seeing Mamady play Kotedjuga for a dance class given by Moustafa Bangoura was HUGE in my understanding of that rhythm. and for recordings, Balandugu Kan's version of Soboninkun was instrumental in my beginning to understand that rhythm. Oh yeah, then there's the CD Hamana...
:-)

thoughts?
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby michi » Thu Sep 17, 2009 3:43 pm

Carl wrote:We then got into a very interesting conversation. On one hand, may students could not really "hear" the difference. They could tell that it was different, but they couldn't really say how. (that and a lot of eyes glazed over)

[...]

So, what has been your experience with feel? what has helped you? any favorite experiences?


Teaching feel is synonymous to teaching micro-timing, because that's what creates feel: minute shifts in the placement of notes, retarding or advancing them by very small amounts.

My experience has been that it is almost impossible to teach feel. The best I can do is to demonstrate feel. It's not an issue of teaching skill, but an issue of genetics, I believe. Some people can hear the feel, in which case there is nothing to teach: they just feel it (that's why it's called "feel"), and they can just go and work on playing a pattern until they've achieved the feel they want.

In other words, for those people, feel isn't an issue of teaching, but an issue of mechanical skill: they can feel the "feel" already, so they just need to work on their muscle control until the "feel" feels right.

I can help them along that path, by providing feedback, telling them "hold that third tone back just a fraction more", and so on. But they are doing the feeling by themselves already. I'm not teaching them feel--I'm only helping them to get to a particular feel more effectively.

For other people, it's different: they can't hear the feel. The wiring in their brain simply isn't equipped to detect those differences in micro-timing. It's like being color-blind. No matter what you do, you won't teach a color-blind person to see color, because the necessary receptors in the retina aren't there, and never will be.

So, if someone can't hear the feel, no amount of teaching will ever make them hear it.

I've seen this many times with different students. I demonstrate feel, and some of them just nod their head and go "yes, right, that sounds totally different." Others go "Can you play that again please? It sounded the same to me as before, when it was supposed to be different."

As soon as I run into a statement like this, I know that, most likely, feel is something that will forever be inaccessible to that person.

Pushing the same point further...

I've seen hundreds of beginners over the past few years take their first steps on the drum. In every new group of beginners I see, there are the ones "who have it" and the ones "who don't have it." It typically takes all of two minutes to figure out who belongs in which group, and who is in the extreme ends of the distribution (either really lacking in talent, or overflowing with talent).

There is that special something that is very visible when a beginner intuitively "gets it." It's evident in body language and the faces they make when they nail a cycle and when they don't: some people just know intuitively--never mind that they've never touched a drum before and get their arms all in knots with this "left and right" and "base-tone-slap" thing.

Occasionally, I get a person (I have one such person right now) in a beginners' class who very most definitely "doesn't have it." This particular person is the type who is blissfully and utterly unaware of time, meter, and rhythm. What I usually do with beginners is to explain the base-tone-slap thing and get them to play a simple pattern (the kind that even a football crowd can play), and then do a little bit of call-and-response to loosen them up. It's the sort of simple thing that anyone can do. But that one special person is all over the place.

They cannot even play a string of simple quarter notes. There are fifteen people in the group who have no problem at all beating out a straight quarter-note pulse in unison. And there is this one person who is nowhere near that pulse, randomly hitting and missing the pulse by varying amounts of time. It's like rolling a die to decide where to put the next note. I can hear the "pitter-patter" in between all the nicely locked-in beats from everyone else. But the one special person sits there smiling, enjoying themselves, and obviously thinking they are doing a great job.

They don't know it! They cannot tell that they are nowhere near the pulse that everyone else is playing. They are incapable of looking at my hands to check whether their own hands are hitting the skin at the same time. Even when they do look, they do not notice the very large time difference between my hand contacting my drum and their hand contacting theirs.

The upshot of all this is that there is a part of drumming that is genetic. Some people are born with a very strong sense of time, meter, and rhythm, and other's aren't. Those people who have that special gift learn intuitively, quickly, and effortlessly. Those people who don't have the gift have to work very much harder at acquiring the skill.

People without the gift will never be outstanding drummers. The best they can hope for is competency. And the same thing is true for micro-timing, I believe. It's just a less extreme case of the person who is completely arhythmic. Some people can feel rhythm just fine, but can't distinguish changes in micro-timing. These people will probably not learn feel, not matter what you do.

Now, I'm the first to admit that hard work, grit, and determination can compensate for an awful lot of genetic disadvantage. There are many potential master drummers around who never go anywhere because they can't be bothered or lose interest, and all their talent goes to waste. And there are many less gifted drummers who, with a lot of hard work and determination, turn themselves into very competent players.

But, ultimately, I believe that the limit is not the sky. Instead, the limit is what my genes permit.

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby Dennis103 » Sun Sep 20, 2009 2:44 pm

I've recently adopted the concept of "resolution" (think screen resolution, pixels per inch etc.) to explain timing. To someone with a low resolution - that is most of the western beginners on djembe - anything remotely near the main beat will sound as if it IS the main beat. Like a pixel anywhere on the left half of your screen is by definition on the left half, simply because you have no higher resolution to describe where it is as long as you only think of left and right halves.

It takes time and practice, sometimes years, to increase this resolution to the point where you can hear if someone is playing off the beat altogether, or exactly on the off-beat of varying complexity and speed.

This concept gives people an understanding of where their problem lies, and that it will go away or at least improve, with listening more, and with playing more, and playing faster. With playing faster, the notes you already know become squished into a shorter time and will help you increase your 'resolution' - your awareness of multiple pulses inside a decreasing time slice.

What also helps is to get into the habit of listening to the group and becoming exact in time with each other. This helps you to learn to place notes on the exact moment, as opposed to 'roughly' in time.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby michi » Sun Sep 20, 2009 8:32 pm

Dennis103 wrote:I've recently adopted the concept of "resolution" (think screen resolution, pixels per inch etc.) to explain timing. To someone with a low resolution - that is most of the western beginners on djembe - anything remotely near the main beat will sound as if it IS the main beat. Like a pixel anywhere on the left half of your screen is by definition on the left half, simply because you have no higher resolution to describe where it is as long as you only think of left and right halves.


I like the concept as a teaching aid. I think that at least some people will find this useful as a way to visualise micro-timing.

It takes time and practice, sometimes years, to increase this resolution to the point where you can hear if someone is playing off the beat altogether, or exactly on the off-beat of varying complexity and speed.


Yes, at least for most people. Every now and then, I come across a person with this uncanny ability to just hear things and tell them apart with no training whatsoever. I guess those are the gifted ones.

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby Dennis103 » Mon Sep 21, 2009 6:22 am

I think that if people listen to more complicated music (world music, jazz etc.) that they will already have a better appreciation of timing than people who only listen to western 4/4 popmusic.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby michi » Mon Sep 21, 2009 9:02 am

Dennis103 wrote:I think that if people listen to more complicated music (world music, jazz etc.) that they will already have a better appreciation of timing than people who only listen to western 4/4 popmusic.


I agree with you. Although, your statement is dangerously close to what I used to hear in the sixties and early seventies, when my elders assured me that "rock music rots the brain" :)

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby Carl » Mon Sep 21, 2009 2:12 pm

michi@triodia.com wrote:My experience has been that it is almost impossible to teach feel. The best I can do is to demonstrate feel. It's not an issue of teaching skill, but an issue of genetics, I believe. Some people can hear the feel, in which case there is nothing to teach: they just feel it (that's why it's called "feel"), and they can just go and work on playing a pattern until they've achieved the feel they want.

[snip]

I can help them along that path, by providing feedback, telling them "hold that third tone back just a fraction more", and so on.


Michi, you just described the best way to "teach" feel.

I disagree strongly with your genetics POV, but I'll have to get into that later...

It seems like many people put too much responsibility on the teacher.
A teachers job is to find the best way to help a student learn. While a great teacher can make it much easier, in the end it is the student's responsibility to make the best of that opportunity. [on the other hand, it is definitely possible for a bad teacher to make it more difficult for the student to learn, but that is a different thread!]

When my week from hell is over, I'd like to get into this in detail with you! It I like a lot of what you've been saying, and you bring up some good points. This is a discussion that is very interesting to me, and I'd like to participate more than I have lately.

(back to work!)
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby michi » Mon Sep 21, 2009 7:35 pm

Carl wrote:I disagree strongly with your genetics POV, but I'll have to get into that later...

It seems like many people put too much responsibility on the teacher.
A teachers job is to find the best way to help a student learn. While a great teacher can make it much easier, in the end it is the student's responsibility to make the best of that opportunity.


I agree with that. A teacher can't "implant" a skill in a student, only ease the learning process for the student.

[on the other hand, it is definitely possible for a bad teacher to make it more difficult for the student to learn, but that is a different thread!]


I've had my share of bad teachers too, and I can attest first-hand to the truth of your statement :)

What matters a lot, I find, is the ability of the teacher to understand the kind of difficulty the student has, and to adjust the teaching method accordingly. If I have a highly visual student, scribbling a diagram to show the spacing of notes against the pulse can do wonders. If I have a student who is more auditory inclined, getting him/her to clap the pulse and sing the rhythm to it can be really useful. If I have a student who has difficulty with the left/right thing, sitting down with him/her and focussing on just the hand movement, gradually building up to the full pattern, can really help.

The point is that, as a teacher, if I insist on only one method of teaching, I'll make life hard for some of my students. For example, refusing to use notation because that's not how it's done in Africa most likely means that some people will make progress more slowly than they would otherwise.

When my week from hell is over, I'd like to get into this in detail with you! It I like a lot of what you've been saying, and you bring up some good points. This is a discussion that is very interesting to me, and I'd like to participate more than I have lately.


I look forward to it! :-)

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby bops » Mon Sep 21, 2009 10:15 pm

I agree with a lot of what's already been said on this topic. I would add (or reiterate):

-Repetition, repetition, repetition.
-Play with people who have the feel.
-Play accompaniment. A lot.
-Play kenkeni.
-Play dununba.
-Play sangba.
-Play karignan.

As a teacher, you have to be able to pinpoint what the student is missing. Then go back to the repetition thing.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby e2c » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:23 am

bops wrote:-Repetition, repetition, repetition.
-Play with people who have the feel.
-Play accompaniment. A lot.
-Play kenkeni.
-Play dununba.
-Play sangba.
-Play karignan.

Absolutely. Switching off to different instruments and repeating and repeating the pattern you're supposed to be playing allows you to hear and absorb a lot of what's going on in the ensemble without necessarily straining to do so. Once you've got the feel of the groove (or your part of it), other things start falling into place. I think a lot of this has to do with being able to pick up on the call and response aspect of things.

I'm all for getting people on the duns (no bells, add later) to hear the melody. *then* the djembe parts make sense, because you can hear how they're interacting with - and embellishing - the melodies played by the duns. Starting with djembe 1st doesn't make much sense to me (intuitively, and logically as well).

I also sing parts to myself (no specific syllables, i alter the pitch of my voice to indicate pitch/type of stroke on drums), and often improvise phrases vocally and then play them (or try to!) when I'm practicing. Adds a lot to one's confidence, imo. (I've been doing this for about 20 years - syllabic "notation" is part of learning Middle Eastern percussion styles - so it's pretty easy for me to do, though I realize it might be a new concept for many students.)

I think it's best to be in an environment where - even if you're not playing accompaniment (on any particular instrument) you have time to listen and absorb.

Edited to add -

The best I can do is to demonstrate feel.

That is "teaching 'feel,'" in my opinion.

Like I said in another thread, some of you guys are (maybe) a shade too analytical about this.

One of the Latin percussion teachers in the D.C. area goes by this motto: "Look, listen, learn." I think that sums up a *lot* of things about the way this process works. :)
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby michi » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:35 am

bops wrote:I would add (or reiterate):

-Repetition, repetition, repetition.


That advice is so good, it is worth repeating. ;-)

-Play with people who have the feel.
-Play accompaniment. A lot.
-Play kenkeni.
-Play dununba.
-Play sangba.
-Play karignan.


An emphatic "yes" to all of these!

As a teacher, you have to be able to pinpoint what the student is missing. Then go back to the repetition thing.


One of my favourite teachers, Tuza, is always on the lookout with his students. He watches, figures out where a weakness is or what the student is ready to tackle next, and then throws them some phrase to work on. It is really nice to see this in a teacher. Not only does it mean that the teacher cares and actively works on bringing out the best in his/her students, but also that the students learn very effectively that way.

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby e2c » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:43 am

Repetition = development of "feel," over time.

I don't think there is *any* other way to learn it.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby Dugafola » Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:16 am

listening to as much djembe music as you can possibly handle will also help when you're not able to actually play and/or practice.

dancing also helps.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby michi » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:46 am

Dugafola wrote:listening to as much djembe music as you can possibly handle will also help when you're not able to actually play and/or practice.


Very much agree with that!

One thing I do when I learn a new rhythm is to find all the versions of that rhythm I have recordings for. (That's easy to do when they are all in iTunes.) I make a playlist and listen to all the versions (more than twenty, quite often, depending on the rhythm). I usually do that when I work out in the gym or when I'm driving--no need to sit down and listen and do nothing else just for that purpose.

The continued exposure to the rhythm by different artists helps me to figure out what the "essence" is. There are elements that are common to most or all of the artists when they solo, and there are elements that are unique to each soloist. Same for the feel--Drissa Kone's feel is very different from Mamady's feel for the same rhythm, for example.

This gives me a good idea of where the "boundaries" are. How much liberty I have in making up my own phrases for the rhythm, and what phrasing has to be preserved in my solo to stay true to the rhythm.

The other thing I learn that way are all the variations of the dundun patterns and accompaniments. All together, it makes for a great way to get really familiar with a rhythm, get the hang of its identity, and to become aware of variations, depending on whether it's a ballet performance or a traditional recording by one of the oldies.

dancing also helps.


I totally believe that. Unfortunately, I have about as much aptitude for dancing as an elephant. It's my Achilles' heel...

I know a number of drummers who also dance, and they all swear that it gives them a more intimate relationship with a rhythm and how to solo correctly for it, so I have no doubt that dancing also makes people better drummers.

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: teaching Feel

Postby bops » Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:07 pm

I would also recommend keeping your jembe next to your bed when you sleep.

Seriously though, duga is right - listen to jembe all the time! Except when you're listening to donso music.
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