Hand dominance

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Hand dominance

Postby The Dank » Tue May 31, 2011 7:03 pm

Hi all,

I was recently taking a class in New Hampshire from Namory Keita, and one of the other students in the class happened to be left-handed. This student was having serious trouble feeling a couple of the solo techniques, and Namory suggested that, as a long term solution, the student learn to play the djembe right-handed, essentially reversing the hand pattern for everything that he already knew. Namory feels that there is *fundamental* difference in sound and feel between the right and left hands, regardless of which one is dominant.

I also heard that something similar happened in Mamady Keita's class in Boston a couple of weeks ago, where Mamady insisted that a left-handed student play right-handed.

On the other hand, I've taken a few workshops with M'Bemba Bangoura over the past couple of years, and he's always said that "you can start with whichever hand you want."

So, I guess my questions are: Are there any lefties in the house, and if so, do you play "right-handed" or "left-handed?" Has anyone else experienced something similar, where a West African teacher has insisted that a student play with a certain hand pattern, regardless of hand dominance?

I'm hoping to be able to teach some djembe in the near future. My inclination would be to allow left-handed people to play left handed (that is, with the hand pattern reversed from mine), but I wouldn't want to tell someone it was fine for them to do that, only to have them be told later that they need to relearn everything with the opposite hand pattern.

Peace,
~D
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby michi » Tue May 31, 2011 7:50 pm

Hmmm... Forcing someone to lead with their non-dominant hand is a rather extreme measure, and I don't see the benefit. All the teachers I've had (including Mamady) are perfectly happy to let people play left-handed and, in fact recommend for left-handers to play left-handed. Namory certainly is an exception in this regard.

I suspect that the Mamady story was a little distorted in telling. Mamady is happy to let left-handers play left-handed. He does say though that you need to make a decision as to which way you are playing and then stick to it. (This can be an issue for ambidextrous people.) He is also happy to let you adjust your handing depending rolling preference. The only time I've heard him say that a left-hander should play right-handed is for ballet-style unison performance breaks. For those, the uniform handing is required for aesthetic reasons.

Personally, I don't see the sense in forcing someone to lead with their non-dominant hand. As far as I can see, it would only serve to make matters worse.

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby e2c » Tue May 31, 2011 9:07 pm

Namory's idea may be a reflection of what he was taught by others, too. It does seem strange to insist on that kind of shift, though - very counter-intuitive. (the kinds of onstage ballet breaks michi mentioned excepted, since there are visuals involved there.)
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby Trog » Tue May 31, 2011 11:52 pm

Reminds me of the real old days when the schools would make lefty's write right handed.
Personally, being left handed I would prefer to play left handed. I don't think my right hand will ever be as fast or as accurate as my left hand.
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby The Dank » Wed Jun 01, 2011 12:15 am

Interesting...I'll have to pay extra close attention to what Mamady and Famoudou say on this subject at Mini-Guinea.

~D
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby bubudi » Wed Jun 01, 2011 6:27 am

i doubt namory would apply this thinking to all lefties. more than likely, this person was struggling with learning things left handed. possibly he might even be ambidextrous but identifies as a lefty. a teacher is responsible to all students and must make decisions on the fly which are best for the situation at hand. that should not necessarily be taken to imply a policy or way of thinking that the teacher holds in all situations.

The Dank wrote:Namory feels that there is *fundamental* difference in sound and feel between the right and left hands, regardless of which one is dominant.


possibly the language gap caused a little misunderstanding here. most people would agree that the left and right hand sound differently, even with a lot of very accomplished djembefolaw. this difference does exist equally among lefties and righties. however, this should be more properly thought of as a difference between the dominant and non-dominant hand. it would be incorrect to say that your right hand sounds a particular way regardless of whether you're a lefty or a righty.

in practice, the main difference that this makes is not so much to the sound of any particular stroke, but to the whole phrase. your non-dominant hand cannot quite keep up with your dominant hand. therefore certain phrases are taught by many teachers to be led with the dominant hand (although when certain rolls are concerned, they commonly teach them leading with the non-dominant hand).

ambidexterity is a good thing for a percussionist but when you are learning something new or getting a handle on the basics, it's a lot simpler to stick to the handing that works best for you.
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby bubudi » Wed Jun 01, 2011 7:02 am

this issue was also discussed in this thread.
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby Daniel Preissler » Wed Jun 01, 2011 7:43 am

Hello guys,
I almoste completely agree with Bubudi.
There's only one point, where I dont, and I think it's just a misunderstanding:

bubudi wrote:when certain rolls are concerned, they commonly teach them leading with the non-dominant hand).

ambidexterity is a good thing for a percussionist but when you are learning something new or getting a handle on the basics, it's a lot simpler to stick to the handing that works best for you.


All rolls start with the dominant hand (the only drummers I have seen doing it both ways were 2 or 3 whites). This means that the first shorter pulse is played by the dominant hand, if you start to play before the real roll itself, it can be the other hand. There might be some Africans who do both, but I've never met them. Ambidixterity is very nice for a percussionist. But if you train this on djembé, you will end up playing (developping) phrases that would not appear in traditional music, because you open ways that are never gone (again: good for a percussionist, not so good for traditional djembé playing).
These are my personal experiences and my thesis, if some of you got others (especially videos), I'm very interested in this!

Greetings, Daniel
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby michi » Wed Jun 01, 2011 10:27 am

Mamady is the odd one out then: he is right-handed and plays right-handed, but he rolls left. As far as I know, that's unusual. Most people prefer to play rolls and flames leading with their dominant hand.

Cheers,

Michi.
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby Daniel Preissler » Wed Jun 01, 2011 10:41 am

Hi Michi,
nice remark. I've just had a look on the old video on youtube again - you're absolutely right! He starts many phrases as a right-handed, but everything with rolls like a left-handed!
Crazy! d:-)
cheers, d
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby bubudi » Wed Jun 01, 2011 11:00 am

hi daniel, i think you're right in that the rolls almost always start with the dominant hand. i am not sure if it would be 100% always, in fact i suspect not. i guess this point isn't very important to me. i was, however, speaking more about phrases containing rolls, as you probably guessed. but on the other hand, i almost always lead a roll with my dominant hand. sometimes you might find yourself in a position where you can't start the phrase that's in your head at the exact moment with the hand you would normally lead with and that's why ambidexterity is useful to a djembe player, not just a western percussionist. i'm sure that master djembe players use this skill from time to time, although it's probably not something they would need all that often, so you would be pressed to find an example on video. you'd have to be watching out for this all the time!

by the way, the habit of beginning phrases containing rolls with the left hand is not restricted to mamady keita. famoudou does it in certain situations. there was actually a discussion about this two years ago. it actually makes sense to someone who uses the hand-over-hand type handing to lead with the non-dominant hand, otherwise the roll would put them onto the 'wrong' hand.
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby Daniel Preissler » Wed Jun 01, 2011 11:28 am

hi Bubudi,
yes, I thought indeed you were talking about phrases. And you're absolutely right: after all, it's not important how you reproduce a phrase, it has to be correct in sound, that's all (my point was that for Europeans training on both handed rolls can influence your play in a non-traditional way - if you come out in way that you aren't able to go on in your "normal" way, you have made a mistake before - that's my theory or thesis).

I had a little look at the older discussion, and I have to say that the little technical game that Famoudou sold as an echauffement some years ago doesn't justify the comment that "famoudou does it in certain situations." in my opinion.
Giving class, Famoudou finds himself in different situation from playing for dance in Guinea, and he than sometimes shows training phrases you would never play in the "real" situation.

Greets, d
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby bubudi » Wed Jun 01, 2011 12:21 pm

of course you're right that class and festival are two completely different situations. in reality, playing lead is so much more than reproducing traditional solo phrases. a good djembefola creates his own phrases and takes inspiration from the dancers and singers. how then can you guarantee to always finish on a particular hand? i would argue that djembefolaw do find themselves on odd occasion having to start a phrase with the opposite hand to usual, and not due to having made any mistake.
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby Daniel Preissler » Wed Jun 01, 2011 12:40 pm

the structure(s) is/are always more or less the same, so a good djembefola would never (or rarely) have to start with the "wrong" hand - creating and inspiration from the dance included!
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Re: Hand dominance

Postby bubudi » Wed Jun 01, 2011 1:28 pm

i think we pretty much agree on this. but rarely is not never ;)
regardless of the structure, all it takes is one extra stroke (or a roll) and you're onto the other hand.
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