For chatting and discussions.

What do you think about a djembe grading system?

It's a great thing.
5
33%
It's a terrible thing.
2
13%
I dunno / who cares?
8
53%
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By e2c
#22529
Re. the "on every stage": I think there are *lots* of music students (kids and adults) out there playing all kinds of instruments at varying levels of proficiency - onstage.

My take is that this isn't as cut and dried as it might appear, in terms of non-professionals/learners (kids and adults) playing everything from flute to double bass in public performances, here in the US. We have a strong amateur concert band/orchestra tradition, and there are coffeehouses everywhere that allow people to play/sing during open mike nights. Some are great, others are (to put it politely) not, but that's part of the deal with an open mike.

At any rate, I don't know that people doing drum and dance are any less - or more - competent than others who end up on stages all over the country.

As for rifts, there are many, though I also believe that there are many positive things going on as well. I don't know that imposing a fairly rigid academic grid onto djembe instruction is going to help that - like Duga, I think that the very thing that is intended to bring people together might well end up pushing them further apart.

But.... (said with some trepidation), this is also true of any kind of academic and/or competition program. (As in classical competitions, and now, things like the Monk competition for jazz.)

In the end, there is no perfect system, which is, I'm sure, why some folks keep trying to refine what they're doing. Personally, I would hate to see TTM - or any other teachers' work - be turned into a conservatory-type academic program, and I hope that doesn't happen with this new TTM thing.
By davidognomo
#22531
bkidd wrote: Instruction for violin, piano, etc. is given through one-on-one interaction with a teacher, whereas, instruction for djembe, dunun, etc. (at least what I know of in the United States) is given predominantly through a group setting (imagine how different the quality of drumming would be if the norm was to do an apprenticeship).
This can be taken as a silly remark, but I'll say it anyway: I imagine that in Japan, karate students, or aprentices, didn't wear couloured belts. And maybe now they do.

Maybe this grading system will also help to distribute students in a fair way in learning levels for taking classes or workshops.

As for the "TTM Absolute Truth" issue, I have an example: I learned kuku accomps. from a TTM teacher with the handing obeying to the hand-to-hand logic
(b.tt..s.
r rl r

&

tt.stts.
rl lrlr)

In a workshop, Bafode Bangoura saw me doing this last accomp and looked at it strangely (he did it alternating hands at each stroke). I went to him and told him I had learned that way with a TTM teacher... couldn't explain myself quite well about who the teacher was to him.

he said that it didn't make sense, because you had to repeat the left hand and it would get very tiring if you had to play it for a long time. So his handing for these two accomps is different from what Mamady teaches.

I thaught: this guy OBVIOUSLY knows what he's talking about, he comes from the ballets. But Mamady also knows his deal and does it differently, as I've had chance to watch.

So, I made my choice. And maybe some day I'll change.
User avatar
By Dugafola
#22532
davidognomo wrote:
As for the "TTM Absolute Truth" issue, I have an example: I learned kuku accomps. from a TTM teacher with the handing obeying to the hand-to-hand logic
(b.tt..s.
r rl r

&

tt.stts.
rl lrlr)

In a workshop, Bafode Bangoura saw me doing this last accomp and looked at it strangely (he did it alternating hands at each stroke). I went to him and told him I had learned that way with a TTM teacher... couldn't explain myself quite well about who the teacher was to him.

he said that it didn't make sense, because you had to repeat the left hand and it would get very tiring if you had to play it for a long time. So his handing for these two accomps is different from what Mamady teaches.

I thaught: this guy OBVIOUSLY knows what he's talking about, he comes from the ballets. But Mamady also knows his deal and does it differently, as I've had chance to watch.

So, I made my choice. And maybe some day I'll change.
this is a fine example of tradition vs ballet.

MK teaches those accompaniements with those handings but says that handing goes out the window in the ballets when speed and precision and sound are most important.

fode grew up in the ballets. mamady did too to an extent but at least had Karinkan when he was really young in the village.
By djemberay
#22539
One of the challenges in teaching djembe and dunun is providing an outlet and or goals for folks to use their newfound knowledge and passion. Options include performing, playing for dance class, or just jamming with friends. The first two outlets could be daunting for many beginners. Perhaps giving folks the option of having some structure and goals around their learning, especially at first, would be a positive thing.

I very much agree with my fellow tall friend (Dugfola) around inclusiveness versus exclusiveness and that particular subject has been on my mind a lot in relation to TTM. I think there is a strong tendency in human nature (or at least Western nature) to classify and categorize. These can be useful tools in understanding, but they can also be exercises in divisiveness if not done with the right spirit. What might be constructive, given that this system has yet to made public, would be some ideas on what a good system might look like and how it might be implemented. Heck, this could even be helpful for TTM to peruse before the final details are made public.

Let the wild rumpus start!
User avatar
By e2c
#22552
Given the number of folks who have never tried playing a musical instrument before taking up djembe, one of my goals (should I ever end up teaching) would be to help people learn to feel the music and see how the different djembe and dunun parts interlock to form the main groove as well as various melodies and crosstalk. (Call and response in a lot of the dunun parts.)

It might seem kinda simplistic, but it's one of the single most vital things anyone could ever teach. Getting to sit with a particular rhythm/piece of music until you can start playing it in your sleep... that's one of my goals.

But then, I would rather know about 3-5 rhythms really well than have a passing acquaintance with 20. (Depth as opposed to shallow breadth, as the "depth" approach allows for a person to be able to hear and feel similarities of parts and interplay of the "voices" in other rhythms/melodies and melodic patterns and phrases.)

Just my .02-worth. ;)

*

I do think TTM is great - for those who choose to follow that path. But it's not the only way.
By djemberay
#22558
Great insights e2c. One of my favorite ways of accomplishing that "it's inside you" feeling is playing for dance classes. I've been working with some students here around getting involved on that level. It's a wonderful feeling, but hard to describe to others who haven't experienced it. I try to liken it to those songs some of us may have listened to over and over again as teenagers on the radio. The deep internalizing. Of course I've noticed most folks just want to move on to the next rhythm, but perhaps that is part of the process before moving to depth? All in good time...

Thanks for mentioning TTM. I've probably followed that path for the most part, but I wouldn't be happy if that was the only one nor do I think it should be. Diversity is what makes us strong as a community. Someday I'd like spend more time in Africa (particularly Guinea) and see and learn more of the culture directly, for myself, especially in the villages.

Most are probably pretty familiar with the TTM path. I'd be interested to learn more about your path e2c. Not sure where to begin. I noticed you've amassed a pretty daunting number of posts :-), are there any specific ones you might point me towards? Thank you for sharing!
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By e2c
#22560
Oh, I just like to talk a lot, djemberay! ;)

More seriously, I have only been learning djembe and duns since 2007, but have spent serious time since the late 80s trying to learn various frame drums and darbouka. (Mostly Middle Eastern styles on the former.)

I love comping for dance classes, but it's been a while since I was last able to do that on a regular basis. For me personally, that has been more of a learning experience than any class, as I don't retain things easily and generally have to play them repeatedly before they start becoming second nature.

The teacher I have worked with has studied with quite a few different people - though mostly not TTM folks. Most recently, he has been working with M'Bemba Bangoura and some members of the Camara family (the ones in the NYC area).

I really love djembe and duns, the latter especially, though I also love to play bass djembe and low-tuned djembes. But I guess that overall, my musical style is more eclectic. I love the traditional rhythms, but am very happy with some new developments. (Like the fusion of D.C. area go go music and African music pioneered by Fafafina Kan from the Baltimore-D.C. area.)

Edited to add: I feel very drawn toward a number of playing/musical styles from Mali, though that probably has as much to do with some of the Malian music I listened to prior to starting djembe lessons as anything else...
User avatar
By nkolisnyk
#22591
At the risk of being misunderstood here (I'm a big fan of Mamady):

I'd like to bring up another point. We talk of many other instruments having a grading system. The Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada is well known to all musicians as THE standard to which you measure up. I indirectly reached my Grade 5 trumpet (through Royal Canadian Air Cadets), and my wife attained RCM Grade 6 in piano. Now this is a Canadian musician grading system that covers everything from classical instruments to guitar to voice. You don't learn Grade 4 music until you passed Grade 3. And since the RCM is so notorious, it acts as a doorway to move on to gradually more professional things.

So what will a "Mamady's grade 3" do for you? It certainly won't get you a job as a substitute music teacher at an elementary school. And since the entire TTM concept unknown even in many drumming communities, it will mean very little if you waive your Mamady report card around.

So could there possibly be any use for this other than personal pride? Personally, I don't think my TTM grade will make me sound better. And what if I want to learn 'Grade 5 Abondan' right now? Do I have to pass 4 grades first?

Just my 2 cents. Feel free to correct me.
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By djembefeeling
#22593
e2c wrote:But then, I would rather know about 3-5 rhythms really well than have a passing acquaintance with 20.
djemberay wrote:The deep internalizing. Of course I've noticed most folks just want to move on to the next rhythm, but perhaps that is part of the process before moving to depth? All in good time...
This reflects exactly my experience as a teacher. I would love to do the deep internalisation thing, but my students rather go for a passing acquaintance. And, to tell the truth, until recently I have been the same. Its not shallow to do that, its just the need to get at least a minimum overview of what rhythms are out there to be learned. And every student has an individual limit to that. Only after that period you can work on in depth competence -- and it is usually really hard work to have the students stick to a rhythm for a long time.
nkolisnyk wrote:So what will a "Mamady's grade 3" do for you? It certainly won't get you a job as a substitute music teacher at an elementary school. And since the entire TTM concept unknown even in many drumming communities, it will mean very little if you waive your Mamady report card around.
Not yet, though I think that we will see this happen in the end. Institutions tend to go with standardized qualification. But I guess you cannot apply TTM directly to elementary school...

Another thought: one feature that makes djembe drumming so popular around the world probably is that we need something different to our overregulated world. It is so much fun to participate in a time of exploration, to discover things in the field all by yourself. This will certainly be missed when standardisation develops in djembe music. I certainly will miss it, but still I would prefer to see djembe music taken as an instrument that needs serious efforts to be mastered.
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By Marshall
#22642
Short answer: I like it. I wonder if the proposal will include standardized instruction (ie: official coursework), or only standardized assessment.

Extra-long-winded answer: My interest is piqued by this. I have, on several occasions, imagined a blossoming of interest and business organization similar to the explosion of oriental martial arts schools in the west in the later part of the 20th century, but this time with west African ensemble music. Whether this would be "good" or "bad" I haven't concluded, but I know it would be exciting.

Like the martial arts scene, a grading system in Mandingue music would help novices get their bearings and get on "the right track" early. Note here that I mean the "right track" not in the sense that they are headed towards something "right" (a certain teacher or lineage holder's method), while other things are "wrong" (other teacher's methods). Instead, I mean the "right track" in the sense that there is studying and then there is mucking around. No doubt in the classes that go along with this proposed grading system, students would be studying, and not mucking around.

Sticking with the analogy, there is one enormous area where the martial arts scene fails, and where I think this proposed Mandingue-school-system (if I may call it that) would succeed brilliantly: demonstrable competence. Given that in martial arts the idea is to compete with force, it is by definition improbable, if not impossible, to truly demonstrate certain parts of the assumed skill set. Adjustments are made by simulating real scenarios via controlled competition and the like, and then whole debate opens up about whether a given students martial arts skills are genuinely useful (what is a genuine martial situation, anyway?). Enter a martial arts web forum today and you can witness the epic controversy over whether or not this martial art or that martial art is any good "in real life". With the music, there is no such problem. With music, we are not training for some unlikely possibility that we will get to, or have to, use the skills. There is no hypothetical, life-threatening situation that needs to occur before I will know whether or not I have really learned what I think I have learned. I can demonstrate it at any time in any company, without hurting or maiming anybody. In fact, quite the opposite.

For this last reason, again sticking with the analogy, we should over the long-run see much less of a cheapening of content than we do when we survey oriental martial arts in the west today. And for that reason, I am more hopeful than fearful of this proposed grading system.

I am not worried about a situation arising where one "method" or school appears to dominate the landscape, because really this is an issue for each person to work out on their own. Does my teacher have "the true knowledge" or am I just infatuated? Often, especially with culturally exotic things, there is an initial devotion to one "way", but then an opening up along the lines of "Hey, it's actually a very big, very diverse world that this one teacher is representing to me. It's bigger than him/her." Responsibility is on the individual with that one, so long as the teacher is not making a concerted effort warp students' views in such a way. I have no reason to believe TTM would do that.
-
Marshall who goes on and on
By bkidd
#22663
People come to drumming and the djembe for a variety of reasons. A grading system might be useful for some, and clearly will not be useful/interesting for others. It looks like this will be an interesting experiment, and like I said earlier, I look forward to seeing what they do.
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By Michel
#22666
Who decides what belongs to what grade? Is there a grading system for regional influences? You could have grading systems for each rhythm, as far as I'm concerned. Master of Dansa would be great. 5* Didadi? What would this system tell about you when you come to Africa? I'm sorry, I don't like this.
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By e2c
#22671
Michel wrote:Who decides what belongs to what grade? Is there a grading system for regional influences? You could have grading systems for each rhythm, as far as I'm concerned. Master of Dansa would be great. 5* Didadi? What would this system tell about you when you come to Africa? I'm sorry, I don't like this.
Agreed.

Afro-Cuban instruments and rhythms/styles of music have been very influential in US popular music for a long, long time, and quite "visible" (audible?) since the 1940s.

But I don't know of anyone having established an academic program like this for instruction in Afro-Cuban percussion, let alone a grading system! And yet, the music has managed to thrive.

While I *do* see a lot of value in adding legit djembe instruction to university-level music courses (in the same way that African dance has become part of uni-level dance instruction), I cannot see how a conservatory system is going to help the music. If anything, I can see it becoming quite separated from West Africa.

It just doesn't make much sense to me, especially given the fact that TTM focuses on djembe and duns alone, rather than the whole spectrum of music from Guinea. (Traditional and not-so-traditional.) It's as if people who come to the West to learn piano were told not to listen to any music, but just play the exercises their teachers give them.

Just my .02-worth...
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By nkolisnyk
#22673
While I *do* see a lot of value in adding legit djembe instruction to university-level music courses (in the same way that African dance has become part of uni-level dance instruction), I cannot see how a conservatory system is going to help the music. If anything, I can see it becoming quite separated from West Africa.
Great point. Maybe TTM drum syllabus can be a program adopted by Univerities in which a professor (ie your local drum instructor) may lead the way? I do know Jordan Hanson (of Hand Drum Rhythms in Victoria, BC) has led such university classes, using his knowledge in West Aferican drumming. This way you can eventually earn your TTM certification while simultaneously earning your BA in Music!

I would definitely register for such a course at my University if it existed. Has this been done for any other type of music? Beats flying down to San Diego every year so I can test for my next Grade!