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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%
User avatar
By rachelnguyen
#23221
I think for folks who are studying TTM stuff, a grading system is just fine. It gives you a gauge by which to mark your progress, which is sort of the point of grades anyway, right?

But for a lot of us, the grading system of one program doesn't apply. I could take geometry for years, but fail at an algebra test if I haven't ever studied it. Both are math, but they are completely different.

If I took a TTM test, I would fail because that is not how my teacher teaches. I learn solo phrases for the djembe. I learn the ballet style for the dunun. (2 drums only, incidentally.) I don't know the bell patterns for any of the rhythms I play. And, for the most part, don't know the second accompaniments. It is just how Sidy teaches... So if someone asked me to play the two accompaniments and three dunun parts with bells for Dansa, I would not be able to do it. If they asked me to play the accompaniment and 6 or 7 of the solo phrases and the ballet style dunun with kenkeni and dununba, I would be able to play it all day long.

So, the TTM grading system is cool for the folks that are studying that way, especially if they are folks who like to mark their progress as they study. But for folks learning outside of that system, it is basically irrelevant.

xoxo,
Rachel
User avatar
By alifaa
#23321
Hmmm, just had a look at TTM USA site, and there is some quite detailed information up there about what it requires to become a TTM Certified teacher:
Demonstrate 12 Original Solo Techniques - Djabara, Sobonikun, Djansa, Sökö, Garangedon, Soli, Kotejuga, Soli des Manians, Kuku, Wassolonka, Mendiani, Yankadi.
Know a minimum of 60 traditional rhythms
Students will be tested on 5-10 rhythms only, they will be chosen at random by Mamady, and students will not know ahead of time which rhythms he will choose. The following information must be supplied for each rhythm:
*All Djembe accompaniment parts
*All Dunun parts
*History
*Ethnic group
*Purpose
*Region it comes from

There is also requirements for having attended one of Mamady's camps to have a better understanding of and to better represent the Mandingue culture. Continuing education by attending DRTM conferences, etc, etc.

Basically this is similar setup to any profession, whereby you need to demonstrate a full knowledge of all aspects of the craft, with ongoing improvement in knowledge, eg, scuba diving instructor. From my own experience, it is a similar setup for becoming a squash coach.

I needed to attend several courses, pass a written exam, know the rules, be able to demonstrate effective coaching techniques to a student while the coach instructor was watching, and pay coaching accreditation fees annually. All this to do a bit of on-the-side coaching a few times a year for $40/hr!!

I think it is a good thing for those who wish to make teaching West African Mandingue djembe rhythms, with cultural context, their livelihood. It would give them some kudos from Mamady that they could say "I am a certified teacher of this material", rather than "I know how to play Soli".

Purely from a profession point of view, excellent. However, not everyone takes drumming seriously enough to want to be taught by a certified teacher.

I have an excellent teacher here in Canberra, and his knowledge, musicianship and love of the djembe is clear for all to see. I would not, however, travel to Sydney or pay more for a lesson from a DRTM teacher, when teachers like the Bangouras and Tuza come to Canberra regularly.

When there are quality teachers around already, having this certification in my teacher would not be of any value for me as a student. Most especially, because a lot of the information is out there already - cultural context, history, region, parts, etc, if you know where to look.

There is also the argument that this is one way of playing and learning a rhythm, not the only way. While I hugely respect Mamady and his vision, also having studied with him twice, he is setting himself up for his retirement, which any aging, intelligent business man would do.

Good on him for having the vision, I for one won't require it of my teacher.
User avatar
By e2c
#23322
I think there are a fair number of people who do take learning quite seriously... but is it necessary for a teacher to be "certified"?

I mean, really, truly necessary. (Outside the context of TTM.)

If they're good, they're good, and people will stick with them, find them, etc.

There's definitely more than one way to do this.
User avatar
By michi
#23328
alifaa wrote:Hmmm, just had a look at TTM USA site, and there is some quite detailed information up there about what it requires to become a TTM Certified teacher
The grading system discussed here has nothing to do with the certificate. Instead, it is meant to provide structured goals for people who are learning. If someone does all of the grading, they won't have been examined on everything required for the certificate (although they'll be well prepared to add the missing bits and pass the certificate exam).
I think it is a good thing for those who wish to make teaching West African Mandingue djembe rhythms, with cultural context, their livelihood. It would give them some kudos from Mamady that they could say "I am a certified teacher of this material", rather than "I know how to play Soli".
The certificate allows a teacher to teach in Mamady's name. It's an official seal of approval, handed out by Mamady personally. A certificate holder becomes Mamady's representative. The certificate does not guarantee that someone is a good teacher or a good artist. (What is assessed is the ability to play, not the ability to teach or the ability to freely improvise.) However, the certificate does provide a guarantee as to a certain level of competence. If someone has the certificate, you can be damn sure that they know Mendiani; in contrast, I've come across more than one "teacher" who said "I know Mendiani" and didn't have the foggiest...
Purely from a profession point of view, excellent. However, not everyone takes drumming seriously enough to want to be taught by a certified teacher.
Right. And a certified teacher is not necessarily a better teacher (in the sense of what energy they create in their classes, how well they teach didactically, or how committed they are to the growth of their students). But at least, you can be sure that a certified teacher is competent as far as the subject matter is concerned, that is, he or she can play the stuff correctly, with the correct feel/swing, and knows the cultural background of the rhythms.
I have an excellent teacher here in Canberra, and his knowledge, musicianship and love of the djembe is clear for all to see.
I believe I know the teacher you mean, and I agree: he's a good teacher, a good musician, and loves the djembe. In addition, that particular person is also knowledgable and will teach you the rhythms authentically. However, being a good teacher and musician and being in love with the djembe does not in general guarantee that you will learn the right things. I have met teachers who very passionately and with a lot of love taught the wrong thing (such as having the first open sangban beat on the 1 for Mendiani, instead of the third one).
I would not, however, travel to Sydney or pay more for a lesson from a DRTM teacher, when teachers like the Bangouras and Tuza come to Canberra regularly.
Sure. And the Bangouras and Tuza are excellent teachers. But you might be travelling, or not have access to teachers of this calibre in your area. Whom will you seek out? Someone who teaches with Mamady's blessing, or someone who, for all you know, doesn't know which end of the drum goes up?
When there are quality teachers around already, having this certification in my teacher would not be of any value for me as a student. Most especially, because a lot of the information is out there already - cultural context, history, region, parts, etc, if you know where to look.
I would be cautious here. No amount of reading and research can replace face-to-face time with a good teacher. And, frankly, much of the information you find on the web and the majority of teaching videos on YouTube are junk (and that's being kind).
There is also the argument that this is one way of playing and learning a rhythm, not the only way.
There is always more than one way, and one is not necessarily better than another :)
While I hugely respect Mamady and his vision, also having studied with him twice, he is setting himself up for his retirement, which any aging, intelligent business man would do.
If you mean this with respect to financial gain, you are off the mark. Mamady doesn't get anything from certified teachers (other than a nominal annual admin fee which, frankly, doesn't even cover overheads). He also doesn't charge for the exam. Instead, he spends half a day of his time testing a candidate, providing feedback and commenting, elaborating on cultural info, and giving tips on technique, all for free.

He does all this not for financial gain or because of his ego, but because he cares about the music and about the music and culture being preserved accurately. The certificate is what he came up with to make that happen. (Whether, long term, that strategy will be successful is something we don't know yet.)

But, as I said above, the grading program is separate from the certificate and intended for people who don't want to work on the certificate (or not yet), but want some structured goals they can use to measure progress. For goal-oriented people, that's a good way to make progress. For people who are less goal-oriented, they can leave it. The whole grading thing is completely optional.

I have to say though that I believe the grading program will encourage people to learn rhythms more completely than they would otherwise. I cannot count the number of students I have seen who have played for years and, when you ask them "Do you know Djansa?", will say "Yes, I do." When I then ask them to play (or sing) each part, they say "Uh, I know the djembe parts, but not the dunduns."

The grading program will encourage people to learn all of a rhythm, not less than half.

Oh, BTW, the fee for the grading will be nominal only so, again, this is not a money-making exercise for Mamady or TTM.

Cheers,

Michi.
By bkidd
#23335
This discussion has been interesting in how many strong reactions were elicited for and against a grading system. I was actually a little surprised at the number of responses that were anti-grading system or expressed concerns about how this would make things worse not better.

I'm curious, a lot of opinions have been expressed that this idea would be either irrelevant or potentially negative. The opinions for this idea have been about people who think it's a good idea in the abstract, but I suspect they won't be signing up for this. Where's the support for this coming from? Is this an idea that is trying to fill a niche where a number of people have expressed interest or is this an idea that if it were offered people would come? I suspect the answer is not either or, but I'm curious if there is anyone on the list who would participate in such a grading system?

-Brian
User avatar
By michi
#23339
bkidd wrote:I'm curious if there is anyone on the list who would participate in such a grading system?
I certainly would have done this had it been available when I started. And I suspect that I would have been much better off for it.

One thing I really regret is that, for the first two or three years of my playing, I pretty much ignored the dunduns. I was too fascinated with the djembe to really consider playing dunduns and always thought "that's for the dundun players". As a result, I knew quite a few rhythms, but on the djembe only (which is useless, when you think about it).

It also means that my dundun skills are weaker today than they would have been with a grading system that would have motivated me to play dunduns as well as djembe and to learn all the parts of a rhythm before moving on.

A grading system would have suited my personal style too. I'm a goal oriented person and find it much easier to stay motivated and focussed when there is a reward at the other end.

Not everyone is similarly inclined. But, for those people who are, I think the grading system can provide the impetus to learn rhythms completely instead of partially, and to not neglect the dunduns. In turn, that should make for students with a deeper and more complete understanding of the music, and it should make for students who will get more enjoyment out of the music because of this better understanding.

Winners all round, as far as I'm concerned.

Michi.
By bkidd
#23358
Michi wrote:
One thing I really regret is that, for the first two or three years of my playing, I pretty much ignored the dunduns. I was too fascinated with the djembe to really consider playing dunduns and always thought "that's for the dundun players". As a result, I knew quite a few rhythms, but on the djembe only (which is useless, when you think about it).
I did a similar thing. It has been interesting to see much my djembe playing has improved by playing dunun more.
Michi wrote:
A grading system would have suited my personal style too. I'm a goal oriented person and find it much easier to stay motivated and focussed when there is a reward at the other end.

Not everyone is similarly inclined. But, for those people who are, I think the grading system can provide the impetus to learn rhythms completely instead of partially, and to not neglect the dunduns. In turn, that should make for students with a deeper and more complete understanding of the music, and it should make for students who will get more enjoyment out of the music because of this better understanding.

Winners all round, as far as I'm concerned.
I totally agree. I also think I have an understanding of where this idea is coming from now and truly hope that the negative concerns/scenarios expressed on this forum do not come to dominate if/when this experiment is carried out.

Best,
-Brian
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By e2c
#23365
?

I think that for those who are really committed to learning/teaching via the TTM path, this could be a good thing, but as michi has commented, it's a learning style that works very well for some folks. Others, not so much.

It's very, very hard to assign grades to anything re. the arts, since ultimately, grading is an attempt at imposing an objective grid in a subjective way (subjective, 1st of all, because a human being has to decide whether someone gets a decent grade or not, and if so, what niche to put them in). It's something that does not work well in academic settings (in my experience, at least) and I wonder if TTM will end up making modifications (and adding nuances) over time - ? (We can only guess at this point.)

It might also be hard for many people to come up with the money for a camp... which means that unless scholarships are offered, it's out of reach for those whose income doesn't allow for it. (And that covers a great many people who are interested in djembe/dununs.)

I do hope that the program will eventually expand to include bala and many other instruments. Guinea has a very rich and diverse cultural heritage - one which is evolving, in both cities and the remote villages. It's a big task for anyone to try and keep pace with that, even on a small scale!

What would be really cool (imo): a "school" with a consortium approach - where there are a number of instructors and individual variations are welcomed. Diversity in teaching and style might just be the best way forward, in terms of being able to share the "wealth" - meaning the intangible treasures of Guinean music, dance and culture.

imo, anyway. :)
User avatar
By michi
#23366
e2c wrote: I think that for those who are really committed to learning/teaching via the TTM path, this could be a good thing, but as michi has commented, it's a learning style that works very well for some folks. Others, not so much.
Right. On the other hand, that can be said for pretty much any style of teaching. I know that I've been upset with teachers in the past who, in my opinion, were too laid back and not pushing hard enough, thereby not getting the best out their students.

I think this is simply saying that, no matter how I teach, it will always be wrong for someone.
It's very, very hard to assign grades to anything re. the arts, since ultimately, grading is an attempt at imposing an objective grid in a subjective way
It's not a grade in the sense of getting a mark between, say, 1 and 100. Instead, it's a binary result. For each grade, the student has to demonstrate a number of rhythms, techniques and explain cultural background, and play the parts for all instruments. He/she either passes or fails. In that sense, it's like a martial arts grade, where candidates either make it to the next level or not.

And I don't think it's hard at all to grade in this way. Either the candidate can remember and competently play Mendiani, or he/she cannot. Note that, unlike for the certificate, the bar isn't set so high that you have to be at the certificate level to make it. What is required is competency, not mastership.
It might also be hard for many people to come up with the money for a camp...
I'm not at all sure whether this point is pertinent to the discussion. People who want to go to Mamady's camp will have to come up with the funds, whether they want to do the grading or not.

Unlike the certificate, the grades will not only be administered by Mamady, so people don't need to attend a camp to attend a grading. All they need is access to a TTM teacher which, at least in most cases, is much more affordable.
which means that unless scholarships are offered, it's out of reach for those whose income doesn't allow for it. (And that covers a great many people who are interested in djembe/dununs.)
I get the impression that people are taking all this far too seriously. The grading is simply about providing small and achievable milestones for people to get a sense of progress, rather than having the all-or-nothing approach of only the certificate. This isn't about ranking people, it isn't about money, and it isn't about status.

What it is about is motivating students to become better musicians.

Cheers,

Michi.
By bkidd
#23376
This discussion has definitely gotten too nit-picky, especially since we don't know what the grading system actually is going to be.

To add to what Michi has already put out there, I think this "grading system" is likely to be a simple framework for how people could approach studying drums. Yes, it's one of many possibilities. There's no "one-size-fits-all", but this fits for some. It will probably outline the expectations for each level and allow students to focus on particular groups of rhythms and techniques. As a point of reference, one possible model for this grading system might be what is already being used by one of the TTM teachers in Singapore:

http://www.liladrums.com/component/cont ... assessment

Best,
-Brian
By sixdigit
#23499
bkidd wrote:As a point of reference, one possible model for this grading system might be what is already being used by one of the TTM teachers in Singapore:

http://www.liladrums.com/component/cont ... assessment

Best,
-Brian
I have been a student of Kelvin Kew for a couple of years now and for me the grading system works. It helped me set goals in my learning process. Learning rhythms that fits your level is really great and it helps with tracking one's progress! It feels good when you meet your goals of learning rhythms, one level (grade) at a time. Kelvin's been teaching us everything since day one!

We have, unofficially, started with this TTM Grading system (for atleast a month now). New rhythms to learn, more history lesson, deeper appreciation of the culture. No complaints from me.
By bkidd
#23502
Hi Sixdigit,

Thanks for chiming in and sharing your experience with a grading system. I'm glad to hear that it's useful.

-Brian