A place for teachers to discuss issues to do with teaching
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By Carl
#5395
I've have a few students who have "learned" traditional solos. (Garegadon / Soli-rapide / Djansa)
One of the things I'm having trouble helping them with is playing with more "freedom".

You can really tell that they are playing a "learned" solo. Usually 4 repetitions, then a break, then into the next technique. Some of my better students can run 2 or 3 techniques together but then they get into the 4 times each "feel".

My goal is for them to be able to make up some stuff, then enter into the traditional techniques, then back to made up stuff.

Some things I've tried.

1) Changing from one traditional technique to the next when it "feels right": to help break up the 4 cycle feeling

2) showing how to pick a solo technique apart to develop a related but new technique

3) "open soloing" where they can play whatever they want (to help with self esteem / reducing the self critic while playing a solo in a class setting)

4) I've talked at great length about listening to the sangba (they dutifully nod their heads, but so far I have only 2 students who seem to really be able to pull it off...)

Sadly I have no dancers available so that avenue of teaching is not available! :-(

Any thoughts from either side? teacher/student?

C
User avatar
By Dennis103
#5421
What has really helped me, both teaching and as a student, is various workshops where there WAS a dancer. She did the steps, and the group tried to create a solo pattern for the steps. Eventually a solo emerged.

The other method that I teach is to start with a short and simple rhythm as your solo, and make variations on it. You can make variations 'on the run' whilst playing but you can also make variations on paper and practice them slowly at home. See one example on my site http://www.yankadi.silvercircle.org/rolls.htm. So if people take turns soloing, get them to start with one rhythm from the whole that is not being played, let them play it 4 times and then go off into variations.

And finally, the thing that I was taught right from the start, is to play various rhythms one after the other with no stop. Take any 4 rhythms of 2 bars each and paste them into one sentence of 8 bars. That way you get used to changing from one rhythm pattern to another which is of course essential in soloing.

As for "listening to the sangban", as a student I would want more instruction than that. Do I play the same accents? Do I fill in the missing parts? I would like to hear examples, and explanations, of a 'correct' solo phrase that indicates the soloist listened to the sangban, and how can I tell the difference? And which example would be an example of a wrong solo phrase, where the soloist obviously did not listen to the sangban, and why?

One simple rule of thumb that I start with, is to listen to the main melody from the douns. If that is very straight on the beat, then select off-beat solo patterns. And vice versa.

And underneath it all, as far as I'm concerned, is still the necessity to have a decent amount of rhythms in your head, a sort of rhythm alphabet. You need the alphabet before you can talk in sentences. Explain what the alphabet is, both complete rhythm patterns and partial patterns. Take a simple pattern and shift it so it starts on the 2nd or 3rd pulse, and see what happens.

Anyway, hope this helps!
Dennis
User avatar
By e2c
#5429
Carl, a suggestion (knowing that you might already be doing this): Have you talked at all about how the solos are really sort of variations on a theme, and/or a kind of counter-melody?

Knowing that there's no single set pattern for either the accompaniments, dun parts or solos (in other words, that they all vary widely, that there are local and regional as well as personal variations in them) might help.

I wonder if you can show them a solo phrase, then do some variations on it yourself, ones that they can easily recognize? (Anything to help the whole concept sink in!)

I don't teach, but I've been playing for a while (mostly Middle Eastern percussion). With that, there are some basic patterns that everyone plays, as well as variations of those basic patterns. Beyond that, it's up to the player to add, embellish, ornament - or not. The basic patterns and cycles are bedrock (though definitely a flexible kind of bedrock! ;)); everything else is optional.

I find it extremely helpful to think of all the djembe/dun phrases and so on as melodic. You can play around with them, change them. (I even will make up phrases vocally and then try them out on djembe - and other drums, too.)

I could probably explain this all more easily via a video or MP3 than in writing, though. Text-only is tough, and I don't have any kind of halfway decent recording setup as yet.

Edited to add: the other thing I'd strongly recommend it letting your students take turns at the duns. Playing sangban, kenkeni and bass djembe were what made djembe phrasing, solos and accompaniments click for me - I guess mainly because the duns play the primary melody (or melodies, depending on how you look at it). That goes further (IMO) than just saying "listen to the sangban," because you start to get the idea of why it might be important to do that.

Just my .02! ;)
User avatar
By Carl
#5450
Ok, I'm going to take things completely out of order here....
e2c wrote:the other thing I'd strongly recommend it letting your students take turns at the duns. Playing sangban, kenkeni and bass djembe were what made djembe phrasing, solos and accompaniments click for me - I guess mainly because the duns play the primary melody (or melodies, depending on how you look at it). That goes further (IMO) than just saying "listen to the sangban," because you start to get the idea of why it might be important to do that.
This is something I already do. Everyone plays dununs at some point for every song, from 1st day beginner to oldest veteran. Actually, I've been using this technique so long I find it hard to do a "djembe only" class.
e2c wrote:Have you talked at all about how the solos are really sort of variations on a theme, and/or a kind of counter-melody?
Yes, and this seems to be the most successful technique so far. I show them how the traditional solo develops, and I've been showing them how to use similar techniques to come up with their own solo techniques / pieces.
Dennis103 wrote:As for "listening to the sangban", as a student I would want more instruction than that. Do I play the same accents? Do I fill in the missing parts? I would like to hear examples, and explanations, of a 'correct' solo phrase that indicates the soloist listened to the sangban, and how can I tell the difference? And which example would be an example of a wrong solo phrase, where the soloist obviously did not listen to the sangban, and why?
I use this quite a bit when teaching the traditional solo. How do you line up with the sangba? How does the length of the dununba phrase go with (or against) the solo technique? etc. Though I really like your idea of demonstrating what does NOT work with the sangba. I think I have done this once or twice, but I think it would be a good idea to put it into regular rotation.
Dennis103 wrote:And finally, the thing that I was taught right from the start, is to play various rhythms one after the other with no stop. Take any 4 rhythms of 2 bars each and paste them into one sentence of 8 bars. That way you get used to changing from one rhythm pattern to another which is of course essential in soloing.
Yes! I feel that this is a critical element in teaching solos. The problem I have with it right now, especially with my better players, is that everything comes in groups of 2 or 4 or 8 etc. I am trying to get them into playing with the number of repetitions. One techinque that I really like, but can't seem to get people to pull off is to do 3 repetitions of a traditional technique, and then a transitional "improv" the same length as one repetition of the traditional technique (3 + 1 = 4) keeps the solo construction on the 4 or 8 measure cycle, but breaks up the "outline" of the solo so that it is more surprising.
e2c wrote:(I even will make up phrases vocally and then try them out on djembe - and other drums, too.)
Ooooh... I LIKE this. Do you mind if I steal this? I've used singing a lot in understanding parts, and even the traditional solo phrases. But I'll have to find a way to get them to sing something NEW and then play it on the drum.....
Dennis103 wrote:What has really helped me, both teaching and as a student, is various workshops where there WAS a dancer. She did the steps, and the group tried to create a solo pattern for the steps. Eventually a solo emerged.
Ah! My dream is to have a dancer in the area! I'm about an hour out from Boston, which has many great dancers and players. Unfortunately I can't yet afford to bring them up! I've had two dance classes at my studio and lost my shirt both times! I've played for some local dance classes that other people have set up, but they've all been the 1 day or 3 consecutive weekend type classes. I've been talking with Mahiri about classes that he teaches with a dancer! I'm hoping to be able to afford to bring that up here next summer!

Thanks for the feed back, this has really gotten my juices flowing! For some background, I've recently re-started a "performance" class where my students are supposed to run everything, including the solos. So I'm trying to restart my "teaching impov" chops and this has been a big help!

C
User avatar
By Dennis103
#5455
Carl wrote:The problem I have with it right now, especially with my better players, is that everything comes in groups of 2 or 4 or 8 etc.
That IS a problem. I have given a workshop once where there were dancers who showed the steps and we had to come up with the solo patterns. Some step sequences went across 6 bars and there were some people present who simply could not 'get' this and kept making mistakes. However, it is surprising how often dance patterns go across 6 bars (or repeat 6 patterns), and how often traditional solos have 'echo' like patterns of 3 bars, 3 bars, 2 bars (making 8 of course).

One thing I have observed, is that solo patterns are often built in the form of what we would call a limmerick-like structure: pattern a, pattern a, variation, pattern a.
You can use this for teaching too. Give the students pattern a, and a selection of variations, and let them start with that.

What I found most daunting when playing free form solo's in the beginning, was having no clue what to do. And as soon as my hands figured out what to do, I was surprised, and that caused my hands to mess up. I figure you need to go beyond this problem. I doubt if african teachers even realise this problem exists, because they have heard thousands of solo's before, so they can 'hear' the solo melodies long before they can play them. We can't, we don't have that in our head yet. We need to start with an alphabet, as I call it. A solo, even a free form solo, is not just banging your drum out of time so you are heard. Solo's have structure and repetition, just like poetry; rhyme, metre, variations, and of course 'the unexpected' which makes it stand out. And I started by creating and learning solo's like this, and studying traditional solo sequences. But not from zero to full speed in class, I needed a lot of serious work in private study time to practice solo parts, switching parts, combining parts, changing rhythmic structure and so on.
I have my doubts at this time as to the usefulness of allowing free form soloing (other than that it is a challenge) and I know many teachers who never allow free form soloing. That is - until you know regular soloing properly, which means you are a number of years further down the road.
By bubudi
#5463
there are so many solo styles, each equally valid, that it's hard not to overgeneralise when talking about soloing. i think structures are good at the beginning. when you listen to the malian style, especially when there is only one dunun, the solos are very important to imparting the character of the rhythm. too much freestyle and the flavour of the dance is gone. traditionalists advocate working around the traditional solos, varying them slightly to add a bit of your personality, and perhaps switching the order of phrases. that's not going to work for every situation. the styles are changing and there's more emphasis on high energy fast playing. new dance steps are created all the time which require new solos. regardless of whether you are a traditionalist or more modern, your playing needs to adapt to the situation, be it dance or purely for the music; stage or street.

to be able to adapt at this level requires a certain mastery of the basic parts of the rhythms you are playing and some traditional solos, as well as a quick eye for the changing dance steps if you're playing for dancers. if it's a dance class or other choreographed situation, it's going to help to have a good memory for the dance routines. also, keep it simple. even the djembefolas that like to 'warawara' keep their solos relatively simple for the dance. it's a good rule of thumb to put across to students anyway, regardless of the situation they may find themselves soloing for. simple is sweet.

i agree with a good solo complementing the dunun: not just the sangban, but the kenkeni and dununba as well. some rhythms also have traditional solo phrases that play on the djembe accompaniments (e.g. madan & sunu). good soloists have a conversation with all the parts. i can think of a lot of solos i've learned over the years that do this.

you might want to think about these various styles of soloing and work out some improvisational exercises that develop these skills in your students. for instance, you could teach 2 solo phrases, then, with the rhythm playing, go around the class and everyone takes a turn adapting the 2 solo phrases and adding some of their own to build a theme. another example would be to have students experience the conversation between the different parts. so you would demonstrate a phrase that talks with the kenkeni, then one that talks with the sangban, and so on. anyone listening intently will get it, but the effect is most evident to the person playing the particular part (they directly feel the solo resonating with their part), so maybe try to get people switching drums frequently so that most of them can get to experience this. after you demonstrate one of these phrases, a few students have a go making up a phrase that also talks with that particular part. then you demonstrate another phrase and a few more students have a go. you cheer the student when they've nailed the point of the excercise. that way they quickly learn what works and what doesn't.
User avatar
By Carl
#5464
This is my biggest frustration.

"I" don't get a chance to play for dancers, how am I supposed to give my students a chance to play for dancers!!!!!

In an ideal world, this would be an integral way to teach traditional solos as well as improv.

Anyway, I suppose I can start sending my students to YouTube or even get them to join this Board. Get them to at least see some of the dance and hear some examples of how the drumming relates...

As to various "styles" of improve. We are definitely NOT there yet. My band is starting to talk about various styles of soloing, be we are not very far down that road (and what a long and wonderful road it is!)

One thing that is occurring to me is that I need to work them on not overworking their solos, so that they can start loosening up. This discussion is pointing out to me that it is the beginning steps of "letting go" without loosing the underlying feel which is the problem.

I need to think on this more...

C
User avatar
By e2c
#5465
Carl, that whole "melodic" idea is hardly original to me, so please feel free to "steal" it all you like! ;)

One reason I was suggesting duns is that they help in terms of hearing phrasing and how all the various parts fit with one another. Once folks start being able to feel the phrasing, it's much easier to fool around with the solo phrases, etc. But it all takes time...
User avatar
By Carl
#5466
e2c wrote:Once folks start being able to feel the phrasing, it's much easier to fool around with the solo phrases, etc. But it all takes time...
Something I've been doing to help with "feeling" the music is to integrate a 4 step "timing" step to use while playing dununs. It goes something like this...

Beat 1 Step to the right (right foot)
Beat 2 step to the right (left foot)
Beat 3 step to the left (left foot)
Beat 4 step to the left (right foot)

So the footing goes something like this R L L R (repeat)
I like the way it "holds" the measure, and the Right on beat 4 going to the right on beat 1 helps bridge the cycle, and gives some of the "up beat / down beat" elements to the pulse. One nice benefit is that you always know where "1" is (second right foot step). Now, being able to play and step at the same time is an aquired taste... :D

It's a bit like dancing.
C
By bubudi
#5479
Carl wrote:"I" don't get a chance to play for dancers, how am I supposed to give my students a chance to play for dancers!!!!!
you can't teach what you don't know or what you don't have the opportunity to demonstrate. in time you'll go to mali or guinea or burkina and learn about these things. maybe your wife will join you and learn african dance, or if one of your students is a dancer then they could learn some of the dances. then you'll be able to start some dance classes in your area. in the meantime, you have plenty of other types of soloing to focus on.
As to various "styles" of improve. We are definitely NOT there yet.
perhaps i chose the wrong word. you can't really teach style - your students will have to find their own style after they have a good handle on soloing. i was refering more to showing them different types of soloing such as playing with the original solo phrases, building a theme, conversing with the different drum parts, filling in gaps in the song/rhythm, accentuating dance steps, forming different textures by utilising the dynamic range of the drum, etc.
Something I've been doing to help with "feeling" the music is to integrate a 4 step "timing" step to use while playing dununs.
that stepping thing you're doing is done all the time in ballets and performance troupes, also by the djembe players. there are many variations on that as well, such as an 8 beat version which goes: right, together, right, together, left, together, left, together.
User avatar
By Carl
#5494
bubudi wrote:perhaps i chose the wrong word. you can't really teach style - your students will have to find their own style after they have a good handle on soloing. i was refering more to showing them different types of soloing such as playing with the original solo phrases, building a theme, conversing with the different drum parts, filling in gaps in the song/rhythm, accentuating dance steps, forming different textures by utilising the dynamic range of the drum, etc.
What I've found is that I can only do one of these styles of teaching per solo. Giving it to them one step at a time. If I start mixing it up with too many way's of approaching solos, then I get the "deer in the headlights" look...

I'm beginning to think that it is as much the "classroom" setting as anything else. I try to make it as non judgmental as possible, but it is a class, which is about finding out the RIGHT way of doing things... As I've said before, I really feel like I need to sit and think on this for a while. It's just as easy to get trapped in the techniques of teaching as it is in the techniques of djembe. Sometimes you just gotta play!
:djembe:

C
User avatar
By Carl
#5495
bubudi wrote:that stepping thing you're doing is done all the time in ballets and performance troupes, also by the djembe players. there are many variations on that as well, such as an 8 beat version which goes: right, together, right, together, left, together, left, together.
for 9 / 8

right forward
left back (in place)
right back (in place)
left forward
right back
left back
repeat...

I played accompaniment for a modern dance class for about a year and a half... I've gotten so I can make these up on the fly! Very useful and an easy enough "dance" move that even I can manage it.
:D

C
By bubudi
#5505
Carl wrote:What I've found is that I can only do one of these styles of teaching per solo. Giving it to them one step at a time.
oh yea i wasn't trying to suggest otherwise. stick with the one approach for a couple of classes. then pick another approach for the next couple of classes... once you've gone over the various soloing types, do a bit of revision of each. then you can start mixing it up a bit...

a little bit of 'deer in the headlights' isn't a bad thing, though. it often gets people working harder :twisted:
User avatar
By bops
#5515
Okay, so this is a very nitpicky thing, but I just thought I would point out...
Carl wrote:Beat 1 Step to the right (right foot)
Beat 2 step to the right (left foot)
Beat 3 step to the left (left foot)
Beat 4 step to the left (right foot)
What you have described is a common stepping pattern for a Brazilian Samba bateria.

The common jembe ballet stepping pattern is a little different: you step on the AND, and mark on the ONE. So, it would look like this:

Beat 4 Step to the right (right foot)
Beat 1 touch to the right (left foot)
Beat 2 step to the left (left foot)
Beat 3 touch to the left (right foot)
repeat...

With regards to the topic:

Jembe is a language. The drum speaks. To be able to make the drum speak, you need to know the vocabulary. To speak fluently, you need to know a lot of vocabulary - all the vocabulary.

Imagine you know only a couple of phrases of a language, and you practice them with a native speaker. After you've done your basic greeting, all you can do is stand there grinning. The person replies back to you, asks you a question, but you just nod and smile. They figure out pretty quickly that you've said everything that you know how to say. It's the same with jembe.

If your students really want to learn to solo, they need to take the initiative - immerse themselves in jembe music. Ingrain it into their brain, into their body. Learn all the drum parts and be able to hear them all at once in their head. Learn the dance. Learn some songs. If you don't have dancers in your area, study videos. There are a lot available on YouTube, and more posted every day. Above all, they need to experience it. It takes much much more than just drum class to learn to play jembe. They need to see some real masters in action. This type of experience is very physical and teaches you in ways you don't expect. Raise money to bring out a master artist. You aren't too far from Boston or NYC. That will just be a beginning for them. Soloing is not something you can teach. It's something the student needs to learn, if they're willing and capable. It will require physical and mental sacrifice... And about a decade or so of relentless dedication.
User avatar
By Carl
#5521
bops wrote:If your students really want to learn to solo, they need to take the initiative - immerse themselves in jembe music. Ingrain it into their brain, into their body. Learn all the drum parts and be able to hear them all at once in their head. Learn the dance. Learn some songs. If you don't have dancers in your area, study videos. There are a lot available on YouTube, and more posted every day. Above all, they need to experience it. It takes much much more than just drum class to learn to play jembe. They need to see some real masters in action. This type of experience is very physical and teaches you in ways you don't expect. Raise money to bring out a master artist. You aren't too far from Boston or NYC. That will just be a beginning for them. Soloing is not something you can teach. It's something the student needs to learn, if they're willing and capable. It will require physical and mental sacrifice... And about a decade or so of relentless dedication.
I feel I have to disagree with just a bit of what you said. However the disagreement hinges on how one defines the act of teaching...

You said that "Soloing is not something you can teach." and in one way I agree with you, however as far as that statement goes there is NOTHING that you can teach. I compare this a bit to the attitude of people who don't want to be taught because they want their music to be "pure and un-influenced by teachers".

It seems that a lot of people (some teachers included) think that teaching is all about the teacher. I completely disagree with this. Teaching at it's simplest is about a relationship, teacher AND student. The metaphor that I use often is that the teacher shows you a door, it is your responsibility to open it and walk through.

In the case of soloing and language, I agree with your application of the language metaphor. Teaching works the same in both cases. In class you "speak" under very controlled circumstances. You are given situations for which you already have vocabulary or situations that introduce you to new parts of the vocabulary. In the classroom you practice putting together sentences and re-arranging the limited vocabulary into new sentences and the like. The goal would be to get you fluent "enough" in the language that when you speak with a native speaker you can communicate what you need to and be able to pick up new words and grammatical structures through context.

I would agree that the BEST way to learn soloing is through listening and seeing masters play, and particularly seeing a solo played to a dance. I have mentioned this to my class many times. No matter how well you think you know a song, until you've seen it danced you are missing very important elements of the song.

I see my roll as a teacher as two fold. 1) give the students enough basic vocabulary and grammar to be able to understand what they hear when they have an opportunity to see/hear a master wether it's on a CD, Video or Live. 2) let them know it's OK to be a BAD soloist, so long as you are playing and trying to get better. My ideas about being a BAD artist are a bit complex and probably worthy of it's own thread, but basically, in any art you start out as a bad artist, and get better by study and practice, but the important thing is to start. For example I'm a very BAD painter/draw-er (not sure the right term there) but I enjoy it when I do take the time to practice my "art".

[end rant]

bops- I mean no offense in 'disagreeing' with you. I think we agree on more points here than not. I would appreciate your thoughts on my thoughts...

Thanks all,
C