A place for teachers to discuss issues to do with teaching
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By Dennis103
#5525
Carl wrote:for 9 / 8

right forward
left back (in place)
right back (in place)
left forward
right back
left back
repeat...
Go follow some Zumba dance classes (or watch Youtube video's) for inspiration for steps... :dance:
However, most people will take a couple of months to be able to learn left-right stepping or tapping their feet whilst playing anything even half complicated like a solo... :D
By bubudi
#5551
it's the same foot movement. the only thing different is where you start. most africans i've seen start with 'right together', and have the 'together' (i.e. left foot towards the right) on what westerners would call the first beat. i've seen most black sambistas do the same. as for guineans, i've seen some start on the left side rather than the right and step out on the '1st' beat where others step together. it's not really important as long as everyone is doing the same.

that's some sound advice about bringing some masters from nearby. you might also consider organising a group trip to a weekend drumming camp, workshop or conference, where you can share rooms to cut down the costs. the camps and conferences almost always have both drum and dance instruction, so you'll get the opportunity to see a djembefola solo for dance. some weekend workshops also teach both drum and dance.

i agree that soloing is something one needs to learn themselves. in west africa you can play accompaniment for many years before you get to solo. traditionally, one gets so comfortable with the rhythms (all different parts) in their repertoire that artistic expression within the parameters of the rhythm becomes easy. by that time the player has heard numerous solos from various players on each rhythm. they might practice some phrases they've heard in their own time, or go over them mentally/verbally. i have also heard of a cuban master drummer (forget who it was) saying that you play the rhythm until it varies itself. in other words, when you're really comfortable with the rhythm, you will start to hear improvisations.

you also need the physical stamina, dexterity and technique in order to play what you hear within. there is no substitute for structured practice.
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By bops
#5571
Carl wrote: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 see what you mean. I guess what I meant to say is that you can't spoon feed the solo in the same way that you can spoon feed accompaniment and dunun parts. I like this way of putting it:
bubudi wrote:you play the rhythm until it varies itself. in other words, when you're really comfortable with the rhythm, you will start to hear improvisations.
Personally, I don't learn much solo technique from drum classes. I sometimes bring master artists to town. And I always take classes with them because I want to support them and show my respect, but mostly because I want to play for the dance class. Playing jembe accompaniment or dunun or sangba, alongside a master, is where I really get schooled. It's like some kind of jembe osmosis.

This isn't to say that everyone will learn best this way. When you're just getting your feet wet in soloing, you do need to be spoon-fed for a while so that you get started in the right direction. But that will only take you so far, as I think Carl is finding out.
By bubudi
#5573
yes, i think we're saying the same thing. but i think carl was saying his students aren't really there yet, and need a bit of structured guidance as well as the whole osmosis thing. one thing that my teachers have always hit home is the importance of developing your stamina, technique, speed, etc. in order to be able to play whatever solo you are hearing inside. requires disciplined self practice.
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By Nodrog
#5760
Hi there,

First of all, the subject of this thread is really a little too advaced for my novice level but it did remind me of a situation which came up back in England to do with a jazz band my dad was asked to play with.
He plays sax and clarinet and as played and improvised solos all his adult life. Of course, when soloing,it is almost impossible to come up with something entirely new because every sound or phrase produced is bound to be influenced by all the information taken in prior to this solo time. Even if it is subconciously.

Anyway, he played just two jobs with this "jazz" band before packing in. The reason being that all their music was played from music, even the solos! To my dad and me also, this was completely against what jazz music is about. This is the musical equivalent of painting by numbers where the finished picture might look a bit like Van Gogh's sunflowers but it is completely stiff with no soul or individuality from the artist.

To me, I think being taught a solo is good and useful to a degree. It might help technique and get you into areas you might not discover alone. However, this would be just another color or another type of paintbrush used to achieve one's own painting.( With lots of practice I guess).

Does this make any sense? I'm sure a big part of this question depends on the listener on the receiving end. Like the so called jazz band who played everything off music. This would satisfy a lot of the audience because they produced a jazzy type of sound. However, to anyone with more experience, this would not satisfy the creative expectations of both the listener and the player.

My approach hopefully is to listen and watch as much as possible then just do it, or at least try to do it and hopefully create my own style and sound of playing.

Can't wait for my grandson's gyil to arrive this weekend.

Gordon.
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By bops
#5761
Gordon,

Makes perfect sense. The analogy to jazz music is appropriate - jazz is African music, too.

I think what it comes down to is this: Jembe is a language. When you speak, you use words that have been handed down to you. You don't invent new words. But you can say new and unique things using the vocabulary that you have. The broader your vocabulary, the more you'll be able to say.
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By Carl
#5763
Nodrog wrote:To me, I think being taught a solo is good and useful to a degree. It might help technique and get you into areas you might not discover alone. However, this would be just another color or another type of paintbrush used to achieve one's own painting.( With lots of practice I guess).
There is a place for possible confusion here...

Usually when a Master teacher is teaching a djembe solo, they are teaching what would be called a "traditional" solo. These solos serve a function beyond their musical existence. Specifically, they are intended to go with specific dance steps. This is one of the way's that you help someone learn the "language" of the song.

When you are improvising in a djembe/dunun group, you might play the traditional solo (if you are working with dancers you most likely WILL be working from the traditional solo). Or you might make something original up. (especially if you are NOT working with dancers...)

One way to think of it is to relate it to Jazz. The traditional solo would be the melody of the jazz tune (the head). Beginners might play minor variations on the melody as their solo, the more advanced the players, the more complicated the relationship the solo has to the original melody.

Unfortunately we usually use the term solo indiscriminately when referring to the melody that the djembe soloist plays. Most teachers that I've worked with have no problem with people "making their own stuff up". The danger comes when someone starts saying that "this is THE solo to song X".

From my perspective as a non-African teacher: I am very clear when I am teaching a traditional solo and when I am teaching a solo that I wrote (or someone else wrote) and when I am teaching how to improvise. Each of these can be called Solos or Soloing, yet they each have their own separate contexts.

Hope I didn't muddy the waters.
C
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By Nodrog
#5766
Hello again,

I think you are correct. Because I grew up with my dad being a jazz sax player and me playing bass in the band I automatically group the words 'solo' and 'improvise' together. Now when I play mostly guitar, I always fill the solo break in a song with something different. Once in a while, I play something that I really like and afterwards, I'll try to re-create a similar solo to use again.

Now I think more carefully about it, the word soloist is used often in western classical music, as in solo violin or piano soloist. Course, these classical soloists are reading from music but within certain parameters are allowing themselves to improvise and I guess this is similar to what happens in the African djembe case. I guess what I'm trying to say is that a solo can be more fixed and in some cases must be recognisable and does not always have to be improvised.

Like I said, all this African talk is new to me although I have been listening to various kinds of African music for years. I'm finding it very interesting.

Thanks for the explanations, Gordon.
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By Dugafola
#5767
Carl wrote:
Usually when a Master teacher is teaching a djembe solo, they are teaching what would be called a "traditional" solo. These solos serve a function beyond their musical existence. Specifically, they are intended to go with specific dance steps. This is one of the way's that you help someone learn the "language" of the song.
Not all "traditional" solos apply to a dance step or movement. since you are on Mamady's path, take Soli des Manian for instance Soli des Manian. Mamady told me the licks he plays for soli des manian correlate to how the Manian people talk and how they emphasise certain syallables etc.

also, each "traditional" phrase doesn't necessarily have it's own designated dance step. take some soli phrases for instance, there are 3-4 phrases that Mamady teaches that can be used for the exact same step. same with a lot of Mendiani phrases.

each rhythm has it's own particular style of soloing that will be considered "traditional." take dununba rhythms as an example.
Carl wrote:When you are improvising in a djembe/dunun group, you might play the traditional solo (if you are working with dancers you most likely WILL be working from the traditional solo). Or you might make something original up. (especially if you are NOT working with dancers...)
I would say this would apply if you are playing for dancers who are actually dancing traditional movements...there aren't many. more often than not, most of the stuff you see at workshops and conferences are ballet movements that were developed for the stage.
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By rachelnguyen
#5772
You guys, what a GREAT thread. A ton of information. Thanks!

I have been taking classes for a couple of years now and we learn the accompaniment and several of the traditional solo phrases for a the songs we do. But it has taken me this long to even think about improvising.

For me, it started when I began going to drum circles regularly and it felt very natural, after awhile, to start doing little solo riffs in the midst of the big complicated polyrhythms happening around me. At first I was very tentative, since I had never done it in class. Eventually I started to gain a little more confidence. Now, I improvise a LOT at drum circles, and am starting to hear little riffs in my head as I go about my business. (Usually when I am thinking about a traditional rhythm.)

The other day I shocked the shit out of my teacher during a class. He had us doing the accompaniment to Wolosso because there were newbies in the class. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I started improvising solos on top of it. You should have seen the look on his face, LOL.

He began to do call and response with me, while the rest of the students were playing the accompaniment. It was, of course, way harder than just making up my own stuff. But I think I must have turned some sort of corner because I no longer feel like I have to stick to the safety of the structured accompaniment or solo phrases.

All of this is to say that it might just be a matter of time. I am two years in and just now getting the confidence to bust loose on the djembe.

And maybe a little of my sweet Griot teacher's spirit is prompting me along, too. I know he is up there, rooting for me from heaven.
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By e2c
#5774
bops wrote: I guess what I meant to say is that you can't spoon feed the solo in the same way that you can spoon feed accompaniment and dunun parts. I like this way of putting it:
bubudi wrote:you play the rhythm until it varies itself. in other words, when you're really comfortable with the rhythm, you will start to hear improvisations.
Personally, I don't learn much solo technique from drum classes. I sometimes bring master artists to town. And I always take classes with them because I want to support them and show my respect, but mostly because I want to play for the dance class. Playing jembe accompaniment or dunun or sangba, alongside a master, is where I really get schooled. It's like some kind of jembe osmosis.

This isn't to say that everyone will learn best this way. When you're just getting your feet wet in soloing, you do need to be spoon-fed for a while so that you get started in the right direction. But that will only take you so far, as I think Carl is finding out.
I think you guys are very much on the money here! :)
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By Dennis103
#5784
Solo means 'alone' - which is fairly non-specific as to the content of your solo :-) So I use 'traditional solo' if it is a series of patterns that go with traditional dance steps. Whether those steps are really traditional, or ballet, is another question. Free-form solo or improvisation, is important too, and going to drum circles is one of the better ways to learn this. Some teachers allow free form solo's in class, other teachers never allow this, and I can see reasons for both viewpoints.
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By Carl
#5785
Dugafola wrote:Not all "traditional" solos apply to a dance step or movement. since you are on Mamady's path, take Soli des Manian for instance Soli des Manian. Mamady told me the licks he plays for soli des manian correlate to how the Manian people talk and how they emphasise certain syallables etc.
This would be great new topic!

One of the things I've been thinking about lately is about the function on the music in the culture.
When Famoudou was in Maine recently he was lamenting the lack of interest in the music "back home". He said that there were villages where the drummers knew less that a lot of the people in the class that he was teaching! (in MAINE!) :shock:

When we teach, we teach the music, and we TALK about everything else. If we are really lucky we might have dancers to work with and to show the relationship between the music and dance. I've been hearing and learning about the music relating to speech, but I haven't gotten a deep enough understanding to start teaching that, except just to mention it.

Finally to my point. For those of us who don't live in the village, and have not been raised in the belief system, what are we missing in the understanding of the music? The specific example that I am thinking of is music for Masks! If we haven't lived with the mask (in the same village as the mask) our understanding of the mask (and the music for the mask) can only be intellectual.

What I see that we can do, or at least approach is the drum/dance relationship. But what about music/language? Music/ritual? Music/spiritual meaning? These are easier to talk about than to experience. Especially for those of us who can't afford to travel!

Maybe I'll form a more focused post/question and start a new thread later (I've got to get back to work)

C
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By Dugafola
#5792
Carl wrote:One of the things I've been thinking about lately is about the function on the music in the culture.
When Famoudou was in Maine recently he was lamenting the lack of interest in the music "back home". He said that there were villages where the drummers knew less that a lot of the people in the class that he was teaching! (in MAINE!) :shock:
you will see this all over the world now man. there are plenty of highly trained djembe students/professional percussionists out there who've been over to Africa to train. not only that, but the amount of instructional material and media out there accelerate people's learning curve. i think i'm pretty lucky...when i started in '03, i had fairly easy access to some heavy heavy drummers like Mamady and Abdoulaye Diakite among others.

there are more and more africans making their way abroad that are trying to teach for a living. some of them had no musical or dance training in Africa at all, yet they move to whereever and are all of the sudden "master" this or that. ask Mahiri about it. case in point, i was at a wedding last weekend with a bunch of fote drummers and dancers and a few guinean artists. we played all weekend and cycled through tons of rhythms. one of the fotes asked one of the guinean artists the name of dununba we were playing. He couldn't answer it...i chimed in and answered it for him and then my other fote buddy started singing the song in Malinke while playing the sangban. the guinean, who has only been here a few months, quickly took a more low key approach.

sorry to digress, but my point is that music/culture/tradition in africa is kind of like a double edged sword...the elders in the village have no apprentices to hand down the music and keep it alive while some of the city kids - who can play- but don't know the roots - are abroad teaching whatever they want for $$$.
Carl wrote:Finally to my point. For those of us who don't live in the village, and have not been raised in the belief system, what are we missing in the understanding of the music? The specific example that I am thinking of is music for Masks! If we haven't lived with the mask (in the same village as the mask) our understanding of the mask (and the music for the mask) can only be intellectual.

What I see that we can do, or at least approach is the drum/dance relationship. But what about music/language? Music/ritual? Music/spiritual meaning? These are easier to talk about than to experience. Especially for those of us who can't afford to travel!
i hear ya on this one man. it's hard. the best way is to go to africa and find what you're looking for.
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By e2c
#5794
I don't see any way to gain deep insight into the culture (or cultures) other than by going to Africa and living there for an extended period of time. There are things that I will never understand.... and I think everyone who comes from outside these societies has to accept that that is true for them as well.

Besides that... cultures change, often quite drastically. What might be brand new today will likely be "traditional" in 10 years' time. I think one of the mistakes we Westerners tend to make is that we want to get a sort of freeze-frame capture of an entire culture. That's impossible, even for people who grow up there! ;)

Besides, what many of us see as "traditional" or "right" is actually comparatively recent - like all the ballet arrangements of Susu, Bobo (etc.) rhythms. I don't think there's any single "authentic" path, only variations on a theme. (So to speak.)