A place for teachers to discuss issues to do with teaching
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By Dugafola
#6860
Mark the step, mark the step, mark the step, double.
Repeat for about 6 hours.

That's how it's done in Kouroussa. Not a lot of fancy phrasing, but still plenty of interplay. It's all in the nuance, the energy, the feeling. In Africa, there's no such thing as boredom.
I hear you. But that isn't the kind of drumming I had in mind when I talked about soloing techniques. I was more thinking along the lines of a classical djembe solo that is played in the traditional style over some rhythm. What you describe is a different style of drumming, I think. And, yes, there is room for that too, of course!
Michi.
takosaba is one of the oldest dunun rhythms out there. there are set patterns to the solo because it's a collective group dance. to be true to the rhythm and dance, you must solo within the structure of the dununs with a language specific to dununba rhythms. IMO, that is the "classical" or "traditional" way to solo.

other collective group dance dunun rhythms where you'll hear repetitive phrasing include: bolokonondo, donaba2/n'fa kaba, taama, gberedu long, takonani, and sometimes demonsoni kelen. there could be more.

it's painfully obvious when someone doesn't know how to solo on these particular dunun rhythms. same with the dance. some dancers will hear the dununba kenkeni and think they can do your standard dununba movements. :tsktsk:
Last edited by Dugafola on Thu Sep 17, 2009 4:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By e2c
#6863
I think some of you guys are overthinking/overanalyzing things... ;)

*

One other thought: while i appreciate some of the parallels being made between music and spoken language, i have to say (for my part) that I *don't* think of music as "a language." It's music. Attempts to explain how it works can involve language, but that's still not music.

To take a cue from the visual arts, there just isn't any way to "explain" lots of things that we see in either spoken or written language. No matter how much someone says or writes about a painting or print or sculpture - or sunset - what they say isn't the same as looking at the painting (etc.) they're talking about.

I guess that's one reason I've always found it easier to learn music by ear - especially percussion music. Western musical notation is really limited - and limiting - at times, because it wasn't created or developed in a geographical area where complex percussion patterns were the norm. So when it comes to trying to notate actual music from lots of places (India, many parts of Africa, the Middle East - and lots of African-derived music from parts of the Western hemisphere) it just doesn't "work." (Indian musicians learn vocal percussion for very good reasons. ;))

I think the same is pretty well true when trying to describe music verbally. Words are a good tool, but they're inadequate. And English doesn't have a really specific vocabulary geared toward describing how music works any more than it does for description of colors (etc.) in the visual arts.

I'm *not* saying "don't talk about it"; I am saying that talking is, at best, an adjunct to listening and hearing.
Last edited by e2c on Thu Sep 17, 2009 11:12 pm, edited 5 times in total.
User avatar
By Dugafola
#6864
e2c wrote:I think some of you guys are overthinking/overanalyzing things... ;)
i agree.
User avatar
By Carl
#6867
I love talking about music... and thinking about music... and playing music!

Granted I'd rather be behind my djembe when these things happen, but sometimes I'm trapped at my day job with nothing but internet access for an outlet.

I am very interested in the limits of communication and information. So I actually LIKE talking about what "can't be talked about" in music. I am also interested in the relationship between the traditional use of music, and the content of the music (in a "music theory" sense).

As I hinted at in my previous post. I feel that there is a relationship between music content (music theory) and traditional or ritual usage. I may not know the details of that relationship, but it seems obvious to me that there is one. Granted, not many people care about that, and that is fine. You do not need to know that someone came up with a music theory word to describe something in the solo in order to play the solo well. In fact, I think that for some people knowing that there is a word for it can actually get in the way.

Also, a discussion board like this is primarily a textural medium. Yes we can exchange video and sound files, but the "discussion" is primarily in the words accompanying said media.

Ahhh... Back to work!!!

C
User avatar
By Dugafola
#6868
You do not need to know that someone came up with a music theory word to describe something in the solo in order to play the solo well. In fact, I think that for some people knowing that there is a word for it can actually get in the way.
werd up carl.

can you say "micro-timing?"
User avatar
By Carl
#6869
Have to agree with you there.

The more I hear the term micro-timing, the more it makes me think of someone out there measuring the micro-second delays / anticipations in the solo and trying to find a way to notate it!

Jazz musicians have been using approximate notation for years, and they have just as many 'feel' issues as West African music.

I'll be the first person to defend notation in most situations, but in the end it is the music that speaks for itself. Notation, or even technical terms like micro-timing have their uses, but if it does not lead to "better sounding" music, then why do it?

In a similar vein I look at notation as what it is... a set of instructions that depends on cultural knowledge in order to interpret correctly. This is just as true for "classical" music as in attempts at notating West African rhythms.

Ok, getting off the soap box and getting ready for dinner out with the wife! :D

C
User avatar
By michi
#6870
Carl wrote:The more I hear the term micro-timing, the more it makes me think of someone out there measuring the micro-second delays / anticipations in the solo and trying to find a way to notate it!
Have you come a across Rainer Polak? He does just that. He is a researcher at the Institute of African Studies in Bayreuth. From the project web site:
The aim of Dr. Rainer Polak's project is to clarify empirically the relationship between groove and pulsation in West African Jenbe music and to join them conceptually. The research is centred on computer-based measurement to the exact millisecond of the timing of Jenbe rhythms. In addition to formal analysis, qualitative methods are also used, in order to establish the significance of microrhythmical structures from an emic point of view.
I have not met Rainer in person, but have been told that he is one of Germany's best djembe players, and people like Jeremy Chevrier and Matche Traore spoke highly of his playing, so it doesn't seem like he is just a nerd.
I'll be the first person to defend notation in most situations, but in the end it is the music that speaks for itself. Notation, or even technical terms like micro-timing have their uses, but if it does not lead to "better sounding" music, then why do it?
Because people are simply curious and want to understand? There is a lot of research that starts out driven by simple curiosity and then comes up with amazing things. There doesn't have to be a goal that leads to anything. Who knows, Rainer may come up in his studies with an understanding of micro-timing that leads to a new teaching technique that will make me eat my words about micro-timing and genetics. How cool would that be?

Cheers,

Michi.

PS: To the admins: this spam filter on the forum definitely needs some work. It even mangles URLs :( The mangled portion of the above URL is (remove the spaces) "f r e e h o s t i n g".
User avatar
By e2c
#6871
I'm a huge fan of the recordings Rainer has made (of jenbe players from Mali), but I honestly don't think he's *ever* going to be able to nail all of the specifics he's talking about, if only because (imo) there are no "absolutes" there in the way that most of us Westerners think of them.

I mean no criticism of him; still, it seems like he's trying to quantify the unquantifiable, as if the music is a math or statistics problem. :) (He seems to be the guy who coined the word "micro-timing," as far as I'm aware.)

A *lot* of ethnomus people tend to talk about music in ways that musicians never, ever will - again, not to criticize ethnomus in general. I know some wonderful people who work in the field - who are also musicians, both professional and amateur. Something they all avoid like the plague are jargon and attempts to pin everything (and every note) down as if they were specimen butterflies.

[There was a time when killing animals, birds and insects was the only way for artists (like Audubon) to be able to render them realistically, and for naturalists to study them. Those days are long gone - and i hope that will be the case (eventually) with some Western academic approaches to music and ethnomus.]

Just my .02-worth...

* For those not familiar with the CDs I mentioned (recorded and mastered by Rainer), here are some cover pics:

Image
Image

they're superb, and well worth the money (imo).
User avatar
By michi
#6872
e2c wrote:I mean no criticism of him; still, it seems like he's trying to quantify the unquantifiable, as if the music is a math or statistics problem. :) (He seems to be the guy who coined the word "micro-timing," as far as I'm aware.)
Ultimately, I agree with you--the music doesn't come from the head, and it never will. But, as a teacher, I try very hard to get the message across. So, I think a lot about what goes on in a particular rhythm, and I observe myself when I learn a new rhythm. ("Which bits am I having difficulty with, why do I find this bit difficult, and how do I get over the difficulty and master it?")

The answers to these questions are valuable when teaching because there is a good chance that someone else who has difficulty with the same rhythm will have similar reasons for finding it difficult as I did. In other words, a lot of quality teaching is the ability of the teacher to know about what things are hard for students, anticipate the pitfalls, and to come up with ways of showing a path around the pitfalls. Having an analytical approach and being aware of the learning process really can help in becoming a better teacher.
A *lot* of ethnomus people tend to talk about music in ways that musicians never, ever will - again, not to criticize ethnomus in general. I know some wonderful people who work in the field - who are also musicians, both professional and amateur. Something they all avoid like the plague are jargon and attempts to pin everything (and every note) down as if they were specimen butterflies.
I think I know what you mean. There is a danger that, by dissecting things to the n-th degree, I can kill the "spirit" of the music until there is no life left in it. (I do remember music theory lessons at high-school, where I couldn't see the point: "Come on... We've been talking for hours now about the first eight notes in Beethoven's 5th; I'm sick of this. I used to really enjoy that piece of music, and now I find myself just about hating it...")
[There was a time when killing animals, birds and insects was the only way for artists (like Audubon) to be able to render them realistically, and for naturalists to study them. Those days are long gone - and i hope that will be the case (eventually) with some Western academic approaches to music and ethnomus.]
I think it's a matter of individual style and preferences. For some people, the analytical approach is everything; for others, it just doesn't work at all. We have need for both kinds of people in this world--they each have different valuable things to give.
* For those not familiar with the CDs I mentioned (recorded and mastered by Rainer), here are some cover pics:
Hey, thanks for that! I have the first one, but I didn't know that there is a second volume. It's been added to my wish list :)

Cheers,

Michi.
User avatar
By e2c
#6878
michi, you know, i'm a born overanalyzer! (No kidding.)

so please take my thoughts about *not* being overly-analytical as coming from that perspective. :)

imo, there really *is* such a thing as too much analysis. Study's great, but I think it's important to be able to step back from the analytical stuff and just accept that things simply are. for me personally, that has been *far* more helpful in learning and playing music than any amount of theory or analysis based on theory (Western theory, that is).

And i'm not meaning to trash analysis or theory, either. it's just that all the theory in the world isn't - in my opinion - going to make someone able to feel the music and play it well. And i truly do wonder if trying to impose Western notions of theory on music from other cultures even works - like I said earlier, vocal percussion is taught in India for many reasons. There's no written system of notation that could possibly be able to capture all the nuances of that stuff - at least, nobody's come up with one yet. I think that's equally true of music for djembe and dununs.

In other practical terms, I don't see dance teachers starting their pupils on some kind of abstract "theory" of dance. They teach posture, movement, choreography... there are things that just can't be conveyed in any way other than watching and then doing. I think there are many parallels to this approach in music, that it's possible for us to get way too cerebral at times. (I say that because I can easily go off in that direction myself!)

(like i said earlier, my .02-worth...)
User avatar
By michi
#6879
e2c wrote:michi, you know, i'm a born overanalyzer! (No kidding.)

so please take my thoughts about *not* being overly-analytical as coming from that perspective. :)
Sure thing! :)
imo, there really *is* such a thing as too much analysis. Study's great, but I think it's important to be able to step back from the analytical stuff and just accept that things simply are. for me personally, that has been *far* more helpful in learning and playing music than any amount of theory or analysis based on theory (Western theory, that is).
I think I agree with you. I mean, if I analyse all the time, there is no time left for me to actually appreciate anything.

I think it's possible to do both, however. There are times where I work on a rhythm analytically, usually when I'm learning something that's been eluding me. Then I sit down and go "right, I'm going to put this into Percussion Studio and work out exactly how it fits together", or I put on a DVD and watch a critical section many times in a row, or I sit down and try different handings for a phrase that gives me trouble until I have figured out the most efficient handing.

And then, I go and just relax into things, play them or listen to them over and over again, meditate and disappear into the rhythm, and feel it. (Usually, that's the fun bit :) )
And i'm not meaning to trash analysis or theory, either. it's just that all the theory in the world isn't - in my opinion - going to make someone able to feel the music and play it well.
I totally agree with you there. Analysis won't make me feel it. It might make me intellectually understand some of the complete picture, but only a part of it. The feeling doesn't come from analysis, that's for sure. But the analysis can help me to learn and, once I've learned, the analysis is no longer important, falls away, and allows me to feel things.

To put it differently, analysis helps me when I'm learning a rhythm, when I'm trying to commit a new phrase to muscle memory, and so on. Once I've done that, I no longer struggle with the mechanics and now have spare brain cycles to actually feel and enjoy the music. Having reached that stage, I can now work on other aspects, such as the feel: put my heart and soul into my playing, feel the emotional effect of different shades of swing, and work on the artistic expression of the rhythm.
And i truly do wonder if trying to impose Western notions of theory on music from other cultures even works - like I said earlier, vocal percussion is taught in India for many reasons. There's no written system of notation that could possibly be able to capture all the nuances of that stuff - at least, nobody's come up with one yet. I think that's equally true of music for djembe and dununs.
I agree, at least mostly. Certainly, notation is too coarse to capture what a rhythm really should sound like, and the western notion of dividing time into mathematical intervals doesn't work very well with West African (and many other) rhythms. It's a crude approximation at best.

In an ideal world, I would feel everything immediately and instinctively, not worry about where the 1 is, and so on. But I'm not that good, and there are things that I don't feel instinctively or, even if I feel them, I can't play them because I can't sort out the mechanics of the movements by instinct. When that happens, I resort to analysis to help me get over the hump.
In other practical terms, I don't see dance teachers starting their pupils on some kind of abstract "theory" of dance. They teach posture, movement, choreography... there are things that just can't be conveyed in any way other than watching and then doing.
Right. On the other hand, good dance teachers also pay attention to things that we learned about analytically, such as warm-ups, how to avoid injury, how to keep a spot during a pirouette to avoid getting dizzy, the importance of good diet, etc.

Yenenesh, our dance teachers, spends some time during each class doing strength training exercises with her students, for example. Many of these come straight from sports medicine, with all its scientific and analytical methods.
I think there are many parallels to this approach in music, that it's possible for us to get way too cerebral at times. (I say that because I can easily go off in that direction myself!)
Same here :) Being in the moment and just allowing things to happen are where it's at. My best playing definitely happens when I don't think at all, and things flow into my hands as if by magic. Yet, I do have analytical skills and I use them when my intuitive skills aren't up to the job.

The analytical side does speed up my learning process, so I find it useful. If I were thirty years younger and had the funds, I'd just apprentice myself to a master drummer the old-fashioned way, spend a few years listening and feeling only, then spend another year playing the same single accompaniment exclusively, and so on. I'm sure it would do wonders for my intuition and feel. But, sadly, I don't have that option...

Cheers,

Michi.
(like i said earlier, my .02-worth...)
And my .02-worth... ;)
User avatar
By e2c
#6880
I know people who spend *all* their time on theory and analysis ... to the point that it seems to become a substitute for making music.

one of those people has claimed that i bring little substance to conversations about playing music because I don't have the grasp of theory (and math) that they have. they've even gone so far as to claim that no "real musician" could be as un-theory-ish as I am.

Which is why i sometimes err on the side of "intuitive" here... still, i hardly think warm-up exercises (and the like) for dancers (all common-sense stuff) is at all the same kind of thing as getting hung up on how to notate so-called "microtiming," let alone figuring out the exact mathematical intervals between notes in djembe/dunun ensemble playing. (where, as you've probably noticed, nobody even bothers to talk about the bell patterns in this way, as if they're some sort of adjunct to Guinea-style percussion, when in reality, they create highly complex melodic/rhythmic patterns all on their own... I guess there's no way you can play flashy solos on bells, is there?! ;))

Carl mentioned playing rhythms in pretty wild time signatures in an earlier post. There are lots of insane patterns ("insane" re. Western notation's idea of time signatures) in music from the Balkans. I can tell you for certain, though, that when you're playing patterns like that, you're:

1. *not* thinking about time signatures
2. that focusing on time signatures will absolutely trip you up in terms of learning how to actually *play* the music

so my take is, save the heavy analysis for *after* you've gotten a grip on this material. Besides all that, there are a lot of intense disagreements about the "actual" time signatures of many of those rhythms, depending on who's writing about them and how they hear the structural "cells" of the patterns. ;)
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By e2c
#6881
for me, the analytical side of my thinking seems to shut down when i'm playing -even when i'm learning a new pattern. it's much more like learning movements (for me personally) than being analytic and critical in the way that i often am when I'm writing.

I don't even view working on refining patterns (and my playing of them) as terribly analytical. I listen, i repeat. Listen, play, repeat [ad infinitum]. To me, that's much more along the lines of *physically* doing something and therefore getting the "feel" into muscle memory (and a more non-analytical part of my brain) than it is about analysis.

I don't feel like I need to have a grasp of Western theory to be able to do that. Now, if I were playing piano or guitar (or most other Western instruments), I think I'd be doing a lot more theory/analysis.

But - for me - one of the most important things about playing music is actually playing (in multiple senses of the word). if it becomes drudgery on a regular basis, something's wrong. if i'm not enjoying what i'm doing on at least some level, something's really off.

I find playing music to be highly therapeutic partly because the analytical part of my thinking takes a backseat to other ways of thinking and perceiving - and, above all, doing.

For someone who's pretty cerebral in many ways, it's a huge relief to just get in there and make music, or to at least attempt to do so.
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By michi
#6882
e2c wrote:I know people who spend *all* their time on theory and analysis ... to the point that it seems to become a substitute for making music.
I suspect that they might not be such good musicians then (certainly not in styles of music that emphasise improvisation and spontaneity).
one of those people has claimed that i bring little substance to conversations about playing music because I don't have the grasp of theory (and math) that they have. they've even gone so far as to claim that no "real musician" could be as un-theory-ish as I am.
Sounds quite arrogant to me. One of my favourite teachers, Tuza (from Ghana), is a master drummer who knows very little about the theoretical side of music, about semi-quavers and the like. Yet, he is an awesome musician, and he can talk very eloquently about music, both the emotional side and the technical side, even without all the jargon and lingo western culture has built around music...
(where, as you've probably noticed, nobody even bothers to talk about the bell patterns in this way, as if they're some sort of adjunct to Guinea-style percussion, when in reality, they create highly complex melodic/rhythmic patterns all on their own... I guess there's no way you can play flashy solos on bells, is there?! ;))
Yeah, right. Bells are probably not sexy enough for a Ph.D. thesis...
There are lots of insane patterns ("insane" re. Western notation's idea of time signatures) in music from the Balkans. I can tell you for certain, though, that when you're playing patterns like that, you're:

1. *not* thinking about time signatures
2. that focusing on time signatures will absolutely trip you up in terms of learning how to actually *play* the music
I don't doubt your word. And I work the same--once I'm familiar with some piece, I just feel it. It's like playing a 4-4 and intuitively feeling where the blocks of 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 measures are. It just "feels" right to make a change at those points, even though I never count them.
so my take is, save the heavy analysis for *after* you've gotten a grip on this material.
That's where I'm not sure whether I entirely agree. At least for myself, the analytical approach helps when I don't get something intuitively. When I do get it intuitively, I don't bother with analysing anything--no point in that case. When I don't, I find it helps me.

Cheers,

Michi.
User avatar
By e2c
#6887
michi, I think you said something a bit earlier about different styles of learning? (Long thread, I'd need to re-read to be able to quote.)

To me, it sounds like that's what we're talking about, for the most part.

btw, the rabid theory fans I referred to earlier are all jazz musicians. Go figure!