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Definition - Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

A place for teachers to discuss issues to do with teaching
What is considered Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Some people relate it to years drumming but thats not a right criteria, some can stay at the same level for years, and some can advace rapidly.

So what is Beginner, intermediate and advanced ?
Hi djembe-nerd, I think there should be a fourth category called Master which would be something like: Years of experience + Cultural Knowledge + Drumming ability + Widely respected by djembe community/peers. I only say that because I consider myself intermediate, with prospects of being advanced some day, but have no hopes of getting so advanced that I would fulfill all the criteria above which I called Master... lol. If that makes sense.

But given the standard categorization, Beginner-Intermediate-Advanced, I consider myself intermediate because I'm playing for 5 years (somewhat important, though obviously not the only criteria), have gotten to the point where learning new material comes relatively easy to me, and I have enough skill that I could teach the basics to a beginner.

It is nebulous though and depends a lot on self-labeling rather than objective criteria.
This is a great question!

Recently I saw an advertisement for Famadou Konaté and Mamady Keita's teaching tour of the US. It broke the sessions into beginner-intermediate and intermediate-advanced... and asked you to identify which one you belonged in.

For me, even though I have been seriously studying with an African teacher for nearly 5 years... and have been to Mali twice, I would not have any idea where to put myself.

Maybe they should audition students to figure out which section to put them in, LOL.
This question came to me after seeing that too. Where do I put myself if I want to go to these classes.

I wouldn't want to get myself into the wrong class.

I would say :

Beginner : Can play some basic rhythyms, hold on to tempo, Gets new parts after some learning,

Intermediate : Can play most parts, easily switch parts within a rhythm, can do some soloing/improvising, can recognize breaks, encauffements.

Advanced : Can do everything above and soloing and improvising, can lead a dance class.
Those seem like sensible divisions. But in real life, it is probably not as easy to categorize a player, who may have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others.

For me, for example, when I am trying to learn a ballet style dundun part, I still can't deal with my two hands separately. I have to learn the whole thing together, which is much more painstaking and slow. So, as far as being able to keep the rhythm steady at different speeds, I am probably intermediate, but still a beginner in terms of the speed at which I can learn a piece. (I have been playing ballet style dundun for less than a year.)

It is funny, because the only reason I would even think of trying to categorize my playing (or learning ability) would be for signing up for a class. And even then, it is very fluid. It always depends on the skill level of the other students and where you fit in relative to them.
Being an advanced student and an advanced performer are two different things - IMO. Also - being able to categorize oneself as a djembe player of certain styles of rhythms or as a percussionist are also different.

Example - I know a few Senegalese percussionists who have played at various times with Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal, they are comfortable playing many different drums - djembe, sabar, n'tama, bougarabou, conga, drum kit, etc. They have virtually no knowledge of Mande rhythms but could easily play lead in most situations and would be able to quickly learn most patterns on the fly - while they are playing in a group, hear a lead player play a phrase and be able to repeat it fairly quickly. Most all techniques and styles could be easily adopted.

A beginning performer could handle basic accompanying in a group but would probably not be able to improvise at a level that other advanced musicians would accept.

Intermediate is just that - everything in between the limitations of beginning and the mastery of the advanced performer.

I know players in Mali who have mastered most aspects of their local culture but have difficulty playing any rhythm that is not from their local repertoire. Are they a master? or not? Certainly relative to their local culture they are. I know Malian players who re beginners - but they have heard many rhythms for years so their basic knowledge of the music and structure is much more advanced than most foreigners.

For a performing group - basically the criteria is the judgement of the other musicians asking you to play with them and the audience. For djembe students, anything beyond simple accompaniments (arrangements and lead phrasing, playing multiple instruments) is intermediate (you can determine this level yourself). Being in full control of the music, a group, the dancers moves, all lead phrasing and improvising on unfamiliar rhythms would be advanced (more than likely only determined by the opinions of other musicians).
I was just looking at the site of the Gine Fare organization who have some great workshops in Belgium in july. They have thought about this issue and probably have experienced in the past trouble with people who consider themselves better drummers then they are and are disturbing the workshop for themselves or others. So as far as it is for levels for the workshops they made some definitions. On:

http://www.ginefare.be/couleurtradition ... =programme

Of course there are levels possible for being a great ballet-performer, a brilliant ceremonial drummer, a reliable accompanist djembe/dunun, a creative solo-player, and so on....
I like what both music and Michel have said...

In a way, this is like trying to define what it means to be a master of any instrument... if we choose piano or guitar, then what's the overall definition of "master"? Someone who can improvise well? Someone who can play intricate phrases used in many classical pieces? Someone who really knows the blues? ... and so on.

My thought is that these things tend to resist definition, but I believe that the criteria on the Gine Faré website are a good start - mainly so that teachers and students are well-matched.
To me (on the djembe):

Beginner = no sounds, no accompaniments

Intermediate = have the 3 main sounds, can play accompaniments well at slow and average speed

Advanced = can play the accompaniment during a traditional ceremony

I put the focus on the accompaniments and the sounds ie the fundamentals. Knowing 30 rhythms doesn't make you an advanced player. I know guys who played for years, went to Africa, and still can't accompany correctly during a ceremony or even during a session with friends. They are not advanced in my book, although for workshops they'll register as advanced.

Rhythm, parts = KNOW
Playing music = KNOW HOW

If you have the know without the know how, the physical ability to do it, you are not advanced.

But if you register for a workshop, you can go to the advanced levels even if you are a beginner. That's because people confuse knowledge and know-how, real skills, and also because the workshop needs to be filled.

Focus on the solos and the diversity of the rhythms, and you'll stay intermediate or beginner for a long time.
Focus on the sounds and the accompaniment, and you'll be advanced in no time.

Just my opinion, hope it helps.

Hey Kawa d;-)
I think you're exaggerating a little (only a little!), but - en gros - you're right!
I really like your critical approach to the world wide teaching systems - best way to progress!!
Greets, D

I will start by saying that I, personally, prefer NOT to use these labels. With that being said:

When you teach, using these labels are important for 2 reasons:
1) it is easier to teach a class of similar skill levels than to try and teach a mixed skill level (a mixed skill level is a bit trickier to teach, but not impossible)

2) advertising; for some players a "beginner" class is less intimidating, and for others a "advanced" class is more satisfying (what is being satisfied will be left as an exorcise for the reader...)

One of the biggest benefits as I see it is for the larger "seminar" classes to be broken up by skill level. My personal expectation for a seminar class is that the group will play all of the parts/solos/whatever together, and the main thing I want to "get" from the class is a solid recording (for study later) and the experience of playing the "feel" as a group. Obviously, the more consistent the group is in level, the quicker the class will go, and the more material will be covered.

Another benefit is with the more organized schools/teachers where if I know that you are a "level X" student, with "teacher Y" then I can expect that you can play songs "A, B, C" and solos for "L, M, N" or their equivalent in "level".

Now for the down side...

As a teacher, I HATE for my students to be level oriented. My goal is to push each individual student at each class. What "level" I am teaching each individual varies from person to person and from week to week. If I've really been pushing someone on leading the group (giving the call and playing solos) for a few weeks, I might let them off the hook for a week or so if I know that their outside life is getting crazy (have them play kenkeni for instance).

Another thing I try to avoid in not using the levels is competition. I look to promote a positive working group... one that can perform on it's own (everyone knows their strengths and weaknesses and how to compensate for them in the group)

Another thing that I use is putting stronger players next to weaker players... I truly feel that this helps BOTH players!

One final thought on levels involves performance, I have heard "beginner" students play very well phrased solos. the solo comes from the head, ears and heart. I can overlook technique if the phrasing is otherwise good. Technique is easy to fix, but having a "good ear" is something that needs to be developed, not taught. (does that even make sense to anyone else?)

Ok... getting off the soap box...

Personally I like the TTM levels (as I last knew them)
the "student" levels
Beginner 1 and 2
Intermediate 1 and 2
Advanced 1 and 2
These are usually expected to take 1 year per group (2 years per level).

Then the "performing" levels
Semi-Pro (I guess for groups performing around their local area/region)
Pro (well... the "pros" kinda self explanatory)

The only down side here is that it implies that you should not perform until you pass the "advanced" level. I personally believe that you should perform in some context as soon as possible. You might not want to perform in front of a crowd of 10,000 people within the first year of learning, but a crowd of 10 - 100 enthusiasts wouldn't be bad....

Other thoughts?
While it's easy to think and talk in terms of number of years, I find it more useful to think about categorizes in terms of the hours someone has spent playing/learning/practicing. Even though two people may have been playing for a year, there's a huge difference between someone who goes to one class a week (~50 hours in a year) versus someone who spends 10 hours a week (possibly going to multiple classes, getting playing with friends, etc.) on drumming. I've recently been spending ~1 hour per day in a concerted effort to improve my sound and technique, and have noticed a bigger improvement in all aspects of my drumming over the past two months than over the past two years of playing.

The situation where levels or categorization seems to matter most is for group classes and workshops. It's important to have attendees be reasonably matched in terms of their level and I've actually been in workshops where people pre-selected their level and then the teacher shifted people around in an effort to balance the class.

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