A place for teachers to discuss issues to do with teaching
#23447
Carl wrote:
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?)...

... 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....
Amen to all of this, Carl. (Nice to see you here, however briefly!)
#23448
Djembe-nerd wrote:This question came to me after seeing that too. Where do I put myself if I want to go to these classes.

[...]

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.
By those criteria, there were maybe five people at the Grand Masters Tour in San Diego (other than the certified TTM teachers who were there) who would meet the advanced criterion…

Michi.
#23453
Carl wrote: 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)
I do use the distinction, especially with beginners who are truly beginners. You have to tell them about the basic sounds, the names of the instruments, which end of the drum goes up, the idea of a call to get everyone to start at the same time and same speed, etc. This is rather boring stuff for someone who's been playing for a while.

For mixed groups of "not completely beginners" and intermediates, it's possible to teach them together, but I find it difficult. I can give more complex accompaniments to the intermediates and such, but I find it hard to create a class that doesn't do injustice to one group or the other by either over-taxing them or boring them.
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
Same here. It's not about level, but getting the best out of each person and to feed them just what they need at this stage of their development to get them to improve.
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)
I've been encouraging our students to get together outside class and to play in a group without a teacher. I think this is really important. I know from my own experience that, as soon as my teacher is around, I get a bit self-conscious and inhibited because I no longer feel as free to experiment (and, of course, stuff up in the process). Without a teacher around, students can ask each other question that they might be afraid a teacher would call dumb, and they can experiment and muck around to their heart's content without feeling embarrassed or being under performance pressure.

Some of our students have been doing just that, and it's made a huge difference to their skill level. They go, practice together, retain much more of what we taught in class than they would otherwise and, each week, they come to class with increased confidence, proud to show off what they learned. It's really nice to see!


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?)
Yes. A simple solo played with confidence and correct placement can sound great, despite not requiring great technical skill.
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).
Rather formalised, but probably close to the mark. I don't know many people I would call advanced after four years of playing (although, every now and then, there is an exceptionally gifted person who gets there in that time).
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.[/quote]
I don't think that's implied (other than meaning "professional" performance). Mamady is big on doing performances at the end of his camps and encourages everyone to solo, regardless of skill level.

Performing is fun and builds confidence for a lot of people. And, after all, what's the point of making music if there is no audience to listen to it?

Cheers,

Michi.
#23458
Carl wrote:
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?)

Michi wrote:
Yes. A simple solo played with confidence and correct placement can sound great, despite not requiring great technical skill.
Couldn't agree more. I'll add that engaging in a conversation with the dununs is even better.

One teaching tool for developing a good ear is to have students copy the dunun phrases on their djembe, playing different sounds for the sangban, dununba, and kenkeni. This helps get the dunun phrases on the djembe and then students can drop out or add notes from there.

-Brian
#23489
Yeah, this is a really grey area for sure. Tons of people who come to 'advanced' classes here who still don't understand where to correctly place the break, and quite a few are still pretty challenged in just finding the beat. I used to find it incredibly frustrating, but now I just take it as an opportunity to learn better how to teach beginners.

I would say for sure technique is a must - once you have clean technique, and can hold down accompaniment parts in a class without getting lost, and understand where the break fits into the dunun phrase, you can call yourself intermediate. Oh, and I'd include being able to hold down an off-beat djembe or kenkeni part in that qualification, along with being able to play a basic repertoire of accompaniment parts without having to be reminded what they are and where they fit every time.

I've been playing nearly 15 years and would still consider myself an 'advanced' intermediate. I have decent technique, a fairly broad solo vocabulary, and can improvise semi-convincing solo phrasing, and I'm a pretty decent dununfola, but I'm still a total beginner when it comes to playing for dancers (mostly for lack of opportunity). And I'm still working on my stamina.
#23494
What I've been finding lately is that the more I learn the less I actually know. I'm finding it pleasantly surprising to review 'old rhythms' that I think I know well and find something new. West African music is quite rich and the further I progress the more nuances I can pick up, which appears to make the fun and learning never-ending.

Best,
-Brian
#23496
bkidd wrote:What I've been finding lately is that the more I learn the less I actually know.
Same for me. The more I learn, the more acutely do I become aware of my own ignorance. Every time I learn something, it opens up at least three new questions. Seems like a losing battle, sometimes ;-)
I'm finding it pleasantly surprising to review 'old rhythms' that I think I know well and find something new.
Yes. I've been furiously practicing for the certificate. I've come to the conclusion that, ten years from now, I'll still find new ways to play those twelve solo originals better.
West African music is quite rich and the further I progress the more nuances I can pick up, which appears to make the fun and learning never-ending.
You are definitely right about the never-ending bit. There are times where I'm not so sure about the fun bit. Occasionally, I wonder what madness got into me to try and learn this dang instrument in the first place. I'm probably delusional in believing that I'll ever amount to anything on the djembe. But, what the heck, just another lesson the djembe has to teach.

It's the journey that matters…

Michi.
#23503
Occasionally, I wonder what madness got into me to try and learn this dang instrument in the first place.
You're not alone in this. I'm sure this very question is one of the reasons this board exists. At least you have many "mad" friends to share your experiences with. :)
It's the journey that matters…
So true. It's good to be reminded of this every time I feel like I'm losing the battle as well ;)

-Brian
#23627
This past weekend I experienced first hand how hard it is to define levels. I did a workshop on Matché Traoré style playing Suku. I gave a great deal of material many weeks ahead of the workshop, including 3 complete transcriptions of three different recordings, a play along cd with slow downed loops of the complete recordings and all basic elements of the rhythm, so that everyone could prepare. Also, I made clear this really is an advanced workshop.

7 people came, and I think all of them are, in a way, advanced. All of them play for many, many years, some had great teachers. But all had different strengths and weak points. Some, who are used to play with African drummers only, did struggle with western teaching and the amount of different phrases on the konkoni and the jenbe. No idea about the notion of offbeat and difficulties to play it on their own to the groove.

Others were used to that kind of teaching but had much trouble with an real feel for the phrases, even though well prepared. As a result, the level had to become rather intermediate (still great fun, nice people and a lovely piece of music).

But with all the limitations for learning Suku, they all have some strengths I do not have, they all could play something I couldn't: some can play really fast and loud with lots of stamina, others know tons of rhythms and solos, some can easily pick up on the fly. So I think most of us are hybrids of beginner, intermediate, and advanced. A composite creature we are, like Plato used to say...
Last edited by djembefeeling on Mon Nov 21, 2011 11:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
#23630
Hi Djembefeeling,

Good points. I'm curious, what were your expectations for people being advanced to attend your workshop?

I think you've nailed it with the composite creature comment. One of the great things about workshops is that we hopefully get to experience something that is slightly out of our musical comfort zone to enable us to grow as musicians.

Best,
-Brian
#23635
bkidd wrote:I'm curious, what were your expectations for people being advanced to attend your workshop?
hi brian,

my expectations for this workshop were, first of all, that they all prepare with the material in advance (I know I am living in utopia), cause it has been so much work to create all the stuff. There are only 3 basic solopatterns for Matchés Suku (along with, of course, a couple of variations) one interface/ bridge or whatever you want to call it, and one exciting solotrip, which is extremely crazy and fun at the same time. that along with the specific swing and the arrangement, the whole dramaturgy of the composition, is what I really wanted to teach.

So I expected them to be a) able to prepare stuff and b) have competence in basic concepts of rhythms of the family like offbeat, swing and the like, so we could care about the musical piece as a whole instead of sticking to the basic patterns. but I could, in the end, teach some of the musically interesting aspects, too. so this experience has been composite again. and, thats the best part, I got them on the hook, they want a follow up. now that they know how rich this material is, they want to get through to the real music...

cheers, jürgen
#23636
Jurgen,

What a great post about the various strengths and weaknesses of your students. It really captures the challenge of trying to label people. Thank you for putting it so beautifully.
But with all the limitations for learning Suku, they all have some strengths I do not have, they all could play something I couldn't: some can play really fast and loud with lots of stamina, others know tons of rhythms and solos, some can easily pick up on the fly. So I think most of us are hybrids of beginner, intermediate, and advanced. A composite creature we are, like Plato used to say...
#23637
Michi,
You are definitely right about the never-ending bit. There are times where I'm not so sure about the fun bit. Occasionally, I wonder what madness got into me to try and learn this dang instrument in the first place. I'm probably delusional in believing that I'll ever amount to anything on the djembe. But, what the heck, just another lesson the djembe has to teach.

It's the journey that matters…
I love this!

It is amazing where the journey takes you. From the highs to the lows. I feel like after nearly 6 years, I am just now starting the scratch the surface of the whole drumming thing. In my case, I have put djembe on the back burner for the last couple years and decided to work the dunun full time. (Sort of retracing my steps. In Mali you always start on dunun.) It has opened up a whole new can of worms!
User avatar
By e2c
#23638
Rachel, I hear you on the duns being a big challenge - but there's lots that you already know. It's not as if you started yesterday - and Sidy would not be asking you to play out if he didn't have confidence in your ability.

I have a feeling that you know a lot more than you think you do... maybe focusing on what you have achieved already as a marker for what you will be able to learn/play would be a good idea, no? ;)