Mixed groups, levels and beginner classes

Im running 2 classes at the moment.

Drummed Up at Broadacre House on Market St in Newcastle City Centre Thursdays 6.30-9.30pm

and Byker Community Centre, Headlam St Byker Newcastle Mondays 7-9pm (NE6 2DX).

For new players, I encourage them to come to my Byker Class which is currently at week 4 of 11 and has 4 new players attending. The group is mixed with more experienced players in the same session but the nature of the material lends itself to inclusivity – no one need feel left out and there are several parts which are accessible for all players.

Drummed Up has been running since 2002 and while new players do attend, it can be more difficult to accommodate them unless they have some prior drumming or musical experience. The focus is on developing pieces for performance as well as providing a challenge for all levels. I also encourage all players to ‘take ownership’ of the music by remembering their parts and even leading the rhythm, working together and enabling me to step back a little. In this way, I hope to build up the independence of the players – which can feel a little daunting as well as exciting. When I don’t play, each individual internalises the part they are playing and the group sound is a true picture of the participants ability at that moment. We are also preparing for a performance at Newcastle Community Green Festival on 7th June 12 noon.

For new players, the goal is to develop a solid foundation based on correct technique and learning rhythm patterns on both djembe and on bass drums with bells. As the music is comprised of many parts all playing at the same time, drumming is a journey of listening as much as playing.

When there are some more experienced players in the same group as beginners, learning is accelerated for everyone. New players get to hear and learn the parts correctly and can ‘buddy up’ until they feel confident and more experienced players can take responsibility for playing the parts solidly and independently of me and supporting other players.

I think there is also a place for a beginners class where everyone is learning the foundations together. During a day session we can look at the bass drum and bell patterns and also djembe technique and some common rhythm patterns. In this way, new players who then join a more established class have a basic understanding of how the music fits together and should be able to play the parts they have learned as part of the rhythm piece.

The beauty of the West African rhythms is that very quickly, anyone can play a part and contribute fully to the music but at the same time, there is a lifetime of learning and depth to explore.

When I attended my first Glenisla drum village in 2004, I was very inexperienced and sat in on a couple of the advanced workshops and found myself very lost – unable to play the parts the teacher was teaching and unable to hear whether I was playing in the correct timing.

Later when I had a few more years experience I really appreciated the opportunity of learning rhythms with my peers – who all had a good grounding of technique, timing and lots of djembe playing and bass drumming experience. The material was often very challenging but great fun and we knew that we would need a lot of practice to play the material correctly – our homework.

When I attended mixed workshops, I saw it as an opportunity to learn more accessible rhythms and play them really well – with the best technique I could, try to remember all the different solos, breaks and learn the bass drums too. This material would often be the basis of my own teaching repertoire offering challenge and complexity for more advanced players but accessible material for beginners too.

I was always impressed by the skill and ability of the African teachers to work with mixed ability groups and for everyone to have fun, learn a lot and feel challenged at their level. I was inspired to bring that to my own teaching.

Despite playing for more than 12 years, I do still adopt the ‘beginner’s mind’ when learning new material with a teacher. I put my trust there, relax as much as possible, be open to what is being shared and do not put pressure on myself to play perfectly straightaway.

If I do this, often I learn very quickly but I still try to remain relaxed and play with good technique and I try to connect what Im playing with what others are playing through listening and watching. I also know that I will record the material and study at home later when I will internalise it before teaching it.

I find it remarkable how quickly others learn the material I teach, considering the hours I spend learning and understanding it. I think it is worth noting that the way I learn has changed a great deal – I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right straightaway and not not make mistakes and to berate myself when I inevitably did. I have managed to change a lot of this behaviour and the result is to play in a relaxed way which I see more and more in my own students.

I aim to run some beginner sessions perhaps over the summer and definitely into Autumn and throughout the next year. This will provide access points into my courses and build up the confidence and skills of new players.



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