On Saturday, November 22, I taught my first ever workshop.
I was very fortunate to be able to use a friend’s amazing backyard as the workshop space, and it could not have been more conducive. She is a tattoo artist, and just about as earthy and funky as it is possible to be without being naked and covered in paint and mud. Her backyard is a veritable Shangri-La, with objects de art, pottery, plants, winding paths and tons and tons of flowers and fresh scents. There was plenty of seats, and she even provided a snack/refreshments/buffet of luncheon goodness.
Needless to say, I think that she is awesome! Thanks Shannon!
We gathered at noon, and my intent was to teach a two hour class, covering the very basics of tribal drumming.
As this was my first workshop, I thought I would be getting a handful of students. Maybe five or six. I had twelve sign-ups, but my experiences in other areas had told me to expect half of the sign-ups to be show-ups…
I had nineteen students! All the sign-ups made it, and they brought husbands, boyfriends, and friends with them.
Those who know me know that I am, um, retentive by nature. I am a planner, and so I happened to have made twenty copies of my workshop’s worksheet. Now you all know why I am the way I am: It sometimes comes in handy!
So, nineteen… I can handle this…
First of all, I was very nervous. All the doubts. All the what ifs. The whole deal, all of it was there. What if my first Ka sounded horrible? What if I forgot how to count out loud and play at the same time? What if my “drummers are sexy!” comment went over like a lead balloon?
What if, what if, WHAT IF?!?
Well, I was here, and so where they and sometimes there is nothing to it but to do it… I took a deep breath, and started the introductions.
I have always liked the phrase, “If you are going to steal, steal from the very best”, and it was my every intention to do so. In the workshops that I have taken I have always liked instructors that outlined what we were going to be doing in the class, so after the introductions I went over a basic outline of our goals for the workshop. I wanted everyone to be familiar with rules of tribal drumming, good posture, how to strike the Doum, the Ka, and the Tek, how to count while playing a rhythm, and three basic rhythms to use for practice and performance.
I decided it was probably best to go over the basic rules of tribal drumming first.
A single page in my handout covered that pretty well.
- The Three Simple Rules of Tribal Drumming
- 1) Have Fun.
- 2) Stay Relaxed.
- 3) Do Not Stop.
- The Three Slightly Complicated Rules of Tribal Drumming
- 1) Tone Is More Important Than Speed.
- 2) Less is More.
- 3) Never Neglect the Groove.
- The Three Very Complicated Rules of Tribal Drumming
- 1) Keep the Dancers Happy.
- 2) Keep the Musicians Happy.
- 3) Keep the Drummers Happy.
I read them all aloud in a mock serious, radio announcer, deep voice, and by the time I was done with that everyone was laughing and pretty loosened up, including me. Drumming is fun, and it is best not to be too serious. I think that all of the students got that message loud and clear.
I asked if there were any questions yet?
(And I went back to that all the time. As a teacher I think it is my job to challenge students and then give them every opportunity to respond with feedback or ask questions to verify or clarify what I am teaching. In the beginning of the student-teacher interaction it is very important to make sure that the student knows they are expected to have questions, and encouraged to ask them. Questions are good.)
The students were all brand new, and most had never held a drum before so I knew that I would be going over the basics of posture, hand and arm position in holding the drum, and the drum position itself. That went pretty smoothly and I was very happy with everyone’s level of attention and focus.
Then came the Doum. The backbone, and the most important tone in the doumbek player’s arsenal. Everyone caught on pretty quickly, and then I threw the first curve.
Most workshops I have attended, or been told about by those who did attend, have a technique where the instructor puts everyone on the spot individually to hear how they sound. Useful, but nerve-wracking for the new students. I decided to try something new, and at the same time introduce and reinforce a very important aspect of tribal drumming.
I had the students demonstrate their Doums as duos and trios.
I thought that it would help them all to learn to make eye contact with the other drummers, communicate together, and to watch each other’s hand to get on beat together.
It was great. Instantly the duos and trios began to create a sense of togetherness among the students. Mistakes were shared, not highlighted. Do Not Stop made perfect sense to them. I was able to hear the individuals clearly, take a moment to correct their fingers or hands or the way they were striking, and then let them go right back into the Doums and hear the immediate improvement. It also allowed the students who were merely listening (while they waited their turns) to hear the tribal ensemble sound, and to start developing the ability to tell one drum from the other.
Not to be too arrogant, but the duos and trios idea was the smartest thing I have done in terms of teaching or leading a drum group. It is such an elegant technique, and not only does it put nervous students at ease, but it enhances the experience of the workshop by making learning a community effort.
After about thirty minutes all of the students had the posture down, and the Doums were clear in tone, nice and steady. It was time for the hard part… The Ka.
Learning to strike a clean and sharp Ka takes monthes, if not years. It is a very, very, unnatural way to hit the drum. Loose arm, wrist and hand, and only the ring finger with any tension at all. The ring finger on the left hand. Put it this way, there is a pragmatic reason we wear wedding rings on that finger: It sees very little use.
I had no expectation of any student being able to get it down in thirty minutes.
But, with the duos and trios, and a bit of inspired metaphor (Dead Man’s Ka!), most of the students had the technique down quickly. At the very least I wasn’t worried about anyone hurting themselves, or developing a really bad habit that would lead to injury down the road.
Once the Ka was out of the way Tek was pure cake. Again, the duos and trios helped the students to play confidently, be relaxed, and have fun. The students sounded really good. Certainly good enough to fit right into a public drum circle, contribute, and not be self conscious at all.
Once all three basic tones were explained, and everyone was fairly comfortable with them, we started on some basic changing drills. Doum-Ka-Tek-Ka. Doum-Ka-Ka. Ka-Tek-Ka. That sort of thing… The really important thing in my opinion was that all of the drills were very Ka heavy. No such thing as too much practicing with the Ka.
And then it was time for a short break. Refreshments, some stretching, and so on. About fifteen minutes to work out the kinks and absorb the new knowledge a bit.
Once everyone got back from the break I asked if there were any questions, or feedback? Was there something I needed to explain more thoroughly? Anything that didn’t make sense? Was I going too fast? Was I making too many bad jokes? Anything?
And then the big ones: Is everyone having fun so far? Are you all getting the hang of it?
And then the biggest question: Do you want to learn a rhythm and play the drum?
A resounding yes! Sweet! I have drummers! Love, love, love the drummers.
And so I went over the Maqsum. Maqsum has a lot to recommend it as a teaching rhythm:
- It is 4/4, and very basic.
- It can be played with Teks and Kas interchangably which is awesome for practice.
- It lends itself well to ornamentation later on.
- It is part of the larger rhythm family that includes Beledi, Saidi, Sombati, etc…
I started everyone off in duos and trios again, always trying to vary the groups. I wanted as much interconnectedness (I think I made that word up) as possible.
We played Maqsum as a group for about thirty minutes.
I had them play it both with Teks (Doum – Tek – Tek – Doum – Tek), and with Kas (Doum – Ka – Ka – Doum – Ka), and with alternating Teks and Kas (Doum – Ka – Tek – Doum – Ka).
I asked again if there were any questions. Was everyone feeling pretty confident?
We were past two hours, and getting near two and a half. It was time to wrap it up, and so I started up the entire group on Maqsum, all nineteen students and I. Played it groovy and slow, loud and confident. We sounded great. Huge smiles. We ended the Maqsum on a big DOUM DOUM DOUM TEK! Great.
I thanked everyone and made sure that they all had the handouts. And all of the students were very kind and complimentary, and interested in the next workshop. (Holy moly, a “next workshop”…)
Personally I had a great time. It was a complete blur, but wonderful. And hearing everyone playing together on the Maqsum after just two and a half hours was thrilling.
And I learned as much as I taught. About pacing, about listening to technique, and seeing a bad habit from the other side. (Since I went over the Ka in such exhaustive detail my own Ka has improved, really. I was pleasantly stunned.)
Just like always, the “what ifs” were a bunch of fearful rubbish.
Thanks again to everyone who came, and there will for sure be another one soon! It was too much fun to not do that again.