If you are like myself and get overwhelmed easily at a class or with a lot of information from various sources then you do need to simplify things. There is so much information out there between Youtube, the internet, informational books and CD’s that it is easily to overload your system and not learn anything! I know a lot of people who buy everything and then never even look at it. Often I see people in class filming and they never watch it. The desire is there, but there is no form or format to follow so nothing happens.
If you are just starting out or if you have been playing for a while and you have not been improving or you do not feel you are growing musically then you may need to revamp your training program as well.
For me it’s all about simplicity. Simplify things.
One key tool I have found is watching myself in the mirror, and playing infront of the mirror, at least for part of my training session. By doing so you can easiy “self correct”, watching your hand position, your form, your posture. You will be surprised at first what you see, what you did not know what you are doing. Most of us stare down at our hands for example. But you can’t do that if you look in the mirror.
For beginners, instead of trying to learn everything at once, try to pick one rhythm to focus in on at a time. Just one. For example if you are studying west african rhythm arrangements lets look at the rhythm Kuku. Learn the kinkini part first, the seemingly easiest part. Practice it every day for a week or until you have it memorized. Then learn the sangban part. Then the dununba part. One part at a time. Don’t move to the next part until you have memorized the first part.
You will want to learn the most basic parts and then how to form a structure with these parts, just like you are building a frame for a house. Then later on you can add the decorations or the solo parts.
The creative comes after the foundation has been laid and all the parts, the walls to the house and roof are up and in place.
A basic tip is to then try to practice it in the morning even if it is vocaly, at lunch and before bed. I am not talking about an hour each time, I am talking about singing the part a few times. Have it on your smart phone or portable digital recorder. Somewhere with you easy to access. Its got to be easy to access or you wont do it!
The same thing goes for the djembe. Learn one accompaniment part at a time. Just one. When you have memorized it, move on to the next part. If you are watching youtube videos or class videos try to play along with the video as well. The key is one part at a time. Once you have learned all the parts, try to find someone to practice with. Drums are about playing with other people so you are going to want to try to do this as much as possible. It is important to know where the rhythm starts and finishes. You will find this with the opening call and ending break.
In the car or whenever or wherever you listen to music, try to listen to the same piece over and over.
In West Africa they call training,”repetition”. So this is what we are going to do. In my car I keep a CD playing over and over with the same pieces I am studying from the same teacher. Of course if you are living with someone else who is not interested in drumming you can drive them crazy so be careful.
What I notice is that gradually over time I can hear what I am studying in the music I am listening. You may not hear it at first, but you will hear it if you listen to the same thing a lot. There is so much music out there, so many CD’s and downloads and I have a huge collection, but when i am in study mode i only listen to one thing at a time.
Whatever you are studying it is wise to have a simple system of notation or tablature. You don’t learn rhythm arrangements from notation, it is simply a tool for rhythm reference. We use this first de mystify the rhythms, to break them down, to write out the hand patterns. To understand them if we can. You use a different side of the brain to break the rhythms down and write them out so it is a good balance to the “feeling” side of the brain. Both together is the best. If you are missing one of the other you are going to have a hard time to learn and improve.
I never saw anyone in Africa writing things out, however they grow up with it as children every day listening to the drum music in context, immersed.My learning and teaching philosophy these days is that we do not have the privilege of total immersion unless we go live there so therefore, we need to use any tools at our disposal.
For my practice routine for west african djembe and dunun drumming I like to start each session playing the dunun parts for whatever rhythm I am working on. This gives me a frame work to start my practice session from. After I have practiced the dunun parts I then move to the djembe. If I am working on solo technique I try to remember what I was working on last time with out looking (crutching) on my notes.
I only go to the notes if i have forgotten. The idea is to use the notes initially or later on. I use a drum machine with the basic djemeb and dunun parts programmed in on whatever rhythms I am working on. You can use this on a program on your smart phone, iPad or computer as well, There are several apps you can explore for setting up your own arrangements on these devices or your home computer or laptop as well.
And you don’t have to do any of this, but i suggest at least some of these things. The main thing is to practice. Those of us that feel overwhelmed sometimes might not know where to start, so as i said in the first paragraph start with basics, one thing at a time. One of my teachers say’s even if it is just 5 minutes a day, it’s better then nothing. Many friends say, “I don’t have the time”. ANd i understand, but if you can put in 5 minutes that will help. The more you put in , the more you will get out!
The main thing is to keep everything you do simple. Simplify the process and make it easy for yourself and you will practice more and have more fun, too.