How to Drum
About Traditional Rhythm
Every culture I have visited, explored and studied about (be it Africa or The Caribbean) has commonalities in its approach to rhythm. Basically, every rhythm pattern, structure or ‘family’, if you will, has a purrpose for being or existing in its culture. The rhythms hold an important place in the everyday and celebratory life of village culture. A rhythm, song, and dance will always accompany an important event.
Each rhythm has a structure or pattern, a song that accompanies it, as well as a dance. An often overlooked aspect is that each pattern or rhythm also has an ‘intention’. In other words: What is this rhythm for?
For example, Kassa is a cultivating rhythm played to accompany a harvest. There is a song about the work, perhaps, and a dance with “traditional” steps. This indicates the steps have been passed down from generation to generation.
In our Western culture we often learn a rhythm without knowing its significance; often without the song, too, so in a sense we are learning missing parts.
In my drum workshops we study traditional drum rhythms, songs and their meanings from a variety of cultures and sources.
In the village everyone has a job and everyone is equally important. The same philosophy applies in drumming: no one in the drumming ensemble (the “circle”) and by extension, no part of the piece performed, is more important than any other one. For example, the clave player, who plays the seemingly simple cowbell, is as imprortant as the pianist, bassist, horn players or any of the other band members. In Cuba a musician may just play the clave. That’s it, nothing else. Yet, he’s setting the tempo for he whole band.
In the West African ensemble the dunun and kinkini players, who hold the pulse (and don’t change rhythm or improvise), are just as important as the lead djembe drummers. Many percussionists do not want to play the Cuban clave or kinkini. They feel insignificant or as if their status in the group is lower than that of the others. They also want to express themselves with creative solos. However, when one really surrenders, accepts and opens up to the traditional rhythm alchemy they often find that the repetitive part, like a mantra in meditation, is conducive to great satisfaction and fulfillment.
In Class, Session or Festivities
When we gather to play music, be it traditional or non-traditional, leave your personal problems outside the circle. This is very important because drumming is sacred and should be expressed as such.
Contrary to popular belief, dance class is not the place to learn how to drum. I often go to dance class where there are drummers who do not know how to play even the most basic parts. This does not help the music, which is only as strong as its strongest link. It is much better to practice in small pods (groups). If you are not an advanced drummer, don’t go to advanced classes! An advanced drummer can go to a beginners’ class and learn. Sorry, though, it does not work the other way around.
Often lower-level drummers will go to advanced classes. As African teachers want everyone to be happy (and often need the cash) they will, of course, allow anyone to come, the result being the class doesn’t advance as quickly.
Your own rhythm is valid! Everyone has rhythm, inherent rhythms, an essential part of us. Have you ever heard a song and just started naturally tapping along? In the bank, the mall, your car – anywhere there’s music – your hands, feet, head are often keeping time. And you’re not even thinking about it.
This is “your” rhythm. It is our goal in an “Inner Drumming ” workshop to help you to find your “inner rhythm”. Through enjoyable group interaction and/or privately, we can explore and bring out each other’s rhythms and, furthermore, develop these rhythms as useful and creative tools to be employed in our daily lives.
Drum Language: “The Respect”
The drum, whether it’s a bongo, conga, djembe or whatever, speaks a language. One doesn’t pick up a violin and just start playing. If you did, it would not sound harmonious. Drums are the same. To the uninitiated, it seems like anyone can play a drum. You casually play it without any technique or structure, get an immediate sound and perhaps believe, ‘Wow, I can play’.
The opposite is true. Like a violin or piano, the drum deserves respect. It is absolutely essential to learn how to make a tone, a slap, a bass and a muff note – to start. Then, it is equally important to learn how to put it all together. This is called drum language. In many cultures, especially in the Cuban and West African traditions, you speak (communicate) on the drum. Some drummers teach actual sounds, for example: pa and ta as slaps, go and do as tones and gun/dun as bass.
There are many drummers who came before you. There are many who came before them. It would behoove you to find out who is in the lineage and give “props” (R-E-S-P-E-C-T) to those elders in your own village!
Michael Pluznick has over 25 years of teaching experience and is considered the “teacher’s teacher”, having studied with master drummers during his numerous trips to Cuba, Africa and Brazil.
Many of today’s top drum and workshop facilitators have studied extensively with Michael. Arthur Hull and Jim Greiner (LP) have, among many others.
He has taught all over the globe, but considers himself a perennial student. He says, “I will always be a student. Good students make the best teachers.” Michael offers private and group classes in traditional drumming and percussion from Cuba, Haiti, West Africa and Brazil.
He also will create specific workshops catered to the needs of of any student, group or individual.
“Michael’s unique ability to take the seemingly intricate and abstract and transmute it into the simple and accessible is truly amazing!”