you first learn how to play the djembe, you may sometimes
feel quite overwhelmed by all the new things to keep in mind
while trying to play it right at the same time. It gets extra
rough when all of the other students seem to find it really
easy while you are struggling to grasp anything at all...
how to play the drum should be easy and fun all of the time,
and it can be, especially if you regard the tips and advice
of this chapter. The big question is whether the teaching
you get is adapted to your way of learning!
Three different ways of learning
The fact that it takes
a different amount of time for different individuals to learn
something need not only be due to different conditions, backgrounds
and qualifications. It can also be due to our different ways
of learning things.
Some people learn
best by physically doing what they are supposed
to learn. They remember what they have done with their body;
they use their physical memory. Others do not
learn until they can see an inner picture of
what they are supposed to learn. They remember what they have
seen; they use their visual memory. Those in
the third category learn by hearing what they
are supposed to learn. They remember what they have heard;
they use their aural memory.
Normally, we do not
use just one of these three ways of learning, but rather a
combination of all three, depending on the situation. We usually
find one of them more rewarding to use than the two others,
however, and consequently prefer to use that one. A good teacher
will therefore pay equal respect to all three ways of learning.
Find out what your primary way of learning is!
Let someone clap a simple rhythm while your eyes are closed.
Then try to clap the same rhythm.
Let someone clap a simple rhythm while you are watching with
your hands plugging your ears. Then try to clap the same rhythm.
Let someone clap a simple rhythm on your back while you keep
your ears plugged with your hands. Then try to clap the same
In djembe classes
the teacher usually instructs the students by playing the
rhythm they are supposed learn, one portion at a time. The
students listen and watch the teacher play, then respond by
trying to play the same way.
All three ways of
learning are possible here, but they typically occur in a
certain sequence. Those who learn by listening
or watching get a head start to those who learn
by doing. Once the class starts playing, however,
those who learn by listening may get into trouble:
If the rhythm is not played correctly, there is a risk that
they will hear and learn a distorted version of the rhythm!
If a student has difficulties
keeping up with a class, it may simply be due to his or her
way of learning. As we soon shall see, however, it can also
depend on the students stage of progress.
Four stages of progress
Before you master a rhythm, you usually go
through four different stages while you are learning it. You
will typically go through these four stages each time you
try to learn a new rhythm. However, as you gain experience,
you will progress more quickly through each stage.
The first stage is characterized by unconscious
ignorance you believe you play everything right
although you do not. You have simply not caught the nuances
of the rhythms, so you think just about everything sounds
right. To progress from here you need only to acquire some
more rhythmic experience.
At the second stage you get into conscious
ignorance you know exactly when you play incorrectly
and you also know why. You are simply not able
to do what it takes to play it right. To progress from here
you simply need to practice more.
At the third stage you have attained conscious
proficiency you know how to play it correctly
and you do. Your hands are now doing exactly what you direct
them to do when you play. To progress from here you just need
to play more.
At the fourth stage there is unconscious
proficiency you play it correctly without consciously
controlling your hand movements as you play. Your hands are
now working as a direct channel for your intention, inspiration
As a beginner, you may struggle for a long
time with each stage before you progress, because there are
so many basic things you need to learn. But once you have
learned the basics you will progress through the different
stages with greater speed each time you learn to play a new
Apart from the four stages of progress, there
is still another way of looking at the development of a drummer
that can also be divided into four stages. This progress deals
with how well you are able to play a part that you have learned,
and can be described by the following gradual development.
1. You can play the part with other drummers.
2. You can play the part by yourself.
3. You can play the part while other
parts are played.
4. You can teach someone else to play the
At the first stage, you are only required
to recognize the part and to be able to play it along with
the other drummers of the group. You may temporarily lose
the part without it being noticed. At the second stage, you
know the part so well that you will neither lose it nor stumble.
At the third stage, you have embraced the part so completely
that you can clearly hear it within you whenever you wish
to regardless of what is going on around you. At the
fourth stage, you are able to communicate what you have learned
Of course, everybody does not have the ambition
to go through all four stages and may be quite satisfied with
being at any one of the first three. This is one of the great
things about African drumming you will get the same
amount of pleasure from drumming whether you are a beginner
or if you are advanced!