Monday, May 16, 2016

So You Think You Can Drum: Most Fun Lessons

Whether you have one week or five weeks left of school, we are all looking for fun, engaging lessons for our elementary music students!  In Michigan, our year ends the second week in June and May is our testing month.  I have the great fortune of having my room far removed from the rest of the building, so we drum in May!  I don't know a student who doesn't love to drum.  So let's get those drums out!

We warm up by reviewing hand strokes and echoing a variety of rhythms.  I emphasize that students need to not only listen to the pattern, but also watch the strokes I use on the drum.  The first few lessons, I go around the circle and have every student play a rhythm pattern for me, checking to make sure they are matching the drum stroke as well.  (In case you are wondering - open stroke is fingertips on the edge of the drum and closed stroke is palm in the center of the drum.)

Open Stroke
Closed Stroke
After we've echoed patterns, we work improvising patterns.  I give the students 2-3 minutes to come up with a few rhythms they feel comfortable playing in front of each other.  Each pattern is supposed to have 4-beats, but what comes "between" those beats is up to them.  After they have had a chance to rehearse, we go around the circle.  I play a pattern, then the student next to me plays, then I play, then the next.  Every child performs a pattern.  If they get nervous, I give them a "safe pattern" to play - four beats.  As each child performs, the rest of the class has a job too.  They can: listen for sameness/differences in our two patterns, they can count to ensure the performer has in fact included 4-beats in their pattern, or they can translate my pattern or the student's pattern using rhythm solfege.  Either way, EVERYONE has a job to do while an individual performs.  Brilliant, right?  When we're done, we debrief:  what did they notice?  Was hand position good?  Did people use 4-beats in each pattern?  What rhythms did they hear?  Were they basic quarter-note/eight-note patterns, or did people use other, more complex rhythms.

Drumming Up Some Fun
From there, one of my students' favorite things to do is play an interactive game called "Drumming Up Some Fun."  They get to click on a drum ensemble (much like themselves).  Each click reveals a rhythm pattern to read first, then play!  Two of the choices have either "DRUM JAM" or "IMPROVISE" as their selection.  My students love finding them in the game because they get 90 seconds of jam time on the drum.  There are two levels to the game, so older kids can read and perform more complex rhythms.
Drumming Up Some Fun: Piece by Piece
If my students complete that, we move on to beginner drum ensemble pieces.  I created a bunch of beginning pieces so my students could learn the basics of drum ensembles.  They learn about the "energizer" rhythm - the one that keeps the group together as well as complementary rhythms that play off of each other.  We also play with rhythm puzzles and the students create pieces of their own to perform in class.  Either way, my students are having a BLAST performing, reading, and arranging their own drumming pieces.  

There is so much depth and richness in drumming with students.  Beyond the music concepts covered, it's a great way to promote synergy and teamwork among students!  Drumming is truly a favorite activity in my music room!

If you're looking for information on how to get started, click on my post, So You Think You Can Drum: Getting Started.  If you have some great, FUN lessons for the end of the year - link up with me below!

So You Think You Can Drum: Getting Started

My students LOVE to play the drums, but there's so much to do to set up before a drum unit.  I'm sharing the basics in this post.  What do you need and how you get started.

So what exactly do you need?  Drums!  I've taught for 20 years and before you scroll down and look at my fancy pictures, take a breath.  I've taught on a cart.  I've taught in a portable.  I've taught in a cafeteria with nothing more than a digital piano and a CD player.  I've taught in rooms with no equipment and I've had my PTA write checks for $5000 worth of instruments.  I've done it all.  My current teaching location had no drums when I came here 9 years ago.  Zip. Nada. Nothing.  I'm a firm believer in visioning and writing down what you want.  I made a 3-page list of everything I wanted.  And I told people.  And I wrote grants.  Lots and lots of grants.  And I was rejected lots and lots of times, but I learned instead of getting discouraged.  My second year, I received a $3000 grant which purchased the bulk of my drums.  (Always buy quality over quantity - tunable over non-tunable!)  I purchased 19 tubanos that year.  Then each year I added one or two until I had 30 total.  Slow and steady wins the race.  My drum ensemble includes 9-14" tubanos, 10-12" tubanos, 9-10" tubanos, 2-14" djembes and 1 ngoma (my drum).  I also have a variety of percussion instruments that can be used for ensemble work.  My first year, we used hand drums, congas, floor toms, gathering drums, empty milk jugs and anything else we could get our hands on.  Don't wait for the perfect set-up to drum.  Get busy now!

I'm a firm believer in teaching students to be responsible for their instruments in every way possible.  As my students enter the room, everyone washes their hands with soap and water.  Everyone.  Yes, it takes a few minutes but it's time I'm willing to sacrifice to stave off illness at the expense of my drums.  Once their hands are clean, students move the drums into place.  Yes, the students move the drums.  I teach my students how to hold the handle with one hand and protect the drum head with the other.  I want them to take ownership of the drums.  If they understand how to care for them and why to care for them (because they are expensive to repair/replace), they will be better invested in their care.
I don't have chairs in my room so I purchased 30 stools from IKEA a few years ago.  Students can choose to get a stool, stand or kneel while we drum.  The IKEA stools are inexpensive and the perfect height for drumming (and ukulele playing too)!
Once the drums are out - we JAM!  I give my students about 90 seconds to simply drum however they choose.  Get all the sillies out of their system.  Explore the drum and all the ways it makes sound.  I have found that when I give my students some free play time on the drum, they are less likely to play around during our instructional time.
At the end of class, the students do one of two things: 1) if the next class is drumming, they move the drums one foot inside the circle, so that the next class can sit in their circle seats before we drum, or 2) help move them back into their storage area.  Because I lack space in my room, I store the drums on top of one another to maximize space.
Check out my next post: So You Think You Can Drum: Most Fun.  I'll talk about all of the ways we have fun and jam in music class!