Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Drumming as Part of the Curriculum

Kindergartners and 1st graders from Mrs. Peters' class pose with their drums donated by Remo and World Music Drumming
Thanks to the generous support of Remo Belli of Remo Drums and Will Schmid of World Music Drumming, JAMM was gifted enough drums to outfit an entire classroom of students. World Music Drumming embraces many of the principles of El Sistema, including group ensemble, use of complex repertoire and folk music from the Americas and joyful music-making.

This past summer I attended three World Music Drumming workshops while making my way back to Juneau. They included Drumming Up the Fun for 3 - 8 year old children, Kids Choir and Drums and Level 2 Drumming. All of the workshops gave me skills, strategies and lesson ideas to meaningfully integrate drumming into the music and school curriculum.

When students entered the music room this year, colorful drums lined the walls. We started out the year drumming to help build ensemble skills, introduce complementary rhythm patterns and reinforce active listening, while focusing on the lead drummer. Although I have drummed with my students in the past, this year was the first time I tried it with kindergartners and it was incredible to watch!

I use a strategy, I term "Levels." Each time the class accomplishes a skill, we move on to the next skill level. The important note here is that they must still maintain all of the previous skills mastered. In one 40-minute kindergarten class, the students reached Level 12!

Here's the process:
  • Level 1: Strong standing position (hands are initially behind their backs so they aren't tempted to hit the drums at random)
  • Level 2: Echoing the lyrics to a song (you first need to know how to sing the song before you can accompany it on the drums)
  • Level 3: Enunciating the lyrics (aka "Vegetable Mouth" - "words are much more exciting when you say them like crunchy vegetables in your mouth")
  • Level 4: Smiling while saying the lyrics
  • Level 5: Mouthing the words while teacher sings
  • Level 6: Singing the lyrics
  • Level 7: Sitting at the drum: edge of seat, flat feet, straight back and hands on your knees
  • Level 8: Clapping the last note of my drum rhythm (which signals stop) while I chant it
  • Level 9: Clapping the last note of my drum rhythm while I play it on the drum
  • Level 10: Placing that last note of my drum rhythm as a low tone on the middle of the drumming and "freezing."
  • Level 11: Practicing steady beat (not easy for these little guys!)
  • Level 12: Playing your own rhythms, but stopping together on the drum signal
After each skill, I announce, "Take a bow, you have reached Level __ in drumming." From singing to holding a steady beat, the class is determined to reach higher levels of skill mastery. By the end of the lesson, they had reached Level 12. These levels are not written in stone and are often created as the lesson evolves, which is why I sometimes forget the corresponding number (you'll see this in the video below). The students are pretty good at keeping tally. In the video, I've documented the Levels process in an edited version.  Also take note of the tremendous focus, control, eye-hand coordination and delayed gratification of these young musicians, as well as their pride and joy.

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