Drums of the World

It’s International Drum Month, and to celebrate, the MWC team have been exploring the world of drums – and the drums of the World.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of types of drum. They differ in sound, playing technique and materials, but also in their cultural and musical significance. Some drums have developed for dancing or performance music, others are vehicles for group experiences, meditative, celebratory and even military use.

What is a drum?

800px-Velociraptor-by-Salvatore-Rabito-AlcónA drum is a member of the percussion family of instruments. It is classed as a membranophone, which is a great word that sounds like a species of dinosaur!

What it actually means is that a drum consists of a membrane or skin stretched over a shell or vessel.

Drums can be made from anything – wood, metal, ceramic, plastic or even plants such as gourds. Junk percussion has become popular too, with instruments made from discarded and recycled materials. Sound is produced by hitting the membrane either with the hands, or with beaters or drumsticks.

Most drums are classified as non-tuned percussion. This means they are of indefinite pitch, they don’t play any particular notes. But some drums are tuned to definite pitches. Orchestral kettledrums, (timpani) are always scored to have specific notes, and Indian tabla drums are not just tuned, they play different pitches depending on the technique used to strike them. As the sound decays, the player applies pressure with the heel of the hand, which changes the pitch.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the tabla is practised as a solo instrument it will not necessarily be tuned, but when used as an accompanying instrument it will be tuned to specific notes, normally the first note of the octave, known as sadja or sa in Indian music (the tonic). The range of notes is fairly limited, so depending on the key of the music, the drum may be tuned to the fifth (pa) or fourth (ma).

The drum is tuned using wooden pegs called gattas. These are used to increase and decrease the tension of the skin. Pulling the gattas down increases the pitch as the skin becomes tighter, just like winding up a violin string will make its pitch higher. Pulling them up decreases the pitch. This mechanism is common in tuned drums – orchestral kettledrums have a modernised but similar system.

I do love the tabla. It’s so resonant it’s almost vocal, and the Tintal rhythm patterns add hypnotic energy to Indian music. I can’t get enough! Matthew Forbes, Cellist, Composer and Workshop Leader

Drums are found throughout the world and in all world music. Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe all have their own drum music, and each has a huge variety of percussion instruments.

Early evidence of drums include an image of a man-sized bass drum on a Sumerian vase which dates from around 3000 years BCE, and at least four sizes of drums were used in ancient Mesopotamia. Instruments from Ancient Egypt dating to around 1800 BCE have been discovered, and drums are mentioned in one of the earliest Chinese poems dating from 1135 BCE.

Drums seem to have reached Europe during the Crusading Era in the 12th century, where often they were played with a stick in one hand while the musician played a small pipe at the same time. This combination was often used for accompanying dance. Much more significant to the orchestral world was the arrival of the Arabian naker or naqqarah in the 13th Century, a small kettledrum, a modern version of which is now found in most symphony orchestras.

When most of us think of drums, the first thing that springs to mind is the drum kit (or drum set, as the American’s call it). A typical drum kit includes a snare drum, tom-toms, bass drum and cymbals such as hi-hat and ride. No pop or rock band is complete without one.

Check out this video to find out about the history of the modern drum kit…

Drums are played in so many other musical groups too. Brazilian samba is music for dancing, played in ensembles of many percussion instruments. Samba is an energetic music that immediately creates a positive, carnival atmosphere, and it’s a great way in to ensemble playing. It’s also a proactive way to start a workshop with participants who may not be confident instrumentalists. MWC Workshop Leader Chris Woodham says,

The starting point with all of my workshops, composition or otherwise, is drumming. That’s the way in, and the way into the students understanding that I’m an expert. It’s accessible; everybody can hold a drumstick; and I’ve found that it’s a great way to get everybody involved and working towards the same goal.

Read more about Samba music in our post, The Samba Workshop – How it Works.

For MWC Founder, Maria, the drum is the perfect instrument.

They are fabulous. It’s easy to get a sound from a drum, but extremely difficult to become a real drummer, whether you’re playing drum kit, djembes or tabla. Playing drums is very physical. It’s a great feeling to feel the vibrations of a drum passing through your body. I really enjoy playing djembes as part of a drumming circle. The energy and intricate rhythms are so powerful.

HHCMF14s-34The djembe is an interesting hand-drum from West Africa. The drum was used by storytellers and healers, as well as for ceremonial occasions. It is interesting to note that the power of musical vibration was considered significant for much more than entertainment purposes in so many ancient cultures – a holistic view that is once again becoming integrated into our awareness. You can read much more about the djembe and the benefits of drumming in our African drumming blog.

If you would like to find out more about drums and drumming, or to book one of our workshops in African Drumming, Samba, Junk Percussion or other drumming techniques, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

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The Music of North Africa

Our World Percussion Workshops at the Music Workshop Company  introduce participants to music from around the globe. We include African Drumming and Samba techniques, which we have looked at in detail in previous blogs, and we also investigate the music of North Africa.

North Africa has always been a region of diverse cultures, ethnicities and religions. Its recorded history stretches back to the Phoenician sea traders, Carthaginians and Greeks, and the area was under Roman control from around 200 BC to 300 AD. Subsequent Arab-Islamic conquests continued until the 16th century when the Ottoman Turks conquered Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Morocco was ruled by successive Arab-Berber Muslim dynasties until the 19th century, and many regions of North Africa were under the colonial control of France and Italy during the 19th and 20th centuries.Egypt_lyre_001

There has not been much detailed study of the early musical history of North Africa, with most historical information focusing on music from no further back than the 20th century. However, the music of the region dates back many thousands of years. In the period of ancient Egyptian history known as the Old Kingdom, which spanned from 2686-2181 BC, harps, flutes and double clarinets were commonly played, and are depicted in many paintings found in ancient burial chambers. The music developed to include percussion instruments, lutes and lyres during the Middle Kingdom, which was from 2050 to 1650 BC. This was more than 300 years before the reign of Tutankhamen.Egypt music

The North African region West of Egypt, is known as the Maghreb, a term which originates from the Arabic gharb, meaning west, and maghrib, meaning sunset. The Maghreb area includes Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and has an extensive tradition of folk music with ancient roots in the cultures of the Berbers, Sephardic Jews, Tuaregs and Nubians.

At MWC we use a North African goblet drum to explore these traditions in our workshops. The darbuka or darabouka drum, also known as the doumbek or derbeki, is a single headed membraphone hand drum, which was played in ancient Babylonia and Sumeria as early as 1100 BC. The name darbuka comes from the Arabic word darba, meaning to strike. The drum is played under the arm, or resting on the player’s leg. The technique requires a much lighter touch than other hand drums such as the West African djembe, and strokes include rolls and quick rhythms, which are articulated with the fingertips.

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There are two main types of goblet drum. The Egyptian style has rounded edges around the head of the drum, and the Turkish style has straight edges. The exposed edge of the Turkish drum allows closer access to the head, facilitating the finger-snapping techniques, whereas the rounded edge of the Egyptian drum makes it possible to perform rapid finger rolls.

The drum is played lightly with the fingertips and palm to produce a low, resonant sound. A hand can be placed in the bell of the drum and moved in and out to alter the tone, but the drumming technique consists of three main sounds

The first is called the doum. It is a deep bass sound produced by striking the head near the centre of the head with the palm and fingers. The fingers are held together and straight, and the hand is allowed to bounce off the drum immediately.

The second is a rim-stroke called the tek, produced by hitting the edge of the drum-head with the fingertips of the middle and ring fingers. This creates a higher-pitched sound which can also be struck with the secondary hand making a sound called a ka.

The third is the closed, slap sound called pa. The hand is rested on the drum head rapidly hand on the head to not permit an open sound. Fingers are looser than for the bass sound and remain on the drum skin.

DSC_0028There are also several more complex techniques which include snaps, slaps, pops and rolls. These variations, along with hand-clapping and making sounds by hitting the side of the drum, can all be used to ornament the basic rhythms.

Contact the Music Workshop Company today to enquire about our World Drumming Workshops.

Play in a Day

The Music Workshop Company’s “Play in a Day” workshop grew indirectly from Maria’s experience organising school plays and concerts. The aim of the workshop is for participants to work together with workshop leaders and teachers to stage a play in just one day.

The idea for “Play in a Day” came from talking to primary school teachers with no music or drama specialism. Many teachers found it hard to know where to start when asked to put on a performance, and others were too busy to spend weeks planning and preparing.

Putting on an affordable, successful production requires experience and confidence, and it takes time to find a story, research music and co-ordinate a performance. It takes a level of expertise to judge what the participants can achieve in the time, individually and as a group, and to know how best to use performance space, instrumentation and choreography. This is where MWC excels.SAM_1669

“Play in a Day” was developed for schools and community groups; Brownies, Guides, Cubs, Scouts and holiday clubs. In the course of a day, workshop participants learn songs, dances and percussion pieces from around the world, or from different periods in history. The workshop utilises simple, effective pieces that are quick and easy to learn, which allows participants to perform to a high standard within the intensive one-day framework. These pieces are linked through dialogue into a play with music.

One of our favourite themes for “Play in a Day” is a Magic Carpet story, a trip around the World where the main characters get to experience many different cultures. The performance includes singing, dancing and percussion, depending on which countries are visited. In previous workshops the magic carpet has stopped off in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Israel, Palestine, India, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, China, Japan and Brazil.

Sometimes the play is themed to incorporate International events like the World Cup or the Olympics, or it can tell the story of a festival such as Christmas. We can make a play to fit around specific topics, countries or cultures being studied by the children in other lessons, or even tell a Time Travel story.

When we’re working with a school, several classes will join together to create a performance. Each class will learn at least two pieces of music, which the MWC team choose to suit, amongst other things, the theme of the play and the age of the participants. These pieces are often picked on the day so they really work for each specific workshop group.

A workshop for four primary school classes, working with up to 35 children in each session, will contain a performance incorporating at least eight pieces, which can last from 20 to 30 minutes in total.

Sometimes participants choose to give their final performance to the rest of the school or to invite parents along, and even to make a video of the play to use in the school.

“Play in a Day” is a brilliant activity for primary school children, which was how the original concept was devised. It’s also an ideal workshop for all ages and abilities, in schools, or in community settings where we can work with up to 40 participants. Workshop leaders adapt the workshop to the abilities, creative inspiration and needs of the students.

One of our focuses at MWC is to work with clients to create workshops tailored specifically to their needs. “Play in a Day” is the perfect vehicle to design this sort of customised workshop, and to take advantage of the skills and knowledge of our workshop leaders and musicians to produce a wonderful performance that the children will learn from, be proud of and enjoy!

To enquire about our “Play in a Day” workshop, please contact the MWC team to discuss your requirements, pick a theme and book a day for your play.

Music Workshops for Black History Month

A music workshop is the perfect way to approach the emotive and valuable subject of Black History Month, which is coming up in October.

Here at the Music Workshop Company (MWC) we have been busy creating some brand new workshops designed to explore the culture and history of the African people through the universal, recognisable medium of music.

The African Songs and South African Songs workshops will include newly sourced songs, many of which we have collected in the time honored oral tradition by sharing material between our workshop leaders, each of whom has a huge and unique musical repertoire. MWC’s Maria ThomasBooks 2a also particularly loves hunting through second hand bookshops for unusual music to add to the workshops.

As well as these brand new workshops, MWC provides a wide variety of African music workshops, all of which can be tailored to the students to ensure that they get the most relevant and enjoyable experience of the music and the culture in which it developed.

Our West African Drumming workshop teaches djembe drumming in a traditional West African Drumming circle. In North African Percussion, students learn about the instruments and rhythms from North Africa, such as the Darabuka drum and the Riq, which is a traditional Arabic tambourine. Afro-American Songs explores the melodies and lyrics of the African musical tradition as it has developed in the USA, in which we include songs sung on the cotton fields of the deep South, and the Blues workshop teaches students about the tradition of Blues music and gives them the chance to write their own songs.

It is important to find an approachable and informative way to help students explore Black History Month, as it can be a difficult subject. The origins of Black History Month go back to 1926 when black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of two black slaves, began what he called “Negro History Week” in the USA. In 1926 the word “negro” was not thought to be an offensive word; it just means “black” in Spanish; but since the 1960s, it has fallen out of common use. Many people objected to the word because of its associations with the slave trade, and with terms of abuse.

Woodson’s goal was to educate Americans about the cultural backgrounds and achievements of people of African descent.  In 1969, the week’s celebration was expanded to a month and in 1976, Black History Month in February was endorsed by the US government. In the United Kingdom, Black History Month has been celebrated every October since 1987.Books 3a

Alongside the benefits of studying this pertinent history, learning about African and African-American music is a tremendous way for students to learn about the history of Classical, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Soul and Rock and Roll music, and to see its influences on modern Pop music. MWC is also devising a workshop which will cover the influence of African music in the 20th Century, how the music has developed in the Twentieth Century and its relevance to the development of Classical and Pop music.

African music brought many familiar rhythmical and harmonic features to Western music, including call and response, improvisation, syncopation, percussion, blue notes and the complex multi-part harmony of the spiritual. The music and folk dance of England as far as the Medieval period was also strongly influenced by the music of particularly North Africa.

MWC is looking forward to October’s workshops and exploring all of this music and history with lots of young people.

African Drumming – Culture, Confidence and Communication

DrummingAfrican Drumming is one of our most popular workshops here at Music Workshop Company.  Workshops are based on traditional drumming circles creating a positive, inclusive space in which to explore the music and culture of Africa, boost self-confidence and develop key skills. Our workshops are suitable for everyone, from school children to big business. African drumming is a fantastic, fun, team building exercise and sessions can be structured specifically to develop communication and performance skills, or to focus on African culture, rhythms and music.

The cultural history…

The djembe drums, which we use in our African Drumming workshops, originate from West Africa, from countries such as Ghana and Guinea. They are goblet-shaped; carved from a single piece of hardwood and covered with a goat skin. Played with the hands, the djembe produces three distinct tones or notes and is valued for its versatile, expressive voice.  African Drums

Traditionally the djembe was used by storytellers and healers, as an instrument of reconciliation in disputes within the community and for dancing for social occasions such as births, marriages, rites of passage, funerals and even the planting and harvesting of crops, all of which ceremonies have their own songs, dances and rhythms.

According to the Bamana people of Mali, the djembe gets its name from the saying, “Anke dje, anke be,” which translates as, “Everyone gather together in peace.” Dje translates to gather, and be translates to peace.

Learning and playing the djembe is a direct link to the ancient cultural traditions of West Africa. It is also very beneficial in ways which may not be immediately obvious.

Drumming increases wellbeing…

Playing the djembe is known to increase heart rate and blood flow. Apart from the physical effort of hitting the drum and the sense of the vibrations pulsating through the body, there is a certain tempo at which the heart rate accelerates. This happens once the beat is faster than 120bpm (two beats per second). The increased heart rate means that blood flows around the body faster, giving you a great internal workout.  Slower rhythms create a calming effect and can help relieve stress.

Drumming is great for teamwork…

When people drum together, forming one unified sound, they form an energy greater than the sum of the individual players. Everybody’s contribution is important as the group works together towards a common goal. This can be useful in balancing a team or a class dynamic. Those less used to taking charge gain a sense of empowerment, and the more confident members or those in managerial roles learn to take a step back and see the value of everyone in the group.

Drumming teaches you to listen…

All of our workshops are taught by listening, in the same way music and storytelling have been passed on for centuries. There is no music reading. Learning any music in this way teaches you to listen in a much deeper way than we normally do, particularly within a group. If you observe yourself in conversation you may find you’re simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say what you want to say, rather than really listening to them and responding to what they think. Drumming helps develop the ability to listen to more than one thing at once, and to listen to other people rather than focusing on your own sound.

Drumming builds confidence…

Trying something new where you are able to create music right from the start is deeply satisfying and great for self-esteem. Drumming uses the same parts of the brain which we use to compose speech. It is in itself an extrovert, joyous activity and can therefore be a liberating experience for anyone who is usually shy in a group situation. It can even help with skills such as public speaking. As the workshop progresses and you find yourself enjoying a new skill, confidence grows.

If you would like to enquire about booking one of our African Drumming Workshops please get in touch. We look forward to drumming with you soon.

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