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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Body Percussion – You Make the Music

Body percussion is a brilliant way to warm up for a music workshop, and a useful tool for creating music in a group. It is incredibly accessible; the human body is an instrument every participant possesses. It is also valuable for internalising fundamental musical concepts including rhythm, beat and tempo.

I love Body Percussion because it’s a high energy, very accessible art-form. Seeing the amazing ideas that workshop participants come up with is brilliant, as is the reaction when they see what is possible when making beats on your body!

Ollie Tunmer, Body Percussion specialist

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As a group warm-up activity, body percussion stimulates circulation and creates an energy in which it is impossible to feel self-conscious. As a musicianship tool, it provides strategies to equip students with a collective sense of pulse, memory for different rhythms and the opportunity to full engage with the musical material.

In composition it provides an inspiring way to explore sound, rhythm and the physical relationship with music.

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It is also an engaging way to explore the music of World cultures. The folk traditions of many countries include the use of body percussion. The Juba, or hambone dance from West Africa became a traditional dance among African-American slaves in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Slaves were forbidden from owning rhythm instruments for fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming. Instead they created music using body percussion, stamping the feet, slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks. This percussive dance, originally known as “Pattin’ Juba,” would be used to keep time for other dances. Steps had incredibly descriptive names such as “Yaller Cat,” “Pigeon Wing” and “Blow That Candle Out.”

Other traditions that use body percussion include the palmas, or intricate hand claps in Spanish Flamenco music, tap dancing and Ethiopian armpit music.

Body percussion works on the same basis as any percussion instrument, but uses the body to create the different vibrations and sounds. These can include:

  • Stamping the feet on the floor
  • Patting the thighs with open palms
  • Clicking the fingers
  • Clapping the hands
  • Patting or knocking the chest
  • Slapping the cheeks with an open mouth
  • Clicking the tongue

Inhaling and exhaling air, and various vocal noises including grunting and whistling can add to the repertoire of tones, and sounds can be adapted to create different effects. For example, clapping the hands in different positions will change the pitch and resonance.

Body percussion can be performed solo, but it is exhilarating as an ensemble activity, both to performers and audience members. The well-known percussion group Stomp use a combination of non-traditional, junk percussion instruments and body percussion in their performances.

Body percussion has many possibilities. It can be adapted for any age and ability. It can be introduced into a diverse range of workshops, from African Drumming or African Songs, to Composition workshops. It can be used as a warm-up, an icebreaker or a full workshop.

You can use existing games and ideas or create your own.

Watch composer Steve Reich Steve Reich explain his piece Clapping Music, and the inspiration behind it.

Here are some simple ideas from the Music Workshop Company to get you started.

Warm up

This can be done seated or standing.

Start with a copying activity. Start with four beats to establish a beat. Clap a rhythm that fits into a four – beat bar. Keeping to time the group should repeat the rhythm.

Gradually make the rhythms more complex. If the group doesn’t quite catch one of the rhythms, repeat it once or twice. Don’t comment on whether the repetition was correct or not, just repeat it.

Keep talking and instructions to a minimum, but make eye contact with every member of the group.

Start to add other body sounds; knee slap, click, stamp, chest…

Vary the dynamics, but keep the pulse the same throughout.

This warm-up can be developed by getting participants to create their own rhythms for everyone to copy. Either ask for volunteers or working round the group.

Body percussion

Vocal activity

Try making up a call and response vocal activity using speech and percussive vocal sounds.

Participants can take it in turn to lead this game, and it can be varied using different tempi and dynamics, or by adding more physical sounds such as stamping the feet and clapping hands.

Body Percussion Patterns

Begin to build up a body percussion piece by setting up an eight beat pattern, such as this:

Feet       Feet

Leg        Leg

Belly     Belly

Clap

This can be developed in a number of ways, for example as an ensemble piece using similar ideas to Reich’s Clapping Piece.

Watch some body percussion performers and use your imagination to create your own rhythms, sounds and games. You can even develop ways to notate your piece, deciding on symbols for each sound and rhythmic pattern, and finding creative ways to write them down in your group.


Contact the Music Workshop Company to book your Body Percussion Workshop and begin your exploration of musical possibility!

Junk Percussion: Recycling, Design and Music

Our junk percussion workshops create a space for learning all sorts of skills. Participants use every-day objects, many of which would otherwise end up in the rubbish or recycling bin, to build their own instruments, experiment with sound, compose music and prepare for a performance.

The workshop develops a range of activities across the curriculum. In inventing, building and playing the instruments, students explore aspects of music, design, science, geography and World cultures.

Junk percussion isn’t a new idea. Centuries ago, people made drums and other instruments from objects they found, including bones, wood and hard-shelled fruit called gourds. African slaves who weren’t allowed to play their own drums would make instruments in secret from shipping boxes and dresser drawers. Orchestral instruments have been made from rubbish recovered from landfill sites too. In Paraguay, The Orchestra of Instruments Recycled From Cateura, is a youth orchestra for deprived children with even violins and cellos made from scrap material.

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Instruments can be made from almost anything, from ‘ready made’ drums such as plastic dustbins, pots and pans and plastic or metal buckets to plastic bottles, chopsticks, pencils, boxes and metal bottle tops.

Make Your Own Instruments

First, decide what kind of instrument you want to make. There are lots of different percussion instruments, some you hit, some you shake, others with rough surfaces that are played with a stick, some that ring or clash and some that are tuned. In fact, the piano is even classed as a percussion instrument because it works by a series of hammers, activated by the fingers on the keyboard, which strike strings inside the instrument.

Think about the way a drum works. It has a hollow body through which the sound vibrates, and some kind of skin that can be struck with the hands or with drum sticks. Any hollow object could form the basis of a drum – an ice cream box, a bucket, an old tin or anything you can think of. Similarly, the drum skin could be made from all sorts of materials; plastic sheeting, paper, fabric, balloons or cling film. The skin needs to be stretched across the top of the container and fixed firmly in place. You can try using pencils, sticks of wood or chopsticks as beaters. Different materials will produce very different sounds.

Likewise, a shaker can be made from any hollow container that can be sealed, and can contain all sorts of things to shake inside it. Dried beans perhaps don’t count as junk, because you could always eat them, but how about lost buttons, nutshells, bottle tops, coins or even pebbles cleared from your garden.

Different materials will have different qualities. Metal rings, cardboard thuds, harder substances will make clearer, louder sounds than soft materials. Plan your instrument with a sound in mind. For a deep sound, the instrument must be bigger, so a dustbin could make a great bass drum. Have a look at some pictures of orchestral percussion instruments to see the variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Can you imagine what each would sound like? If you can listen to some percussion music, that will help stir your imagination.

Once you’ve made and decorated your instruments, it’s time to learn some rhythms, compose your own pieces and practice playing together to build up to your performance. World music contains many rhythms that work together to create fantastic sounds. You can explore these using the instruments you have invented to make a truly unique piece of music.

If you would like to read more about the workshop contact the Music Workshop Company for a Junk Percussion Education Pack.

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.

2013 Recap

We started the Music Workshop Company blog in April this year, and as 2013 draws to a close with end-of-term concerts, Christmas parties and New Year’s resolutions, we decided to take a look back over the last few months at MWC; and of course, a look forward to 2014.

Expo standMaria and Sarah had a great time at the 2013 Rhinegold Music Expo at London’s Barbican Centre, meeting clients and exchanging experiences and ideas. MWC will be there again for the 2014 Expo, which is on February 7th and 8th. It’s a great opportunity to attend seminars and workshops, and it’s a chance for us to catch up with participants past and present, to get feedback, and to help us develop our workshops. It’s free to register so come and visit the Music Workshop Company Stand and meet the team.

We’ve been developing our workshops throughout the year, and added some new workshops, including a vocal workshop for Black History Month. You can read about Black History Month, its background, relevance and musical significance, in our August blog. Other popular workshops we’ve looked at in the blog include African Drumming and Samba Music. We’ve run schools’ composition workshops, drumming workshops, world music workshops, and even collaborated with Stevenage Symphony Orchestra in an exciting project with composer Alison Wrenn.Goddesses

Here is some of the feedback we’ve received from schools, colleges and private clients this year.

“Very educational, hands on and kept children’s attention throughout.” Tony Tremelling, St Ursula’s, Composition Workshop, February 2013

“Very enjoyable and rewarding.” Gillie Pipe, Carers First, World Percussion Workshop, February 2013

“I was happiest with the creativity and fun aspect of the workshop.”Mohammed Wasiq, Cranford College, Junk Percussion Workshop, April 2013

“Many thanks for Saturday night. Both Chris and Maria were great and managed to get most people participating! It certainly broke the ice and everyone enjoyed it.  Thanks again, it was exactly what I had imagined.” V Williams, World Percussion Workshop (As part of wedding celebrations), May 2013

“I liked all the pieces that Matthew bought for the steel pans. I enjoyed working with him and the pupils all liked the sessions.  I learnt lots of new ideas that I will be able to use with the children.” Valerie Freeborn, Bensham Manor, Steel Pan Workshop, June 2013

“Engaging and enjoyable.” Rachel Brazendale, Gordon’s School, Junk Percussion, Samba & West African Drumming, July 2013Welwyn Festival photo

We rounded off the year’s blogging with some top tips on how to organise a Christmas or end-of-term concert. These tips are relevant to the preparation of any performance or concert, and we’ll be putting together an information pack with even more ideas. The suggestions in this pack are based on the MWC team’s extensive experience in workshop and concert organising. You can also read our advice on what to look for in a music workshop leader in October’s blog.

We hope our posts have been informative and interesting so far. If there’s anything you’d like to see in the blog, contact us with your ideas. Meanwhile, we’d like to wish all our clients, participants and musicians a happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year, and we hope to see you all in 2014 for more workshops, more music and more fun. Music Company

Drawing by Stickman Cards by Johanna McWeeney for the Music Workshop Company

Welcome!

We have just celebrated our tenth anniversary here at Music Workshop Company (MWC), and to mark this achievement, we are starting a blog! This will be a space to share our experiences, give you ideas for musical activities, and to write about the projects we do.

MWC was seMicia darabukat up by Maria Thomas in 2002, since when the company has worked with over 50,000 participants, from toddlers to grandparents, in schools, community groups and businesses all over the UK.

Maria studied Music Workshop Leading at Trinity College of Music. She was excited to observe many fantastic musicians leading education projects. It struck her that there were schools that wanted workshops but didn’t know where to go, what would suit them or which workshops were of high quality, and that there were musicians offering great workshop skills who didn’t know how to reach the schools. She had the idea of an agency to bridge this gap; a company that says to the school, “What do you want? We will write the project for you.” And so MWC was formed.

Some of Maria’s favourite MWC projects to date include a junk-percussion composition workshop with samba rhythms and an “outer space” theme, teaching African drumming in a marquee at a Woodlands Festival in Anglesey, a teacher team building project in Hampshire and a “Play in a Day” at a holiday club in Oxfordshire.

MWC has run workshops in schools, nurseries, shopping centres, sports centres, marquees, in fields and parks, in tennis courts, in Wembley and Emirates Stadiums, village halls and even in libraries.

“I love running MWC, because I am passionate about getting people to engage with music,” says Maria, “Whether as members of an audience or more active participation through playing instruments and singing.”

She also believes that the experience of a good music workshop can have long-term implications for the participants.

“It might seemKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA with a one day workshop in a school, for example, that the children might not have the chance to follow it up,” she explains, “But I believe it is important to give someone a chance to try something. They may come back to it later in life. It may give them the confidence to try new things.”

So MWC has developed into a client-centred company, working with experienced workshop leaders who are also full time musicians. When they aren’t running MWC workshops, the musicians spend their time playing in bands and orchestras, teaching, playing for recording sessions, and as the company grows, being parents to a growing brood of MWC workshop leaders’ children

We don’t know what the next ten years will bring, but now we’re blogging once a month we hope you enjoy sharing our experiences.

 

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