Hand Drum Lessons & Notation for Djembes, Dununs & Bells

Forming a West African drum and dance group

Grow Your Own Drum and Dance Group

There is a definite power in drumming for drumming’s sake, either with other drums and percussion, or even alone.  Nothing, compares, however, with drumming for dancers.  Drumming and dancing are fused together in the West African tradition.  The interplay between the two elements is synergistic.  Each feeds the other, until the vortex of energy is more than the sum of the two.  We gain more life force from this activity than we use up.

If you don’t yet have access to a group of dancers to play for, there are a number of possibilities.  One approach is to practice with other drummers and percussionists until you have a set of pieces to perform.  Be careful of expectations: dancing will happen spontaneously if the drumming is good enough; conversely, even if an event for dancers is organized but the drumming falls short, few dancers will be inspired to take the floor!

playing djembe with samba instruments in Masala marching band

Besides inviting audience participation on the dance floor, you can enlist dancers or poi/fire spinners to join you in performance.  The visual dynamic adds a great attraction for street busking or a drumming show; and having a core of enthusiastic dancers can animate others to join the dance energy.

The most reliable way to drum for dancers is to collaborate with a dance class teacher or facilitator.  Classes that can make good use of live West African style drumming include not only dance classes of that tradition, but other styles of dance as well, including trance, jazz, modern, Afro-belly, and hip-hop.  Even a single djembe can fuel a powerful trance dance class.

Dancing Moon drummers and dancers

While this book can provide you with material to inspire many types of percussion events or dance classes, the ensemble rhythms included here are specifically arranged for traditional West African dance.  If you have a dance teacher or choreographer to work with, the basics are in place.  What is needed then is to fill out the group with competent and enthusiastic drummers.  Even beginners can quickly learn the necessary supporting parts, with the help of this notation or some live instruction, and a little patience and practice.

Besides the work of the dance class drum ensemble, if you become familiar with this material you can use it as a basis to teach others.  Virtually any city in the world will have at least a half a dozen people eager to learn this style of drumming.  While there may be a long road ahead of some players before they can hold a strong and fast tempo for a dance class, the journey is begun, and satisfaction is enjoyed in the meantime for the inner dance.

overview of Roots Jam 3 more sample pages and audio

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