5th & 6th Graders Learning To Rock Out

These are observations from the last few sessions of our student rock program.

A Little Cooperation

In last week’s session, I was impressed to see two students successfully share rhythmic roles on the drum set.  In a moment of impressive collaboration with an instrument in constant high-demand, one student helps with the cymbals while the other plays the beat on the drums themselves.

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Not Exactly ‘Lucile’ But We Like It
The guitarist, who promised to take good care of the instrument we let him borrow (citing a reliable record with his Airsoft gun as proof), informed me last week that he had named the guitar “Seabreeze” in reference to the powerful three-headed Dog-beast from the movie “Incredible Hulk.”  Donor-approved. Subsequent research has lead to minimal information about such a reference.  Anyone?

The Rise and Fall of the Beat:

The students have decided to try an instrumental version of a Chris Brown tune.  We take it from the top in the clip below.

At the very beginning, the student at the leftmost edge of the circle – the one with the tambourine – looks away in embarrassment after the drummer’s first awkward hit.  Soon after, his cue arrives and he attempts to mimic the pattern in order to either A) guide/reinforce or B) overtake/control the drummer’s beat by imitating the rhythm being played.  He looks to me for help and I suggest steady eighth notes instead.  Some amount of musicality results as they all lock in to each other eventually and continues for a short time before dissolving fairly soon thereafter.

The challenge for all beginner musicians is to be able to decorate or embellish without directly imitating.  Being okay with multiple things going on alongside their (newly learned) thing is a lot to handle at first.  Music students during this stage may not be listening to their surroundings with the proper level of engagement.  During authentic music-making, musicians are involved in a flow of give and take resembling conversation.

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Play-like Practice
In a great example of cooperation and listening, the students are able to successfully build a chord from individual notes.  The students await their turns and add their instrument’s layer atop the previous one.  Each student has their own note to play, in rhythm, alongside their band mates.

Watch carefully during the beginning count-off.  The drummer is not internalizing, during this crucial moment, the rhythm or specific pattern he is about to play.  He is simply thinking about numbers and at what speed he is about to click out four of them.  He does just that, and as he gets to the last stick click, he realizes he isn’t prepared to do what he is asking his band to do with him.  Shifting from tempo-gear to beat-gear, after a brief stutter, he gets it.

Beginning drummers should practice the count-off not in simple numeric and tempo-related terms but, more importantly, against a rhythmic backdrop internally.  Hearing the beat this way during the count-off allows a stronger connection to it.

This after-school program, with volunteers from local non-profit group Making Music Matters (@STLMakingMusic), features an informal approach to music learning on traditional Rock instruments, inspired in part by the outstanding success, training and research of the Musical Futures project and funded by the generosity of many private donations from St. Louis musicians and Guitar Center.

Thanks to Adrienne Franke, instructor & band leader, for video contribution.

Related Articles:

In At The Deep End.pdf – A Musical Futures Resource

Author: aarondoerr

Owner of Fellow Musician LLC, a small music education business specializing in outreach and private study. I'm guitarist for musical theatre and production assistant at St. Louis Public Radio.

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