Highlighting the “US” in perc-US-sIon

Four life building blocks we learn through percussive arts.

When my little buddies of percussion club and I jam together on a Afro Cuban “3:2 Clave” rhythm, we are of course learning how to drum in steady tempo, play different polyrhythms, play with different dynamics and even use correct technique and sticking patterns. Those are some of the basic building blocks of percussion.

However, I truly believe that through the study and practice of percussion, we can also learn skills that I consider to be the building blocks of a successful life and enhance our own emotional, interpersonal and interpersonal growth. Here is a list of four such skills:

1) Joy: When we jam, we learn to work towards something for the sole reason that we find joy in it. We enjoy it, as in we are IN joy. We drum because we find inner joy in drumming and because through drumming we can spread that joy with our external world. We use our time, energy and resources to learn and excel at drumming because it is fun. The Afro Cuban peoples of Havana and Matanzas refer to “Rumba” as Party. Through drumming a rumba rhythmic pattern, we are bringing these words to life!

2) Collaboration Not Competition: In our drumming club we do not compete. We play games and songs with each other, and not against each other. We help each other keep track of the counts and musical form, we play with intention so that those of us who are unclear about the beat can get nonverbal cues. We play along each other and not against each other. We share instruments so that everyone gets a chance at playing the highly coveted drumset as well as the perhaps less desired egg shaker. We learn to not assign musical instruments a hierarchy based on size or volume, but instead we learn to every instrument is equally as important to the well-being of the masterwork. We live in a society that puts a high value on competition. I do not necessarily think that all competition is wrong or that there is no room for a healthy dose of it in our lives, but though my work in leading percussion ensembles with children, I strive to provide them with an environment (and perhaps one of the only ones in their day) in which they do nothave to compete. They can just be.

3) Peace Building: According to the Bamana and the Malinke people in West Africa, the word Djembe, literally means to gather together in peace. The umbrella goal of every lesson is that my students work together towards finding communal peace as they practice “locking in” their beats. Through the study and mastery of ancient drumming traditions, my students learn to use their bodies (and minds) as vehicles of peace and not violence or oppression. When we compose a beat, we include ideas and elements from each and every individual. Our chants reflect our social voices. Through the practice of call and response, they experience the power of purposeful listening and clear communication.

4) Community Building: During club, students have to maneuver ways in which they can help their peers, offer constructive criticism, accept different points of views and intertwine their own ideas of what they believe to be truth in order to find one common truth but rings true for us all. Through drumming my students learn how to be proud of their achievements while being humble. As I lead percussion ensemble, I remind them that the whole reason for each of us being there, is to drum in a group, and thus the whole reason that this group is sacred, is because it is made up of every.single.one.of.us. We the US in perc-US-sion. Cheesy yet true.