Issue 21: Review of the Short Samba Course-first two sessions

I have expanded the course that I sketched out  back in issue 11 to include various warm ups to reinforce a good sense of pulse. This has proved to be a very good idea! The game that I chose to use a very simple counting game which I have included elsewhere in this issue.

The first two lessons have gone off more or less according to plan; after naming and demonstrating all the instruments (we are using three sizes or surdo drums, agogo bells, tamborims and ganzas) we split the children into four groups of five. The children were given two minutes to agree upon a name for their group, and happily they all chose different names. Having them in groups makes it much easier to manage rotating them around the instruments.

After  playing the counting game, we then did the same thing, but playing the instruments. This is much more challenging as they need to watch the leader while playing!

The “samba, samba, I like to samba” rhythm took a little while to stabilise on the instruments. It helped that we all said it together a number of times before attempting to play it. The surdos played a steady pulse while the other instruments played the rhythm. As the children became more adept, we decided on which pitches the agogo bells would use, and showed the children how to play on the skin or the rim of the tamborims, to add variety of tone. This, and following start and stop signals, made up the first lesson.

Where things went a little off the track was when the class teacher suggested that the children should perform to the rest of their year group after the next lesson! One girl was unanimously elected as leader, so the rest of the first lesson, and all of the second lesson was taken in developing and practising a short and simple samba piece based on the surdos playing the pulse, and the other instruments playing the “samba, samba, I like to samba” rhythm.

We have managed to create an introduction, the main section, where the leader stops and starts various sections, and an ending. The children became better and better at watching while they were playing, although there were a few dangerous moments as agogo bells or surdos got out of kilter and needed to be rescued. The leader and I worked out a strategy for dealing with sections which become chaotic; just get them all to stop, and then restart them a few bars later.

They key is to make sure that all the children are counting (or chanting) in their heads while watching the leader and listening to everyone else all the time.

The performance is next week – watch this space!

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