Sunday, July 13, 2008

By the book

I am a geek. Really.

When I get interested in something, I am the type who looks stuff up on the internet, checks books out of the library, joins online forums about it, researches the history and culture. I immerse myself in learning as much about something as I can.

Back when I read tarot cards, for example, I learned a lot about the history and cultural influences of the tarot. I knew a lot of fellow geeks online and spent countless hours debating whether the cards were European, Indian or Arabic in origin. I learned about the various characters involved in their development and, of course, started collecting historically significant decks. (One of which I sold to finance my trip to Mali in January.) But at some point, all the reading ABOUT tarot wasn't going to teach me to read the cards. For that I needed to actually DO it. A lot. With others. Maybe even study, gasp, with real, live teachers. (Being the geek that I was, I traveled to New York City to do that, but that is an entirely other story.)

The reason I am bringing all this up is because over the weekend I met folks who are trying to learn to play drums by reading books, studying videos, and downloading rhythms off the internet. They were, in other words, drum geeks. But strangely, when I suggested they check out a class with a real, live, teacher from Africa, they seemed almost, well, offended. There was an awkward silence, blank stares, mild horror. I laughed about it all the way home.

One of the great things about learning to play drums with a teacher is that you... learn. Like, my slaps and tones, today, are clear and distinguishable. I can play a very subtle rhythm correctly because I have been corrected by my teacher over and over again until I get it right. I learned a new rhythm last week, heard it again this week and now can more or less play it without having had to write it down or record it. (A major accomplishment if you ask me.)

I am certainly a person who learns comfortably by reading about things. But when it comes to playing an instrument, especially one as subtle as the djembe, I do not think it is possible to learn it by reading about it. I think you have to pull out the drum, go to a class and study with a teacher who knows what they are doing.

But maybe that's just me, lol.

And by the way, I am a member of no fewer than 3 djembe forums, have the books and download stuff off the internet all the time. But then I spend 12 to 14 hours a month in classes and practice every day.


Spinning said...

You've got company here, in terms of both geekiness/research houndness and thinking that the best way to learn music is to go to a class taught by someone who knows who to play the instrument(s) you're interested in.

There are a lot of stopgap solutions that are helpful (DVDs, etc.) but there's just no substitute for a real teacher - and opportunities to play with other people as well.

Rachel Nguyen said...

Yeah, there is really no substitute for a living breathing teacher.

It is really a joy... but it is harder, too, because you have to actually work and improve.

Spinning said...

I guess it is harder, but ... well, my current teacher is moving at the end of this month, and I'm really going to miss him. Am thinking pretty seriously about driving to Phila. (3 hours one way) every month or so for lessons. There are some good drummers in this area, but none of them feel confident about teaching - even though they all have a lot to pass on. (I can understand, as I have never wanted to teach music!)

BTW, what's your 3d djembe list/forum?

Rachel Nguyen said...

I am so sorry to hear that your teacher is moving. That is terrible! I think if mine ever moved, I would have to pack myself in a drum case and go with him!

Spinning said...

Thanks so much, Rachel - and don't think I haven't thought about it! Might work out as a longer-term thing (in that I'd like to move from the sticks back to a more citified environment), but for now, I'm staying put.

Got some news, though: I have my own kenkeni (as of two days ago), and will have a sangban to call mine sometime over the next 12 days or so. w00t!!! (Dununba to follow eventually, though I'm not in a big hurry.) I LOVE the sound of the kenkeni and am very anxious to bring the sangban home.

Rachel Nguyen said...

Hey, congrats on the new drums. That is sweet!

I am thinking of getting a sangban when I am in Mali next year!

Spinning said...

I've never owned a double-headed drum before and am just KO'd by the warmth of the sound (combination of the mango wood shell + 2 cowhide heads, I guess). The kenkeni has such a sweet tone, very full and rich... Since I prefer lower-tuned drums, I'm sure the sangban is going to be even more fun.

I'm new to playing with sticks as well, and I'm enjoying that, too, though I definitely have a lot to learn!