“Michael, What Level am I? Where do I go?”
Each year I am asked this question dozens of times. It is a tricky question to answer. It can be relative. People judge themselves mostly by who is around them. So, in communities where there are more novices, the intermediate drummer may seem advanced. Every teacher’s definition of this is different too.
Our retreat weekend is self guided.
There is no audition or placement. In order for this to work, we need everybody to be honest with themselves and to realize this fundamental truth:
Participating in classesat or below your honest, self-assessed level will help you build a strong foundation, open you up to properly absorb rhythms, and guarantees your growth as a drummer.
Diving into classes that arebeyond your level can be disorienting and can throw complications into your foundation that can stunt your growth as a player.
It is natural to think that going to a more advanced class will help you become more advanced. But if the material is over your head, the teacher will be forced to bring the level of the class down to where you are at, which is not a good feeling and is not fair for the more experienced players in the room.
Please read the drum classes guide and find yourself a level! Our Wula drum and dance teachers are all excellent and will pick up on the level of the people in the class. Please help us keep the Retreat challenging and fun for all participants!
Check your egos at the door and bask in the beauty of African music and be happy with who you are and where you’re at. Ain’t that what’s it all about?
- Michael Markus
This level is for absolute beginners (never played a drum) through those who can separate bass, slap, and tone, and who have had some classes before. Class will be at beginner pace, and students will learn a rhythm set with break, accompaniment, dundun, sangban and kenkeni parts. Teachers will break down parts slowly and explain how each drum part fits together. Students who already know a few West African rhythms are still considered a "Beginner." Just because you know a few rhythms does not yet mean you are "Intermediate".
This class will move at a little faster pace, and include some simple solo or short arrangements to the rhythms learned. Intermediate is for students who have a good 4-5 complete rhythms under their belt. They should know the breaks, all accompaniments and short introduction or solo. If you can not name 4-5 West African rhythms you can play well, please stay in the beginner class.
Please respect the word "Advanced." What is advanced? This does not mean "professional", and it also does not mean "I’m cool." Please do not step into this class unless you can play all sounds clearly (either hand), improvise a solo over the rhythms you have learned, play fast, retain longer phrase sequences, and pick up material quickly. Warning:if you are found in this class and you are not truly advanced, you will be ejected from the camp with no refund, and left on the side of the road with only a goat skin to keep you warm, and hot pepper to eat.
Pro Level djembe classes give experienced drummers a chance to play in a smaller ensemble at a performance tempo. The class is designed for students with a high level of experience performing and/or teaching traditional West African djembe rhythms.
Pro-level students will learn complex arrangements and uptempo solos. Taught by a variety of the djembe faculty at the Retreat, the class gives seasoned players an environment where they can truly progress and add to their repertoire.
A note about Dunduns:
If you are a beginner, start on the kenkeni. This is how it is done in Africa. The kenkeni keeps the timing of the music and allows you to listen to all the other parts and get familiar with the rhythms. The two bigger drums hold the melody of the rhythm and are more difficult to play.
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