Drum call and response is a great game to help your students learn their rhythms. In this article by Tom Morrell, we’ll explore how to play the game and the benefits your students will get from playing it.
Arrange chairs in a big circle. Set aside one chair for yourself. If you have enough drums for the whole class, put one in front of each chair. The children will be using their hands to play the drums. You, the teacher, should ideally have a cowbell and a beater.
If you don’t have enough drums for the whole class, put them in front of every other seat – or even every third seat. You can get everyone to move around regularly, so the instrument distribution will be fair. If you don’t have any instruments at all, just clap the rhythms!
Teacher-led call & response
You, the teacher, make up a simple rhythm: as long as two bars (measures) of 4/4. Start with something really simple and obvious – like eight crotchet (quarter note) beats. The children copy the exact same rhythm on their drums. Without any pause, you play another one, maybe only altering it slightly, and they copy it.
Get gradually more ambitious and more funky, emphasizing some beats more than others. If the children don’t quite get a rhythm, repeat it until they do. Try introducing a few dynamics – see if they notice when you play quietly. Do they respond at all? You can discuss it later.
Give the children lavish praise and talk about what they’ve achieved and what they’re learning by doing it.
Pupil-led call and response
When you feel like a change, you could choose a trusted and reliable pupil to take your place (for a short time) with the cowbell. Then ask for another volunteer. Keep their turns short as by no means every pupil will be able to play rhythmically or come up with the ideas.
Another variation is to get the children to come up with rhythms in turn, going round the circle (on their own drums – not the cowbell this time). Each rhythm is repeated by the whole group.
This can be tricky because, when put on the spot, some pupils freeze, or cause the whole thing to grind to a halt. They won’t know instinctively how long to play or how to give their rhythm a clear end, and so the rest of the class won’t always sense when to repeat the rhythm. Be prepared to rescue the situation by counting in the next player.
However, at least everyone gets to have a go, so it’s perceived to be fair – which is very important. It’s also fascinating to hear how the class will interpret loose or ambiguous rhythms. When they repeat a loose rhythm together, they generally come up with a consensus of something more in-time. The effect is like “quantizing” in a sequencer: tidying up the rhythm and putting the beats and stressed in the right places.
Don’t forget to say something encouraging about each attempt.
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