Friday, February 01, 2008

On learning to walk before trying to run

I learnt a very important lesson on Saturday at Tatum Park. I learned that drumming with a Samba Group such as Batucada is very different from drumming with Many Hands. I learned that I'm not quite ready to do performances yet. I learned that I need to practise, practise, practise - and then practise again.

In Many Hands, much of what we played was at least somewhat improvised. We played together so often, and listened to each other's rhythms so carefully, that improvisation came naturally, and it pretty much always sounded good.

Brazilian Samba is very different. There are set patterns, and variations on those set patterns. There are signals to learn, and bridges and changes to understand. A good Samba group will sound as one, with each group of instruments playing so exactly, that together each beat should sound as though it comes from a single instrument. There's no room for improvisation (which I had already figured out!), but there is also no room for "figuring it out as you go along". That's just not good enough in Samba.

So I have stepped back from performances for a while, and I'm working hard to improve.

I've transcribed and learned 5 different rhythms since Saturday. I can now sing you (or play you) the basic pattern from each of those rhythms - on demand, and immediately. My stick technique has already shown massive improvement - practising for at least an hour a day really makes a difference. My drum teacher is pleased with my progress, and he wants to see as many transcribed patterns as possible so that we can try them out together.

Now I need to learn the variations for each rhythm, and then I need to learn all the signals, bridges and changes. That's going to be quite a challenge, because it's more difficult to transcribe these, but I can certainly try. Recording and videoing them in rehearsals certainly helps, and I've persuaded Nancy to let me video her on Sunday, when I'm going to ask her to play me all the Batucada caixa rhythms and variations.

I realise that I learn by ear - by listening to someone else playing a rhythm, and mimicking it in the way I did with the conga in Many Hands. But I remember by seeing - and especially by writing and reading. I need the transcriptions in order to really fix a pattern in my head - otherwise I find it hard to start it independently - as opposed to playing it alongside someone else who already knows it (when I can just play along and fudge it). I use a range of mnemonics to learn and retain the patterns, which is why having the transcriptions is important.

I'm super-motivated - having demonstrated to myself just how much I still need to learn - and I'm determined to get as good as I can be on the caixa. I want to make Tim and Batucada proud of me - and next time I ask to perform with the group, I want to make sure that I will do their awesomeness justice.

Today I took part in the Sevens Parade (Look! We're in the paper! And we were on telly!) - I pushed Jane's wheelchair while she played her surdo - and it was another hugely valuable lesson. I got to march with the band, be a part of the team, and listen in to (and watch at close quarters) the crew going through their paces. No pressure, all the fun! I think all newbies should volunteer to parade with Jane - it certainly allows you to compare your ability with that of the rest of the group, and shows you the areas in which you still need to improve.

I wanna play with the band (Mike says I remind him of Veruca Salt's "I want it NOWWWWWWWW!"), but I don't wanna play until I'm ready. And to get there, I will work as hard as I can, practising and learning - and - having truly learned my lesson - I won't try to run again before I can walk. Promise!

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