And the Beat Goes On: Djembe Drumming

by Rachel Kaufman
Published in Washington Post Express

DECEPTIVELY TRICKY: That could be the best description of djembe drumming. The West African drum has only, “like, six tones [to] learn,” says student Meredith Dalton, yet combining hand movements to make complicated rhythms — while someone else is drumming a different beat — requires coordination and concentration. In Jaqui MacMillan’s six-week Drum for Joy class, students start as beginners and end able to play a song from start to finish.

The Basics
MacMillan starts students off with simple rhythms, but soon they’re full-speed ahead. And it is Drum for Joy, (“not Drum for Talent,” student William Winston cracks), so, sometimes students just pick a beat and run with it, filling the classroom with a sound strong enough to shake light fixtures.

What You’ll Learn
MacMillan has honed her curriculum over 15 years: She chooses a “performance”-style African song (traditional songs can last for hours) and takes her students through it, line by line. She’ll call out the next rhythm, and its up to students to follow along. “It doesn’t take a lot to learn how to do a drum,” Dalton says, but “it’s also kind of hard [to master].”

What’s the Deal?
MacMillan’s class is offered at the House of Musical Traditions’ teaching studio in Takoma Park. Six one-hour classes cost $120. Most students buy a drum, but loaners are available.

Read it at

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *