Creative Arab Percussion at Science Leadership Academy

The following post was written by Mr. Diamond, a music teacher at the inquiry-based Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

Mr. Diamond performing
with the Philadelphia
Arab Percussion Ensemble

“I teach music several times a week at Science Leadership Academy. I am fortunate to have a set of Arab drums, or doumbeks, provided by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture. My students and I use the doumbeks to provide students with the tools of technique, and with some of the traditional beats associated with the drums. With SLA’s inquiry-based focus, I leave it to my students’ own creativity to apply these techniques in ways that captivate them.

In my music classes, we utilize the drums primarily in the context of contemporary popular music, in combination with Western percussion (mostly drumset). Students identify beats and grooves that overlap between various cultures, and also find ways to combine grooves in novel ways. We also use the techniques of the doumbek (Dum and Tak) to explore and break down the drumset patterns found in the music that we study in class.

There is also a great deal of impromptu music-making. For example, just recently I overheard some students singing a pop song, Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning,” with one of the students accompanying on doumbek. This student was not in music class but had played around with the drums before. I approached the group of students, said I thought what they were doing was awesome, and asked if I could share some things about the  drum. I conduct many ad-hoc lessons with the drums, and I use them regularly in my music classes, with an eye toward fostering students’ own individual creativity.

This evolved into a lesson, with the drumming student (whom I had not met before whom I had not seen in the music room before), on the proper way to hold the drum, the use of Dum and Tak techniques, and a review of Baladi, Maqsoum, and Laf. Similar lessons have happened on an individual basis around school over the course of the year, and I have also given demonstrations of these techniques and beats to the percussionists in my music classes. But this day, I had a single student’s uninterrupted attention and interest and was able to share, in a very personal and direct and real way, what I think is most interesting and innovative about the way the Arab drums fit into music education at SLA.

One of my primary musical values, both as an artist-performer, and as an educator, is diversity. I believe that all musicians should be exposed to multiple styles of music, and multiple traditions, and all should be aware that their tastes, preferences, and the styles in which they are most at home, exist among a huge variety of musics from all over the world. SLA’s set of doumbeks provides us with a great tool for exploring the shared, yet diverse, musical heritage of the world.


SLA students with Hafez El Ali Kotain in the 2010-2011 academic year


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