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To Notate or not to Notate (Part 2)

What other good benefits can learning drum notation have for students? When teaching

drums, I can’t help but see lessons as an opportunity to also perfect my way of properly

communicating rhythmic concepts and ideas and, by definition, one of the hardest areas to

effectively teach has always been improvisation. At first, it seemed to me that improvisation

was an after-effect of learning various beats and techniques; something that could not really be taught. My perception gradually changed when I realised how limiting this belief was. When taken this way, improvisation is often reduced to a simple repetition of what a

student has already learnt. Many students will fall into this trap and find themselves

repeating the same fill or beat over and over again, defaulting to the same patterns and

defeating the object of improvisation itself. With the help of notation, this can be avoided.

If a student learns notation from the very start of their drumming journey, they give

themselves a clear representation of the physical act of drumming from the outset; a roadmap, if you will. This makes improvisation much easier. When given a clear picture of

what they are playing, students can understand how a beat will fit into a bar of music and

also which other beats can be used alongside it, allowing them to not just repeat fills and

grooves that they’ve previously learnt, but to also effectively deconstruct and stack notes in

certain ways that don’t fall out of time or feel awkward.

Learning to improvise this way makes notation essential, and at Curlew Drums our

curriculum reflects this need. Learning is paced through tried and tested stages whereby

each new piece of information is built upon and requires knowledge from the previous

stage. Ultimately, this means that improvisation is central to every stage of a student’s

learning, as it gives them an opportunity to truly understand the concepts and techniques

that they are employing. This can only be achieved by learning notation alongside the drums in a step-by-step manner- something that Curlew Drums stands by.


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