Teacher Hub

Introducing... Andy Gleadhill's Slap Djembe book

Written by Tom Wild29/11/23

The djembe, with a rich history rooted in West Africa, has evolved into the perfect community instrument. After all, who couldn’t enjoy a djembe? Exciting and adaptable for players of all ages and abilities, they really do cater for everyone. In the heart of traditional ceremonies and celebrations for centuries, the djembe continues to resonate with its captivating beats.

A Journey through djembe history

According to consensus, djembes have been around for roughly 800 years, with their origins in the Mandinke tribe who resided in what is now Mali, West Africa. Still used to this day in a number of traditional ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and baptisms, the djembe’s enduring presence underscores its cultural significance. Traditionally played in ensembles, the djembe has become a staple in music education, finding its way into schools, universities, music hubs and community centres.

The rise of the djembe in education

With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that djembes for education have become increasingly popular in recent years. The interactive nature of learning djembe drumming not only makes for fantastic music education for youngsters, but also a great therapeutic activity for all ages.

The Percussion Plus Slap Djembe range has been a particular hit in these settings. Slap Djembes are well known for their ease of play, lightweight portability, and impressive sound. They also stand out with their colourful designs, finely tuned drum heads, and durability, making them an excellent choice for group sessions, performances and demonstrations. Better still, there are three different types of slap djembe available, which cater to different ability levels, but share some key features. For more detail on this, have a read of Percussion Plus Global Ambassador, Andy Gleadhill’s article here.

Slap Djembes are particularly geared towards new players as they come with a unique drum head featuring a printed graphic demonstrating exactly where to hit the drum for the slap, tone and bass sounds. Having a constant technical reference point right in front of each player helps to improve their consistency and make a more uniform sound across the djembe group, allowing the players in the accompanying group to more easily match the sounds made by the leader, and by each other. Crucially, it also makes teaching the djembe by demonstration a breeze!

Empowering educators with Andy Gleadhill’s Slap Djembe resource

Creating engaging lesson plans take time, especially if you’re not someone with lots of previous experience with djembes. Not everyone is a master percussionist! So, to give all teachers a head start, Percussion Plus has a book resource, ‘Slap Djembe’ written by Andy Gleadhill. It aims to introduce both students and teachers to the djembe. Utilising an innovative and accessible notation system, the book features 12 exciting rhythms from a diverse mix of cultures around the globe. This includes the West African fanga, the Indian bhangra and even the English Morris dance. Each of these rhythms comes with some facts and advice about the musical culture of the relevant place, helping to enrich the learning process beyond being simply a fun activity.

Rather than using traditional stave-based notation, the book demonstrates each note with the ‘tone’, ‘slap’ and ‘bass’ symbols, exactly matching those printed on the head of the Slap Djembe drums. Each rhythm is broken down into three parts (high, middle and low) for different sizes of drum. This simple, consistent layout makes complex and intriguing rhythms simple and satisfying to construct. Andy also suggests some performance notes for each tune which can help add an extra layer of creativity once you’ve nailed down the basics. It also makes the book more accessible and adaptable for a variety of classes.

A lesson plan for success

To further support educators, the book suggests a possible 10-week lesson plan, developed for KS2 and KS3, which can be integrated with any of the tunes. This is a great resource for all teachers, guiding you through the lessons with some basic techniques, but still allowing you to teach the class in your own way. And, paired with each of the 12 tunes, the 10 weekly lessons give you a potential of 120 lessons up your sleeve!

The Slap Djembe book can now be accessed as a PDF presentation for classroom use. This new feature allows for easy projection onto landscape smart boards, so that all the students and the teacher can look at the same thing. This makes the visual communication of the notation easier and streamlines the learning process even more.

Along with the book and presentation, Percussion Plus have also produced audio and video resources to demonstrate what each rhythm should look and sound like. With any kind of learning, it can be very helpful to know exactly what you’re aiming for, and these audio and video guides provide just that. Here are some examples of what you can expect:

The book can be bought individually or as part of our classroom Slap djembe packs.

In summary, djembe drumming is an excellent form of music education and the Slap Djembe range serves to make it even more accessible, inclusive and fun for both teachers and students. For some, the sheer joy of whacking some big drums might be all that is gained. But with these Slap Djembe resources, djembe drumming can truly become a musically rich, informative and collaborative experience.