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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, April 7, 2014

Palen Music Center is dedicated to helping children experience excellence, personal growth, and joy through involvement in music. We carry out this mission by supporting area band directors through weekly service, support, educational programs, and quality products. This weekly Quick Note newsletter strives to highlight topics that are immediately helpful in the classroom. Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


Looking for help on a particular topic? Be sure to check out our Quick Note Catalog of back issues!

The Big Choice...Band vs. Football

Chad Thomas, a senior at Booker T. Washington, is a teen with many talents. So many talents, that he has received hundreds of college scholarship offers. Thomas, 18, has received 150 scholarships for his skills on the football field, but also for his exceptional musical abilities—playing a total of nine instruments. What will he choose to do? Click the image below to find out.

African Percussion by David Phillips

Over the past 25 years, I have been fortunate enough to have work with amazing students in my instrumental music classes. Whether it be in the small school in Nebraska where I started, the large 5A size school in Idaho, or where I currently teach in Carrollton, Missouri, I always had a good number of students taking the band classes. However, one area where I have always struggled is how to reach students in the middle school and high school levels who are not enrolled in the traditional band and choir classes. Most of the time, these students will meet there fine arts requirements through an art class or a music appreciation class. Through the years, I have tried many ways of serving the needs of the student who chooses not to participate in our band classes. Some worked well and others were less effective, but the main purpose was to give students who did not read music some type of activity that would keep them actively engaged and be enjoyable at the same time.

About 5 years ago, I played a piece of music that employed the use of African percussion with my high school band. The piece used various African percussion instruments and was a huge success with my kids. Although we stayed true to the written music, I allowed the kids to explore different rhythms of their choosing as long as they fit the music. It was exciting to watch them develop their own rhythms and incorporate them into the piece. Because of that one piece, we began to include African songs throughout our instrumental and vocal curriculum. As a direct result, we are now able to offer an African percussion class for the non-traditional junior high school music student.

With the support of our booster organization, we have purchased a full set of djun djuns, a number of different sized djembes, and many small hand held shakers and bells. In the past two years, I have had almost 40 junior high students take this percussion class. Even though these students could not read music, I have found they enjoy making music and have had a successful experience in the class. All rhythms are learned without using notation. We have had success using materials I have purchased, and having the class make up their own pieces.

With the high school students, we have embraced our African percussion as a way to teach complex rhythms and to add an element of world music to our curriculum. As a result, the show choir did a complete African-based show last year. Students dressed in correct clothing and sang in African languages throughout. The band also used the correct African instruments with the addition of a bass marimba that I built specifically for the show. The instrument is about 11 feet long and about six feet tall and was a blast for me to make, and for the students to play. There were about 60 students involved and was a huge success.

I encourage you to give world percussion a go. The only limit is your imagination in how to use them and incorporate them into all facets of your curriculum. It takes a little time and patience to learn them correctly, but there are many resources available to help develop uses for the instruments. In the end, they are another way to share the joy of making music with our students.

David Phillips has taught in the public schools of Nebraska, Idaho, and Missouri for 25 years with the past 9 years being in Carrollton, MO. David is a graduate of the University of Central Missouri with additional course work from the University of Nebraska, Boise State University, and Vandercook College. He teaches instrumental music grades 5-12 and is the festival director for Carrollton Band Day. David lives in Carrollton with his wife Michele, and children Blake and Bryan.

You can reach David by email at [email protected].

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