Guinea-style Drum Workshop

Guinea-style Drum Workshop

During his drum workshops, Mohamed Diaby introduces students to the the technique for playing djembe. He describes proper hand positioning and explains how to create the three pitches the drum can make. Then he teaches students a rhythm from Guinea. He explains why the rhythm is played, which ethnic group created it, and which region it came from in Guinea. 

Students learn 2 different djembe accompaniments for each rhythm they play. If any one of his students is advanced in their sense of timing, he also teaches them to play unique parts on the dununba, sangban, or kenkeni. These parts are more challenging since a single student plays them while the rest of the group plays something else. 

Together with multiple accompaniments on djembe; dununba, sangban, and kenkeni create polyrhythms - a characteristic of African music that inspires and supports all kinds of movement and dance. Experiencing and creating polyrhythms is key to a student's understanding of Guinean and African music, alike.

Mohamed also teaches students to understand and respond to "the break". The break is a musical phrase used as a signal by the lead drummer. It must be placed at the exact, right point in the music to cue musicians and dancers. It tells them when to start, stop, or change what they are doing. It allows the lead drummer to communicate with the other percussionists, as well as the dancers, in the midst of the high-volume music they are making. 

In Mohamed's workshops, students learn to play together as a group. Half the group plays the 1st djembe accompaniment and the other half plays the second, simultaneously, while Mohamed improvises a third rhythm on top of the two accompaniments. Students practice trading parts when Mohamed gives the break. Students maintain their own parts while taking in the seemingly conflicting sounds created by other drummers in the group. 

During workshops, Mohamed wears an anklet full of bells. As he taps his foot while playing his drum, this anklet gives voice to the beat - a concept that is usually felt rather than heard. Mohamed always demonstrates each accompaniment's positioning relative to the beat, and little by little students begin to understand.

However out-of-sync their parts may seem, the beat unites every part of a polyrhythmic song. This core concept may be hard to grasp at first, but, through repetition, students begin to understand the unifying presence of the beat and appreciate the genius of this concept as it is woven into Guinean polyrhythms. 

Mohamed starts with the very basics and does not assume prior experience in music or drumming. Given an advanced group of students, though, he will raise the bar to keep everyone involved and challenged by this rich art form.


    Grade Level: 6 - 12, Adult, Family, Teacher

    Audience Limit: 30