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Tuesday Tips: The Why, Who, and How of World Percussion by Dr. Michael Crawford

May 10, 2022, 09:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

Creating an enriching practice of world music styles and instrument techniques are dependent on the why, the who, and the how. Unfortunately, the process of transmitting a musical selection’s cultural context can often take a backseat to the time constraints and pressures associated with the final product (e.g., handing out sheet music with Western notation to expedite the learning process). The multicultural music education movement — referred to by some as “world music education” — has been primarily about the diversity of musical aesthetic and less about the circumstances and processes of the music-making itself. As a result, Western percussionists (such as myself) often neglect inseparable learning pathways and unintentionally distort the meaning and value of diverse musics from around the world. 

This month’s Tuesday Tip offers some examples of processes that encourage thoughtful transmission practices of world music.

As facilitators of explorations into world percussion, we need to be aware of the potential to other, tokenize, and essentialize another group by creating a position of dominant majority over the practices and members of that culture. TIP 1: Avoid using terms such as “their music” and “our music” (othering), representing an entire continent by a singular musical style (tokenizing), and narrowing an entire culture to one element of music (essentializing). 

Here are some ways to avoid such pitfalls: (1) establish communication with community members whose cultures are being represented; (2) put your students in contact with a “culture bearer” or practicing expert of that musical culture; and (3) if applicable, allow students of that representative culture (who express an interest) to share their experiences in music and cultural elements. The picture here shows a group of my students interacting and learning from “culture bearers” (Kaminari Taiko, Houston, Texas) of the Japanese taiko art of drumming.

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When exploring world music styles and the performance of world percussion instruments, it is important to analyze and understand what elements are thought of as essential for authentic — common practices of that culture — transmission to occur. For those trained in a Western-classical tradition it is easy to forget how many underlying concepts are behind the reading and execution of simple rhythms and meter. 

TIP #2: If you are teaching students about West African drumming, musical elements such as aural transmission, improvisation, and social interaction are essential. These “non-tangible” paradigms (less common in Western-classical music) are crucial for most participatory-style West African musical experiences. 

This next image is a drum circle activity at the University of North Texas (Denton, Texas) and represents a group of collegiate, non-music major students engaging with participatory-style interactions: aural learning skills, social interactions, improvisatory expression, and a setup conducive for shared power and musical contribution.

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An explanation of world music without cultural acknowledgement may be void of value and simply reduced to a collection of unique sounds and intriguing rhythms. Percussion educators can make the procedural engagement of world music meaningful by turning good intentions into instructional realities. There are many ways to connect the music making processes of world percussion to the inherent cultural values associated with the music’s cultural significance. Have fun by creating and exploring your own connections! Remember, creating an enriching practice of world music is dependent on the why, the who, and the how.

Michael CrawfordDr. Michael Crawford
is an active musician, educator, and adjudicator based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area metroplex. He serves as an adjunct faculty member at the University of North Texas (UNT), where he teaches the Percussion Methods course for undergraduate music education majors and supervises band student teachers. Dr. Crawford holds a BM in Music Education, an MM in Percussion Performance, and a PhD in Music Education. Dr. Crawford has performed throughout the United States and Europe with the Waco Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Chorus, Lone Star Wind Orchestra Percussion Ensemble, and the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps. He has presented featured clinics, showcase concerts, and research projects at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy (NCPP), Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA), and Texas Bandmasters Association (TBA) conferences. Dr. Crawford’s scholarly work has been published in the Journal of Music Teacher Education and The Instrumentalist. He is a member of the PAS Education Committee and a certified Smithsonian Folkways World Music Pedagogy educator.

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