A student’s take on a typical day (Lvl 2 Cbn)

(if there is such a thing……)

Get up, have breakfast, make your way to the conference room. Take some water with you, remember your mini-disc recorder if you have one and your notebook. Settle into your position in the room – this will probably be yours for the rest of the module. (Some people retain the same spot in the room for every module, others like variety…)

Raz introduces a conga warm-up exercise; perhaps it’s completely new to you, perhaps it’s one you looked at yesterday. Play for ten minutes. Have a rest while Raz demonstrates how the exercise could be developed, then back to the exercise and its development – another note here, a different tone there, speeding up, slowing down. Then another exercise, in a different time signature, perhaps involving marcha (floating hand) technique. Look at hand positions, and fitting marcha into different parts of a rhythm.

Move on – work on a rhythm you’ve done earlier and how it fits with clave. You pick it up in five minutes or it might take an hour – don’t worry, you’ll get there in the end, and you won’t be the only one struggling. (Try not to compare yourself to the person next to you – there is no pressure for anyone to learn at anyone else’s pace. We all come in at different levels.)

Time for a break. Over to the house – someone pops their head round the kitchen door to let staff know you’re ready – tea, coffee, chat, biscuits, phone calls, back to the conference room, resume your position.

Brief reminder of the three voices of a rhythm from yesterday, then the group splits into three sections each playing one voice. Suddenly it all hangs together and sounds great. Raz plays clave, or perhaps someone else does. You all swap parts, and again, so you’ve all had a go at each part. For the last twenty minutes look at basic shekere technique (twenty minutes can seem a long time on shekere if you’ve never played before…)

Lunch time. Last one out don’t forget to lock the room.
Leisurely lunch break, time to go down to the village to get provisions for the evening, or time just to hang out in the lounge or outside in the sun, go for a walk, or even for a nap.

3.00 pm, back to work, briefly revisiting this morning’s exercise – it’s easier now. Then something new – perhaps get the Bata drums or cajones out, or look at timbales or bongo technique. Back to congas, and a new rhythm, this time on two drums. Some will find this a real challenge; others will already be familiar with the feel. No problem. Raz breaks it down, you start with just a quarter of it, building it up bit by bit till the whole pattern is in place. Very satisfying. Now learn a song to go with a Bata., Guiro, Arara or Bembe rhythm learnt earlier in the module.

Another tea break. Much discussion about the complexities of what you’re learning. Some people look a bit dazed, others are animated.

Back to the conference room, split into groups of three and four and disperse to other rooms around the house to work on something from earlier in the day or module. In the small group everyone gets a chance to play all the different parts, and there is a high level of mutual support. You can take your time to concentrate on an area you’ve been struggling with. If you prefer to take some time to practise alone, that’s also fine.

Dinner time. Plenty of food, a lot of relaxing on sofas. Someone brought a CD player and it’s set up in the lounge. People look pretty content.

The evening session – typically a lively, relaxed session, often concentrating on folkloric drumming with songs or mixing congas, bata & cajones to create a magical fusion of rhythms, with lots of opportunities to play and put into context what you’ve been learning during the day. Everyone gets a turn playing the different drum parts if they want. High energy, lots of fun, no struggle.

Time flies; lock up the conference room for the night. Help yourself to tea, coffee, hot chocolate from the kitchen. Some people brought beer and wine. Some go straight to bed, others don’t know what’s good for them and are still there in the lounge at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock……