By Jim Greiner

– Latin Percussion Educational Magazine, 2002

Music teachers, school administrators, parents: Are you looking for a fun, easy way to start off new school years with a bang (pun intended) and quickly get your students having fun playing music together? How about ways to attract new students to your music programs and to get parents excited about, and involved with, their children’s music education?

Have a School/Family Rhythm Party! I’ve developed and led these events for schools from elementary through university levels, and they have proven to be enormously successful at breaking the ice, creating a feeling of community, releasing stress, invigorating minds and bodies, achieving a state of heightened clarity and focus and beginning the new year or session with a feeling of celebration.

They are also great ways to introduce, and reinforce, to music students and their parents and other family members, some of the fundamental concepts of playing music: relaxing, listening, discipline, playing interlocking and interdependent parts, rhythmic concepts, repetition and having fun.

Choose a date and time when parents and students will already be at school such as Back To School nights, Open House, assemblies, etc. It is most important to promote the event as a PARTY. Make sure that people understand that it will be fun, easy and non competitive. We want the non musician to be completely at ease with the idea of playing an instrument.

Emphasize that ANYONE and EVERYONE will be able to easily join in on the fun. Enlist your current students to help pass the word about how much fun it will be, utilize existing school channels of communication such as newsletters and make flyers for your students to bring home or send to their parents.

Now, of course, what exactly IS a School/Family Rhythm Party? What do we do to get all these people playing percussion instruments together? Here are some of the methods that I’ve used in SFRPs; feel free to use any or all of them and, of course, create your own as well.

Have your current students play the fundamental parts of whatever rhythm you choose to play. This will establish a solid foundation to the rhythm and will show your current students that all their hard work has earned them recognition by you and by their families. Choose a rhythm that can be easily executed by your students. Something as simple as half or quarter note bass drums, eighth or sixteenth note Hi Hats and shakers and two and four on snares is an easy way for younger students to play a solid foundation.

Of course, advanced students can play much more complex parts. The main thing is to create a solid groove that is accessible, and inspiring, to non musicians. Remember, the goal is to have everyone present have an enjoyable experience making music, not to necessarily create complex rhythms or ground breaking syncopations.

I use the “Say it, then play it” method that I learned in Africa, coupled with fundamental Drum Circle Facilitation techniques that I’ve developed over the years, to teach rhythmic parts to non musicians. Have them say the part you want them to play before beginning and while playing. For example, you can have your non-musician guests play eighth or sixteenth note shakers and tambourines by first saying, in the rhythm and tempo you choose, “Shak-er, shak-er, shak-er shak-er”. Have several gather around a bass drum with mallets and say, “Boom, boom, boom, boom”… or whatever SIMPLE pattern you want them to play.

Next, have some people just clap quarter notes. An easy, fun clapping game is to also have half the people clapping do so on the “one” and “three” of each measure,  and the other half clap on the “two” and “four”.

I generally go very heavy on shakers. They are the easiest to play with a minimum of time spent learning technique and they are the most forgiving of mistakes. You want to get as many egg shakers as possible for the younger children (and parents who are shy about playing).

Also, I strongly suggest that you work with your favorite local music store to get instruments for the party. It will be to their benefit to get more people excited about playing music, so encourage them to give you reduced prices (or even loan you instruments, like inexpensive maracas and egg shakers, that can be used and then returned to them without marks or dents).

If you do not as yet have a relationship with a local music store, it is time to initiate one… and this would be a great way to start!Latin Percussion has a program called Pad Printing, through which information can be printed on some of their small, inexpensive instruments such as their egg shakers.

In fact, it would be of enormous benefit to a local music store for it to donate to you egg shakers with their name and contact information printed on them. You could use these during the FRP and then give them to the parents and students as mementos of their experience at your event.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the possibilities for School/Family Rhythm Parties. I’ve developed a number of programs in my capacity as Head of Latin Percussion’s Community & Recreational Drumming Program (www.communitydrumming.com) , that make it easy to bring me to schools and communities throughout North America and beyond to help schools, families and music stores become allies in these times of shrinking school music budgets.

Please feel free to contact me either through my web site (www.handsondrum) or LP’s (www.lpmusic.com) with any questions or ideas you come up with. All the best to you as you continue to spread the joy and blessings of making music.

Jim Greiner is an LP Endorser/Clinician/Drum Circle Leader who travels worldwide as a performer, educator and leader of drumming programs for corporate team building and community, school and private groups.