Body Percussion The Digital Way Part 1

This is a guest post written by Elisabeth (Lisi) Bottoms. 

Why teach body percussion?

Body percussion is found in almost every musical culture – from the Austrian/Bavarian Schuhplattler to Palmas in Spain, a Saman dance from the Gayo ethnic group in Indonesia and Hambone in the USA, no matter what background your students have, the chance that they can connect to it is quite high. Also, many schools teach students in the middle school as a cohort, not yet in specialized groups. Body percussion does not need any previous knowledge or skills and yet, you can teach a variety of musical elements through these exercises. 

Basics of body percussion in a virtual environment

When students are in remote learning mode, they are glued to a screen for many hours a day. Getting them to get up, move and actively make music is quite important. Body percussion does not need any gear, instruments or special equipment and yet, you can make music. In order to teach them the basics and work on a body percussion repertoire, the training sessions from Tekeje are fabulous. Due to the different levels of difficulty, this is a great tool for differentiation. 

Once the students master the set routines, it is up to them to create their own. These can then vary in complexity and tempo, again allowing for a variety of levels of ability. 

Musical elements and application in body percussion

The next step is to challenge them a bit more and start focussing on the different musical elements such as pitch, rhythm, tempo, dynamics, textures, timbre and form. Each week, we focus on different elements, inspired by a body percussion example from around the world, discussed and analysed and then students create their own, short body percussion piece showcasing these elements. This is particularly important to see if they fully understand the concepts or if they merely copy what they have been taught. 

Depending on the ability of your students, you can either have them work on one element at the time, creating a new piece for each one or have them develop their piece from the previous session by incorporating the new element in their existing piece. I have used both versions and it truly depends on the students what works best for them. 

A simple, free overview of the musical elements can be found at booklife

Example for PITCH

Here are two short tutorials on how to vary the pitch when clapping using the Palmas technique from the Spanish flamenco. One is a basic one, the second one is more detailed and advanced. 

I also like to show this video to my students how it is used in a concert situation:

Example for RHYTHM/TEMPO:

This hambone example is a great way to analyse the use of different rhythms and tempo. One can even review the concept of call and response as this is very obvious.

Example for TEXTURE:

In our classes for older middle school students, we talk about the connotation of culture, influences, traditions etc. That’s why I feel comfortable showing the Kejak video. It is an excellent demonstration of different textures and a great way to spark a conversation about traditions, adaptations, influences and taboos connected with traditional music. 

Example for FORM/STRUCTURE

When teaching body percussion, a version of the Haka surely should not be omitted. It is a great way to show what we imagine as original use and the application in a Rugby setting. 

A great demonstration of call and response and a good example of monophonic texture. 

Using this example depends on the maturity of the group. In order to guide the discussion in the breakout rooms, I assign each group a google doc with specific questions, which I monitor during the session. 

Here are some examples:

  • We found it interesting that…
  • We could use the following ideas…
  • Contrast was achieved by…
  • The texture used was…

Managing an online classroom

Planning: 

I am in the lucky position that all of my students have a functioning laptop and access to reasonably powerful internet. This way, I can teach in a synchronous way. Carefully planning the lesson with contrast in activity is even more important than in a face to face class. Using a program such as classroomscreen can help pace the lesson and has many useful tools.

Screenshot of some features of classroomscreen.

Collecting ideas: 

At the beginning of each class, it is a good idea to review some key learning points from the previous session and/or collect ideas for the new topic. I found mentimeter a very useful tool. It is free, students do not have to sign up anywhere (yeah for those teachers suffering from GDPR restrictions) and you can customize the background, the form of presentation (word cloud, poll, ranking, etc), how often students can submit contributions and so on. 

Wordcloud example from mentimeter

Submitting work:

It is essential that students can easily film their work and get it to you in a fast and uncomplicated manner. Flipgrid is a great way to do so but if you, like me, are not allowed to use this system, there are many other options available. If your students have an Apple laptop, they automatically have Photo Booth installed. It is simple and easy to use. Other options include Quicktime Player or the Chromebook camera app. 

Take note: You might want to remind students to not show their faces and ensure that the background is  as neutral as possible to avoid possible privacy issues.

Feedback:

Due to the limitations of online learning, the natural feedback we give to the students all time, almost without noticing, is missing.  All my students need to upload work they have done during the lesson before the end of the day. Sometimes it is not possible for the students to submit everything before the end of the lesson due to internet failure, baby siblings sleeping and they are not allowed to make any noise or because of parental video conferences. 

However, feedback needs to be given often and quickly. If you are using an online platform such as Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Edmondo, Schoology or similar, it is useful to have students submit their work right there. This saves lots of time with downloading, viewing, commenting and emailing back to the student. At my school, we use Google Classroom and my favourite feature is the review button. It gives me a short summary of work to be graded and returned, keeping me on track, especially when teaching multiple sections of the same grade level. 

A list with further inspirations for body percussion performances can be found on my YouTube list.

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About The Author

Elisabeth (Lisi) Bottoms is currently the Department Leader for Performing Arts at Vienna International School. She loves sharing her passion for teaching music on her website https://www.internationalmusicnavigator.com/

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