Island kids get digital drum lessons

Rick Bausman provides education and entertainment for students.

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Island drummer Rick Bausman is teaching virtual drum lessons to kids on the Island in place of his normal in-person Rhythm of Life classes.

As part of the Island schools’ curriculum, Bausman hosts a Zoom session where students follow the rhythm with sheet music laid out in an easy-to-understand format.

Kids use pencils, pots and pans, drum sticks, and other items to tap along with Bausman as he leads them through not only a lesson in rhythmic patterns, but a history lesson as well.

In this particular lesson, Bausman taught grades three through five from a number of different Island towns.

“The earliest instruments were things that were found,” said Bausman as he picked up his set of claves to demonstrate an ancient rhythm originating from Africa, called the Gombau.

“Claves are a really ancient idea, they are just wooden sticks, and when you hit them together, they make different sounds,” Bausman said.

To start out, Bausman explained the background rhythm and how it is tied together to keep the main chorus in step.

“Clave means key, it’s the key to the whole rhythm,” Bausman said. When struck together, the claves make a bright clicking noise, almost like a metronome, which establishes the foundation of the rhythm.

After each segment of the lesson, Bausman would play and ask the kids to play as well. Some students watched intently while others drummed on oatmeal containers as they kept pace.

Bausman also taught students about the guiro, a Latin-American percussion instrument traditionally made of an open-ended, hollow gourd with notches cut into the side.

The guiro is played using a metal comb or a rubbing stick. Bausman used a metal comb, but asked students to grab a pencil or other object and slide it along their arm to mimic the pattern.

“See if you can imagine the pattern and the noise, kind of like a scratching sound. Look, I have my comb, and I can even use it to comb my hair,” Bausman joked as he brushed the metal comb over his head.

After the background rhythm was discussed and reviewed at length, Bausman started in on the main conga part.

The conga drum is a tall, narrow-headed drum that originated in Cuba. Bausman lined up three different sized conga drums, each with different names and tones. The drums had pieces of paper attached to them with the letters A, B, and C, which corresponded with the sheet music provided to students.

Bausman then had students follow along with the main Conga part and gave them a lighthearted test afterwards to see how they did. Some kids used different sized pots and pans in place of the congas.

“Take your time to figure it all out. Any kind of learning is a process. It’s impossible to get it perfect right away,” Bausman said.

As students tapped along, Bausman pulled out his steel drum and played a bright and joyful tune to finish off the lesson. He included some interesting history about how steel drums were created as well.

“The modern steel drum originated in Trinidad, when people found that you could make different sounds with metal oil drums by hitting them in different places.” Bausman said.

Before saying goodbye to his students, Bausman asked the kids to practice and have fun with the sheet music, and find an object or instrument in their house that they can use for the next class.

“Keep on drumming guys, you did great. I’ll see everyone in the next lesson,” Bausman said.

Bausman told The Times there are inherent difficulties with coming from a place where “participating is everything” to a platform that requires students to be largely independent.

“I’m used to being able to play with all the kids and there is no time lag or separation, that is not possible on Zoom,” Bausman said.

Instead, he is trying to engage kids and immerse them in their own experience at home.

A few simple methodologies guide Bausman’s daily lessons. One is encouraging students to be imaginative by using found instruments, which he said is right in line with how many traditional and current-day instruments are made.

“In Haiti, you should see all the different things that people use. Old buckets, car parts — these are all things that people used traditionally and continue to use to make music today,” Bausman said.

And his lessons follow many conventional teaching practices used in the classroom, with a little spin.

“Kids in school are used to being challenged, struggling through that challenge, and then receiving satisfaction for their success,” Bausman said. “That sense of achievement is really important.”

While teaching students the complexities of drum rhythms, Bausman said including the cultural significance of these patterns and instruments is important.

“We are talking about living history. These are things that were created long ago and are still in use today,” Bausman said. “We are all part of this Island community, but we are also part of a larger global community. And one thing that we share as a global community is music, so I want to celebrate that.”