Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Feel the rhythm by making it

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djembeTeachers and coaches often tell students who are singing pop/rock repertoire to “feel the rhythm.” When I was in high school I learned the basics of playing a drum set, so I had that sensation in my body and I could easily “feel it.” As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder “how are my students supposed to feel the rhythm if they’ve never created it themselves?” So several years ago I started having my students learn to play a djembe during their warm-ups. I start with a simple quarter note pulse alternating between left and right hands when singing five tone patterns. Then week-by-week I get more complex.

The two exercises I am sharing this week combine tongue flexibility drills with a simple djembe beat. The first exercise uses a single pitch and the text “boom ba chicka.”

Boom ba chicka-1


The second exercise adds pitch movement using the text “boom ba da la”



If you do not have a djembe or similar hand drum in your studio, the students can drum on the piano, their thighs, or their sternum. The drumming will come easily for some but for others it may take several weeks for them to get comfortable.

Do you use drums or other percussion instruments in your voice lessons? If you do, please share how in the comments section below.


One comment on “Mix it up Monday: Feel the rhythm by making it

  1. Marcelle Gauvin
    February 23, 2016

    I use grooves. A simple 5 note diatonic, minor or pentatonic scale sung straight will do. Then swing it, then sing it as a bossa, then a waltz, then a samba, then r&b etc. Big fun and tricky for students but breaking down how successful/unsuccessful they are at each has big rewards. Then we get fancy and I ask them to alter certain articulations to enhance the groove. It’s a blast!


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This entry was posted on February 22, 2016 by in Misc. Thoughts, Style, Vocal Exercises.

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