Do you remember life before kids? It’s a bit of a blur, but we had our own interests, remember? There were late nights and dancing. Definitely music, our own music. Now it’s children’s music on repeat. Or, maybe you’re disciplined enough to keep the mood of the fifth going all day. Are you ready to bust out about now?
My husband and I share an interest in Brazilian music which brought us together in our early days. We paraded with this bateria and I danced with these beautiful ladies. When my daughter was a baby I listened to so much samba, it was one of her first words. But now . . . where has it all gone? Time to bring the two back together, my love of samba and what my children are into!
A music teacher friend remarked that hearing latin rhythms with their syncopation and polyrhythms early on can really impact young children; many Americans grow up with nothing but 1-2-3-4 so that Latin or African rhythms never truly feel natural.
Playing samba’s polyrhythms pushes your mind to contort in new directions. Like the old pat your head and rub your tummy, you’re doing two different things at once. It fills your body with movement, fast and in every direction. The feeling this all brings, the thrill and the soulful feeling, is something I want for my children so much. As the non-Latin parent of Latin kids it may even be my responsibility!
Plus, studies show that music affects us neurologically and has multiple and life-long benefits for children — here’s a great overview of many of these studies.
In our family, we strongly believe that our children should not only consume music passively, but participate in it! Make it themselves! Recorded music only goes so far — you need to experience the rhythm. Plus, with any recorded music, I find the same issues come up as with other technology: fighting over which song, who gets to press buttons, crying when it’s over. The glazed look. They *seem* to like it, but it may actually be overstimulating. All the reasons we limit screens in our house as much as possible.
So let’s get to it — how do you play a simple samba at home? You don’t need anything fancy. We use a mix of “real” adult instruments and small or toy instruments for kids. Also random household items. Also our bodies and voices on their own.
To play a simplified samba, we’ll pick a few of the basic rhythm patterns, at least one that’s ON the beat and one that’s NOT. (BTW I am no expert so take all of my explanations with a grain of salt!)
Just two rhythms to start: the surdo and the shaker.
Here is a movie I’ve made. It’s in Spanish, because that’s what we speak at home. The musical demo should make sense in any language, I hope!
First is the surdo rhythm, familiar to the ear because it’s a strong drum stroke on the first beat. We sing it, “BOP boom, BOP boom.” I’m playing a rebolo here, but I also like to use: any toy drum lying around, buckets in the garden, plastic water jugs, pots and pans, or just my voice. Sorry, sometimes I sing it backwards in the video, because in a big samba orchestra (called a bateria) there are multiple surdos. The right way is, BOP boom BOP boom!
Next, the shaker. You’ve probably heard this swinging maraca sound in Bossa Nova or other jazz songs influenced by samba. We sing it “DAK-chicka DAK-chicka DAK-chicka DAK-chicka.” The shaker rhythm can be played by shaking a ganzá, any kind of maraca, or a chocalho, or in a slightly different way on a güiro or reco-reco. With a maraca, try to keep your hand moving in a line that is parallel to the ground so you can better define the beats. The shaker basically sticks to the 1-2-3-4 beat pattern but stretches out the first one to give it some serious swing. Speed it up and your hips won’t lie!
Start with just the surdo, and just the shaker, and then try to play them together, with one person or group on each. Or play one and sing the other. You’ll see how they fit together. Practice and practice. A lot!
If you’re OK with recorded music, the song “Sufoco” by Alcione is a great example that is slow and highlights the surdo and shaker rhythms. You can play along to practice. (The whole compilation album is a great samba education and you can buy it directly from Luaka Bop.)
By the time you’ve practiced enough I’ll be back with another rhythm for you and even the chorus of a song on top of that. A samba continua!