11 handy tips for teaching samba percussion

Ollie Tumner

Ollie Tunmer is the artistic director for Beat Goes On. He has been delivering workshops since 2001 for the education, corporate and community music sectors. He gained a BMus (Hons) from Kingston University, and later a PGCE in Secondary Music from Canterbury Christ Church University. He is a qualified music teacher, and now delivers percussion workshops on a full time basis.

Ollie regularly works at the Teach First Summer Institute at Leeds University. He delivers workshops for British & International schools across the globe and for the COBIS Schools Council.

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Originally published on 7th October 2016. Originally published on 7th October 2016.

In the classroom, percussion often takes a supporting role. It provides the accompaniment to pitched instruments and is often relegated to the role of ‘timekeeping’. This need not be the case. Whole lessons and, indeed, schemes of work can be built around percussion and there’s no shortage of options in this regard. Djembe drumming and body percussion are two popular and inspiring options embraced by many music teachers. With 2016 being the year of the Rio Olympics, another percussion option is well worth exploring – samba drumming.

This Latin musical style features a range of percussion instruments with clear roles that are perfect for differentiation. The steady beat of a surdo can support children who need to develop a sense of pulse, while the syncopated excitement of agogo bells or the complexities of caixa rhythms can stretch and challenge even the most able of musicians.

If you’re looking to develop percussion in your classroom, then samba drumming is the perfect platform. This list of eleven tips and tricks for leading samba percussion in your classroom will get you up and running in no time!

1. Emphasise the importance of a simple pulse-based rhythm.
2. Insist that students listen to new rhythms a few times before trying to play along.
3. Teach rhythms aurally – samba is an aural tradition and regular use will build your students’ abilities to learn this way and to remember long rhythmic passages.
4. Use words to teach rhythms – this can help with memorising rhythms and teaching keywords along the way, like with this agogo bell

L = low bell
H = high bell

1   e  &   a   e  &   a  3   e  &   a  4   e  &   a 
L   H   L   H   L H   H L   H  
  Let      the      groove      flow      on    the      a-    go-      go   




5. Get everyone stepping while they play. While this can be tricky for some, the more they do it the easier it will get and will help to get the ‘feel’ of the music.
6. March in time while you ‘mestre’ (conduct) the band – this can help visually emphasise the pulse.
7. Try some simple choreography to add a fun and exciting visual element to your band’s rehearsals and performances.
8. Experiment with texture – everyone playing the same rhythm, everyone playing a different rhythm, two or three rhythms split around the band… having lots of rhythms at the same time can be confusing so find a balance that works for your band.
9. Ask every member of the band to take turns playing a four beat Call that everyone else Responds to – this can be the foundation for soloing and improvisation which can be easily developed.
10. Use drums that are played with hands and sticks to develop your band’s sound and as a way to differentiate – try congas and/or timbas (djembes are a suitable substitute).
11. Try working with students to adapt rhythms they are already familiar with onto Brazilian percussion – this helps the music to evolve and allows students to take responsibility of their learning.

With these eleven tips, you’re sure to have a great percussion lesson. I would love to hear how you’ve put these tips into action. Why not comment below with a link to your classes’ recordings? I would also love to hear what has worked in your samba lessons? What would be your ideal tip #12 for samba drumming?  

Let Ollie know below!

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