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Finding and Sharing the Beat

"Drummunity" Encourages Cooperation Through Music

The beat of Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center students’ drums mixed with jangling tambourines, clanging blocks and sounds made by hitting sticks on household items recycled as instruments.

“Let’s all start a beat. … Here we go. … Let’s all start a beat,” said Lori Fithian, whose program Drummunity gets people pounding, tapping and grinning everywhere she goes.

As part of music class, students at the preschool-through-second-grade school gathered in a circle with Fithian in the middle, to use bongo and hand drums and other percussion instruments and to play simple drum-circle games.

Isabel Deleon-Magana smiles as she plays
Isabel Deleon-Magana smiles as she plays

Together, they made music, playing in unison. Later that evening, parents participated in a community drumming event.

Fithian, an Ann Arbor resident and artist who has studied different drumming traditions, said her concept is simple. “I help people make music together,” she said. “We basically just learn how to cooperate and come together. … It’s not really a musical thing. It’s more of a community-cooperation exercise, though we are using music to learn about all of that.”

First-grader Latrese McFerrin said she learned how to “make echoes” using instruments. “We got to switch instruments like drums and a plastic block,” she said.

Everyone Can Drum

Drummunity brings drumming to schools, libraries, community centers and other locations. Fithian’s visit was paid for through a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.

Every culture has its own drum tradition and all ages can participate, she said. Getting students to drum with her is different from teaching other instruments.

Second-grader Jalyhia Reid bangs the drum

“Everybody knows how to play drums; even babies can play drums. It’s a really natural thing that people can do together,” she said.

Students learn to keep a steady beat, and a whole lot more.

“They get a little bit of everything,” Fithian said. “They get to pound on something, play something, just explore the different sounds or learn what a drum is and how we can make music together.”

With older kids, Fithian teaches the concept of improvisation, creating new beats as they play. “We are not reading any music here; we are able to make something up with our own creativity.”

Tami Nelson, ECC music teacher, said she planned the event for her students to have the chance to make music with other people.

“This is a very good way for them to interact and see what they can do,” Nelson said. “One of the things about percussion instruments is various ability levels can easily access them. … They get to freely experience their music-making.”

Students said it was an experience they enjoyed. “I liked playing the drum,” said first-grader Taclara O’Bryant. “I like the music.”



Michigan Humanities Council

SNN Article on Music in Learning

Music naturally emerges from gathering together with drums
Music naturally emerges from gathering together with drums
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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