Pernambuco – A Panoramic Musical Journey with NYU Study Abroad in Brazil

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Pernambuco – A Panoramic Musical Journey with the NYU Study Abroad Program


I’ve been traveling to Recife, Brazil since 1999 and each trip proves to be more inspiring.  This year I was invited to curate music workshops for the NYU Study Abroad Program.  The three week course included students from NYU’s Shanghai and New York campuses and was organized by my wife, Dr.

NYU study abroad
Casa da Rabeca-Mestre Salustiano

Michele Nascimento-Kettner.  They had classes with her for 3 hours every morning on subjects ranging from race, gender, culture, literature, cinema and more.  The second half of the day was dedicated to music workshops.  We visited most of the major museums in Recife and took a few field trips including Casa da Rabeca and Caruaru, the capitol of Forró music.  My goal was to show the students how diverse the musical landscape of Pernambuco is.  I can still remember my first time being in Recife for Carnival and my head literally spinning at how many musical traditions are in this region of Brazil.  I wanted the students to have a similar inspirational and educational experience.  Upon concluding the three week program, the students’ heads were definitely spinning!  They were able to experience a panoramic journey through the history and culture of Brazil as told by the percussion instruments, rhythms and musicians.  The music workshops were a perfect compliment to Michele’s Study Abroad program and helped contextualize the topics that were studied inside the classroom with her.

Click here to learn how to play percussion online with Scott Kettner at WorldDrumLessons.Com


The first workshop we had was with a very good friend of mine, percussionist Drica Souza.  I met Drica in 2001 when I was living in Recife.  We were both members of the Corpos Percussivos school led by Jorge Martins. She has been leading her own groups and teaching in Brazil ever since I met her.  Drica knocked the ball out of the park with her workshop which focused on Maracatu de Baque Virado, Coco and other regional styles.  The students learned the origins of these rhythms and got to play Drica’s arrangements on the traditional percussion instruments.  It was amazing to see how fast they picked up Drica’s arrangements.  Check out this video of one of Drica’s projects


The next workshop we had was with a good friend Helder Vasconcelos, a dancer and percussionist who was one of the original members of the band Mestre Ambrosio.  Helder has developed a unique method of blending the traditional dances of Cavalo Marinho with modern/contemporary dance styles.  Cavalo Marinho is a folkloric manifestation specific to the Zona da Mata region of Pernambuco which includes theatre, dancing and live music.  It is considered the Opera of northeastern Brazil and a full performance can last up to 8 hours.  Check out this video of a 2hr performance of Cavalo Marinho:
Here’s a video of Helder and his creative process of morphing traditional dances with a modern twist:


It was an honor to host the amazing percussionist Lara Klaus.  Lara has played with many great Brazilian artists and is also a member of LADAMA, an all female group hailing from N and S America and was recently featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk.  Lara introduced the pandeiro to students.  The pandeiro is the Brazilian cousin of the tambourine and like all frame drums in the world, they share a similar history having their roots in Mesopotamia. Lara was able to teach the students the basic techniques of playing the pandeiro and they covered forró, coco and samba rhythms.  Her workshop was very inspiring and encouraged the students to begin studying the pandeiro.  Here’s a video of Lara singing one of her songs with her project:


Women and Frame Drums

“….The earliest frame drummers were primarily women, priestesses and musicians connected to religious traditions and the frame drum was a symbol of their position in the religious hierarchy of the day. The oldest named frame drummer in the historical records was the High Priestess Lipushua, who presided over the temple of the Moon God, Nanna in the Sumerian city of Ur around 2300 BCE.”


NYU study abroad


We were very excited and honored to have the great singer, songwriter and musician Silverio Pessoa join our NYU Study Abroad program.  Silverio has been a huge influence on my music from his days with Cascabulho.  Since leaving the band many years ago he has developed a prolific career ranging from collaborations with Occitanian musicians to touring all over the world and releasing albums.  Silverio and I recently collaborated and composed a song together for Nation Beat’s latest album “Carnival Caravan”.  Check out this short teaser:


Silverio’s workshop focused on the history of Forró music.  His interactive powerpoint presentation explored the music and lives of Jackson do Pandeiro and Jacinto da Silva, two of the great pioneers of forró music.  He brought surprise guest Luca Texeira (@teixeiraluca), an amazing percussionist from Morro da Conceição, a neighborhood in Recife that is known as a breeding ground for great percussionists and musicians.  Together they weaved in and out of live performance and powerpoint presentation, contextualizing the music and lyrics of forró.  The students were dancing, playing percussion, inspired and engaged for the entire workshop.



On the weekend of the São João festival we took a 2hr road trip towards the interior to Caruaru, the capitol city of Forró music where we met a good friend and percussionist Wagner Santos

NYU study abroad
Wagner Santos Workshop

(@wagnersantospe).  Wagner invited us into a music school where he teaches called Casa das Artes Caruaru.  He is part of the new generation of artists who are carrying the traditions of the early forro´masters.  He has developed his own hybrid drum kit where he combines the triangle, woodblocks and the zabumba all in one.   What used to take three people to play now only takes one!  This is exactly how the drum set was invented in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century.  Wagner gave a presentation on the history of forró and taught the students all of the rhythms from this genre on the pandeiro.  He broke forró down into 5 rhythms; xote, baião, xaxado, arrasta-pé and forró.  This workshop reinforced a lot of the information that Lara and Silverio passed on which helped the students be able to identify these styles from one another.

Here’s a video of a pandeiro duo with me and Wagner:

It was very exciting to host my good friend and one of my favorite Brazilian musicians Maciel Salu, a brilliant songwriter, artist and rabeca player.  The rabeca is a rural fiddle that is mostly found in the state of Pernambuco and was traditionally used to play forró and cavalo marinho music styles. In the

NYU study abroad
Maciel Salu with NYU Study Abroad

past 20 years the rabeca has been used in contemporary styles coming from the northeastern region of Brazil.  Maciel’s father, Mestre Salustiano was one of my good friends and mentors who helped me design the blueprint for my music with Nation Beat.  He helped pave the way for many artists such as Maciel and myself who identify with traditional and contemporary music and thrive on hybridism.

Maciel discussed the origins and the hybridity of forró music and culture.  He demonstrated different styles on the rabeca and pandeiro and discussed their cultural relevance to the people of the northeastern region of Brazil.  One thing that stood out to me was when he referred to Cavalo Marinho music as the Opera of The Northeast.  This is in reference to the connection of the theatrical and musical performance that takes place during a Cavalo Marinho event that usually lasts between 8-10 hours.  Check out this video of Maciel performing with his group:


Wrapping up our music classes was another good friend, guitarist Carlos Oliveira.  Carlos is a classical guitarist who is also steeped in Choro music and other styles.  Carlos’ workshop was a nice way to finalize our trip as he discussed music from different parts of Brazil, specifically choro, Brazil’s first urban genre of music from the 1880’s-1940’s.  Choro is a result of musical styles and rhythms coming from Europe and Africa and uses the Rondo Form: AABBAACA   Check out this guitar lesson with Carlos:

Want to join us in 2020?  Check out the NYU Study Abroad site to learn more.

2020 Program Dates

Student Arrival: Monday, July 6*
Student Departure: Monday, July 27*


NYU study abroad

Basic Samba for Pandeiro in 5 Steps

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Are you stuck trying to play a samba on the pandeiro? Whether you’re just now learning how to play the pandeiro or you’re an accomplished player looking to fill in some gaps or gather new approaches, this blog lesson is for you.  I will share a practice routine that will guide you to playing a samba in 5 steps.  It is important that you follow this guide step by step as each example plays a very important role in the construction of this version of samba.  Each example builds upon the previous.  Take your time.  It’s not a race!  Master each example on the pandeiro at various tempos before moving to the next.

Join the pandeiro course today to bring your playing to the next level.


Samba is unarguably the most popular rhythm and style of music from Brazil.  There are many different styles of samba that come from Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and many other states throughout Brazil.  Every group in every region of the country has their own unique approach to playing samba and the instruments associated with this music.  If you want to call yourself a complete pandeiro player (whatever that means to YOU), you must have a holistic understanding of how to play samba on the pandeiro.  And the more approaches you have under your belt, the better off you’ll be!  The example below is a style of playing samba that I learned from the great pandeiro player Marcos Suzano.  I’ve modified it over the years, however most of the original concept that I learned from Suzano have remained in place.


Keep in mind that this approach is all based on the “GRID Technique” which I discuss in this Choosing The Right Technique blog.  If you’re confused by the term Grid Technique I suggest you go back to this previous blog post and begin with the technique exercises before getting into this lesson.  Also, please keep in mind that these are exercises to help you develop the facility and technique needed to play a samba on the pandeiro.  These patterns don’t define a samba groove as much as the swing feel does.  You have to work on the swing feel as much as you work on the technique.  It don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that…….  You dig!


Now, let’s start our 5 step samba practice routine.  Step #1 is all Heel-Toe-Heel-Toe with an accent on the “e” of beat 1 & 2.  This accent is IMPORTANT!  Don’t ignore it.  This accent will help you develop your samba swing feel.


Step #2 adds a muted slap tone in the center of the pandeiro in Zone 3.  (Visit blog post about the 3 pandeiro zones)  THS=Thumb Slap.



Step #3 is important as you will add the surdo part with a bass tone played with the thumb.  B=Bass with thumb.  You will begin to recognize the samba groove on thihs step.


Step #4 adds a new pick up accent on the “ah” of beat 1.  TS=Toe Slap.  You will play with your finger tips in the center of the drum (zone 3) getting a light slap sound as opposed to the louder open hand slap tone.


Now lets finish our samba pattern with Step #5 where we’ll add an open bass tone pick up on the “ah” of beat 2.  BT=Bass Toe (finger tips).  Once you master this step you should be able to begin to imitate an escola de samba groove of the 2nd and 3rd surdo parts.




Remember to take your time and use a metronome with all of these examples.  Feel free to write a comment with your feedback.


Your partner in groove,

Scott Kettner


Pandeiro Practice Routine-Bossa Nova

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Finding a practice routine for pandeiro is one of the most challenging parts of improving your skills.  If you’re just beginning to play the pandeiro, tempo is another major challenge.  So of course, If your assignment is to learn to play a samba, you’re probably freaking out about the tempo (and technique and swing feel).  But, there is a solution to help you get acclimated to playing samba and faster tempos without feeling overwhelmed.


Playing with a metronome is important, however playing with music is much more fun and educational.  I suggest that you divide your practice time between playing with a click and playing with music.  For instance, if you only have 30 minutes per day, split this practice time based on your necessity.  If you need to focus on technique spend 20mins with a metronome and 10mins with a track.  If you’re focusing on vocabulary and already have the technique thing happening, play with a click for 10mins and a track for 20mins.  You need to design your practice routine based on your needs…but just make sure you do it!


Now, back to your solution for slipping into being able to play samba.  Bossa Nova is a perfect style of music to start off with.  The swing feel, accents and many of the clave patterns are very similar to samba.  In fact, many people have described bossa nova as a slowed down samba.  Of course, that’s not 100% accurate BUT, it’s close enough for our purpose; working on our tempo, feel and samba groove.


So, here’s a couple of bossa nova tracks that I thought were at a good “tempo di learno” for you to start off playing along to.  You can use this pattern on both songs as a left wrist and accent exercise.  You can also apply different tones to each accent if you wish to bring it to the next level.


Pandeiro-Bossa Nova


Wave: Antonio Carlos Jobim – 1967







Maracatu Caixa for Baque de Imalê

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What’s the difference between the caixa part for Baque de Marcação and Baque de Imalê?  The real answer is complicated and depends on which maracatu nation and who you speak to within that specific group.  However, in that past 17 years that I’ve been studying maracatu, learning and playing with Nação Estrela Brilhante, I’ve noticed a few obvious differences.


Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion

If you already know how to play Baque de Marcação on the caixa then you’re half way there to knowing how to play Imalê.  Remember, the Marcação pattern (one of them) is RRLR-RLRL.  Imalê adds two eigth notes in the middle of the measure, which generates more energy and gives the groove a stronger sense of forward motion.  Baque de Imalê can also lend itself to a strong funk feel.  If you listen to Nação Estrela Brilhante de Igarassu you’ll notice that the caixa plays a backbeat on top of the groove.  (excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion by Scott Kettner, MicheleNascimento-Kettner and Aaron Shafer-Haiss – Hal Leonard)












Now let’s take a closer look at some of the ciaxa transcriptions from a few different traditional maracatu nations.  Here’s an Imalê part for Estrela Brilhante from my book Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion.  You’ll notice that the only difference between this part and the Marcação part (RRLR-RLRL) is the first half of the measure and the accents.  The first half plays a hand to hand sticking pattern and then goes into the RRLR-RLRL.  The accents also change to help emphasize the two 8th notes in the middle of the measure being played on the alfaias.



Here’s another Imalê variation from Nação Cambinda Estrela.



Another popular Imalê caixa part is often played by Nação Leão Coroado.  This is another one of my favorites.  This patterns is all hand to hand.  The accents and swing feel are really what makes this caixa part so funky.  Notice that the accents help anticipate the alfaia part in the first half of the measure and then the caixa plays unison with the alfaia for the second half of the measure.  It’s fun…try it now!



I suggest that you practice these individually and with a metronome or play along with a recording of the group. Playing along with the recording will help you understand the swing feel and the roll variations.  Remember, none of these caixa parts are stagnant.  The players are constantly adding rolls and variations to help excite the music.  These examples are just the foundation for you to begin learning the maracatu caixa vocabulary.


Here’s a few videos for you to practice along with.


Estrela Brilhante



Cambinda Estrela


Leão Coroado

3 Alfaia parts for Maracatu Leão Coroado

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Maracatu Nação Leão Coroado are one of my favorite groups.  Their groove is as funky as it gets.  According to Leão Coroado’s bylaw, this group was founded on December 8, 1863 by Manoel Benedito da Silva, Laureano Manoel dos Santos, and Manoel Machado de Souza. The group was founded in the neighborhood of Boa Vista in Recife, on Leão Coroado Street, from where it took its name. (Michele Nascimento-Kettner; Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion)


But what makes their groove so funky?  One of the main elements that makes their groove so deep are the 3 different alfaia parts and how they communicate with each other, creating a trance-like vibe.  In a previous blog post I discussed how the traditional maracatu groups divide their alfaias into 3-4 parts.  You can check out that blog here.


The alfaia divisions are:

  1. Marcante is the lowest and largest drum. (22″-26″)  This drum always plays the baque (beat) and rarely plays variations.
  2. Meão is the middle pitched drum. (18″-20″)  The Meão plays variations on the baque but leaves a lot of space in their “solo” pattern.
  3. Repique is the highest pitched drum and usually the smallest drum (14″-16″).  The repeque plays a constant rolling solo that reflects what the caixas (snares) are playing.


Here’s a cool video that really shows how Leão Coroado plays Baque de Imalê on the marcante.




Here’s a written example of 3 alfaia parts from my book Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion (Co-Authored with Dr. Michele Nascimento-Kettner and Aaron Schafer-Haiss).

Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion
Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion



Excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion.
Excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion.


I recorded one of my favorite Leão Coroado songs on a Maracatu New York album that I produced in 2013.  My partners Aaron Schafer-Haiss, Jeff Duneman and pat Noonan and I spent a lot of time trying to capture the grit, funk and feel of LC.  Here’s the track.  You’ll really hear the 3 alfaia parts well at the end of the song after the vocals finish singing.  Where headphones for full experience.




You can get the entire Maracatu New York album on itunes.


Pandeiro Lessson #4 – Slap Tones

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Let’s look at zone 3 or the center of the pandeiro.   This is where we will get our slap tones as well as some other muted tones.

Slap tones and muted bass tones.




Pandeiro Lesson #5 – Bass Tones with Finger Tips

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Once you have established a solid foundation and a fundamental bass tone with the thumb, it’s time to open up a whole new world of possibilities and start getting bass tones with the finger tips.  This step brings us closer to unlocking the possibilities of the grid which I’ve talked about in all of the previous blog posts.  Your goal is to find the sweet spot in Zone 2 and achieve an equal bass tone with your finger tips as with the thumb.   This will take time and requires a lot of patience.  Your finger tips will hurt during this process.  Cut your nails, roll up your sleeves and get to work!


Your finger tips will still be located at around 2 o’clock on the pandeiro as when you are playing in Zone 1, however you will slightly move your tips to Zone 2 to achieve the bass tone.  Remember, keep all of your hand motions to a minimum.  In the end, everything should be effortless.  I like to use my two middle fingers when striking a bass tone with my finger tips.  My pointer finger and pinky just hang out while the two middle fingers strike the drum in Zone 2.


Skip to 3:08 in this video to see me explain the bass tones with finger tips.




Here’s a short exercise to help you move between thumb and finger tip bass tones.  This is an excerpt from my Pandeiro Handout packet on page 5.  Practice slow!  You’re trying to get the sound of your finger tip bass tone to be equal with the thumb bass tone.


B= Bass with Thumb

BT = Bass with Finger Tips


Pandeiro Bass with Finger Tips
Pandeiro Bass with Finger Tips

Maracatu Groove – Baque de Arrasto

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Baque de Arrasto (the dragging beat) is a groove most commonly played by Nação Estrela Brilhante and Nação Encanto da Alegria. For me, this groove really embodies the essence of all the maracatu rhythms. Baque de Arrasto has a constant sense of flipping over and over again without giving a strong emphasis on the downbeat. It’s easy to get lost inside of this groove, so be careful not to rush and always listen to the gonguê to know exactly where you are in the beat.   In my opinion, this is one of the most challenging grooves to play within the maracatu style.  It’s very similar to Baque de Marcação except instead of leaving a rest on beat 2, you actually add two 16th notes in that space in the alfaia.  Here’s an example of the alfaia parts for Baque de Marcação and Arrasto from my book Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion:


Baque de Marcação alfaia part:


Baque de Marcação
Excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion. Baque de Marcação



Baque de Arrasto alfaia part:


Baque de Arrasto
Excerpt from Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion. Baque de Arrasto



Check out this video of Estrela Brilhante playing Baque de Arrasto on a song from their first CD called Dança Rainha.  They also play Baque de Parada (stopping beat) on parts of the song.  Pay attention to the main groove; Baque de Arrasto:



Here’s an example of Maracatu Nação Encanto da Alegria playing a Baque de Arrasto groove:



This is just a short overview of the Baque de Arrasto alfaia parts and general differences.  Search the Lesson Packs menu for a video lesson on this subject or refer to Chapter 5 in my book Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion where I also discuss some different caixa parts.


Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion
Maracatu for Drumset and Percussion

The Brazilian Swing Feel Broken Down

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“How do I play with the Brazilian swing feel”?  I get that question ALL THE TIME!  And my answer is always the same; LISTEN and SING then LISTEN some more.  Many wise teachers always told me, “if you can’t sing it, you can’t play it”.  Amen!  You won’t learn it through osmosis or even coming to class once per week.  You have to put in some time, every day, focusing on your swing feel.  It’s not like learning a new language, it’s like learning how to speak the language you already know with a specific accent.  You already do it.  How many times have you imitated an Italian Mob Boss from Brooklyn with your fake mobster accent (Hey, you tawkin to me?), or sang a Bob Marley song with your fake Jamaican accent?   Now you have to learn how to speak music with a new accent or what we call swing feel.


If you grew up in North America or listening to N. American music such as the blues, jazz, rock n roll, soul, funk, hip-hop (should I continue?) then you have a natural tendency to play off the triplet feel.  Most of our music is based on the triplet, therefore playing a shuffle comes naturally or at least it should.  But many of us didn’t grow up listening to and playing Brazilian music. (I’m assuming my audience is not Brazilian here)  That doesn’t mean that we can’t play with the Brazilian swing feel accurately, it just means we need to absorb it.  And that presents the first assignment; LISTEN.  Listen to as much Brazilian music that you can get your hands on.  Samba, choro, MPB, bossa nova, maracatu, coco and forro. (there’s plenty more).  You need to absorb the swing feel.  Imagine yourself spending 2 years living in the UK.  Most likely you’ll come back being able to speak with a pretty good accent.   Do the same with the Brazilian swing feel.  Expect it to take 2 years at least just to get a basic understanding.


The next step is to sing the rhythm.  When I was living in Brazil I had an amazing teacher named Levy Miranda at a school in São Paulo called Groove.   He taught me some syllables to learn the swing feel that forever changed my understanding of it.  Here’s how it goes;


Ta-Ka-Da-Ta-Ta-Ka-Da-Ta-Ta-Ka-Da-Ta-Ta-Ka-Da-Ta………and it keeps going and going.


I bolded the Ta’s because those are syllables you should sing with an accent (louder).  This will help shape your swing feel and is a very accurate way for feeling rhythms such as maracatu and samba.   Put on a metronome at 60bpm and sing this pattern over and over.  Do this for about 2-3mins.  Now put on a Brazilian song that heavily leans on this feel and sing along trying to match what you’re hearing on the recording.  If you do this every day for 6months-1 year, you’ll start to develop a deeper understanding of the Brazilian swing feel.  Some people might take less or more time.  It’s not about how much time it takes you, it’s about the journey and the discovery.


There’s a lot of theories and methods to help you understand this swing feel as well.  My good friend Michael Spiro has a method that he calls “Fix-Time” in his book The Conga Drummers Guidebook.  He describes the swing feel as not being in Four/4 time or Six/8 time but rather something that’s in between a combination of these two feels called FIX time.


Another good friend of mine, Stanton Moore showed me a method that he uses to help demonstrate this swing feel.  He plays 3 against 2 in both hands.  After that, take out the flam so that you’re basically playing hand to hand (R-L-R-L).  You’re still is a 3 against 2 feel.  Now accent the first and 4th notes (R-L-R-L).  The next step is to slightly straighten this 6 feel…SLIGHTLY!  If you do it right…bam…you got it!   Here’s a video I did a while ago for Vic Firth where I discuss the swing feel and demonstrate Stanton’s method (at 4:20)