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.
What is “pandeiro face” and why is it important to know? Sometimes a student really struggles with specific exercises or grooves. The pandeiro is not an easy instrument to play and has a lot of obstacles to jump over before you feel like you’ve reached a level of intermediate player. One of the biggest obstacles is tempo. Playing at a basic forro tempo while trying to memorize where your hand and fingers should be placed are very challenging in the beginning. The pandeiro is a physical instrument which requires the use of a lot of muscles in our hands and arms that aren’t accustomed to being used. So, practicing can cause a lot of tension in your body, especially in your face. In a recent workshop I asked my students to do a new exercise which required them to utilize the bass tone with their finger tips. I wish I had a camera to capture the tension in everyone’s face as they tried to perform the exercise. But they basically looked like this:
That’s some serious pandeiro face! And that’s no good. Your face has 43 muscles in it and not one of them are used to play the pandeiro. So why would you flex your face muscles to play a groove? Think of the amount of energy you’re wasting on your face when it could be directed to your hands and arm muscles. All of my students do it and musicians of all levels do it too. Hell, I make some funny ass faces when I play. But there’s a difference between a stressed face and an expressive face. If you’re just starting out on the pandeiro, chances are your facial expression is mostly stress not expression.
So how do you remedy this pandeiro face? The first step is being aware of it. Pick up your pandeiro right now… play a challenging groove at a challenging tempo and be conscious of your facial muscles. Every time you feel them flexing, relax them. Now you’ve accomplished your first step at channeling your energy directly to playing the pandeiro instead of flexing your face. Just being conscious of this tick is the first step at 86’ing it.
The next step is to practice in front of a mirror. This is really important and all instrumentalists do it. Your posture is just as important as all of the other millions of technical things you’re thinking about. Posture will allow you to develop dexterity, longevity and flexibility on the pandeiro and any instrument. Watch your face in the mirror as you play those challenging grooves/tempos. Most likely you’ll see your mouth begin to change shape first. Don’t stop playing, rather simply relax your face and burn through it. Look at your posture. Are you hunching or leaning to one side? Fix it! If you do this enough and build a consciousness around it, you’ll start to notice that every time you play without a mirror your body will begin to correct itself and you’ll feel much more relaxed before, during and after playing. If your goal is to master the pandeiro or just build a basic facility to play with friends or along to albums, being relaxed is key.
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.
As I mentioned in class and as I always say, the pandeiro is not an easy instrument to learn. It requires discipline and practice. Don’t be in a rush to play fast or play a bunch of grooves. You need to walk before you can run. Take your time building a foundation with proper technique and you’ll be able to play any groove you want, at any tempo, for the rest of your life. A solid foundation on the pandeiro means focusing on your left wrist (the hand that holds the drum) and building the muscles and coordination. Remember, we’re using the “grid technique” that I discussed in the previous blog post which requires you to focus on your left wrist, gain full control of the jingles and build endurance. Here’s a few steps that you can take to start building a proper technique on the pandeiro.
How to Hold the Pandeiro: This is the most important step. If you don’t hold the pandeiro correctly you run the risk on harming yourself and developing tendonitis. Notice that your thumb is diving the pandeiro in half which helps you visualize your axis which is very important. We have to divide the pandeiro into equal halves to get an even sound. This will help your articulation, sound, feel and overall dexterity on the instrument. Here’s a short video lesson that I did with my friends at Meinl Percussion where I discuss the proper way of holding the pandeiro. Start here if you’re just beginning to play the pandeiro.
The next step is adding your right hand onto the drum. We will call the palm of our hand “heel” and the finger tips “toes”. Our motion will always be in the grid which is Heel-Toe-Heel-Toe. The placement of your right hand should be on the outer rim of the drum and you should aim for only hearing the jingles, no bass tones. (some drums will have an overtone when you play on the rim, that’s ok) Pay close attention to your articulation and make sure that your sound is even! Don’t let the heel be louder than your toes. Here’s a video lesson to help you with this step.
Here’s a few accent exercises to help you develop this technique.
I highly recommend that you master these lessons before moving any further on the pandeiro. This is your foundation for everything that you will be doing on this instrument in the future. Take your time, there’s no rush! And remember, HAVE FUN…it’s MUSIC!!
I’ll see you in the next blog post where we’ll be adding some bass tones and new exercises.
If you’re just starting to play the pandeiro, this is a good place to start. As you may have already discovered, there’s thousands of online video lessons (some good and some not so good) and there’s just as many different techniques and approaches to the pandeiro. Everyone has their own way of playing and their own technique and they’re all valid – if it sounds good, well, then it works! But how do you choose the right technique for you? That’s a personal question that only you can answer, however I believe that the “grid technique” is a universal approach to the pandeiro that will help you develop the tools necessary to get a good sound and feel on the instrument. And, once you have that together, you’ll have the freedom to start exploring different techniques and approaches. The “grid technique” will give you the flexibility and solid foundation that you’ll need to move on to the next level of your playing.
The “grid technique” is a method of playing that I learned from the great Marcos Suzano while I was living in Brazil (1999). I’m not sure if he calls it the “grid technique” but he refers to it as the grid. It’s important to note that he didn’t invent this method but he certainly popularized it when he made a duo album with Lenine called Olho de Peixe.
The idea of the grid is that you can access any sound (bass tone, slap tone etc) with either the top part of your hand (finger tips) or the bottom half (palm/heel) of your hand. This means that theoretically you never need to double up on any part of your hand to get the sound you want, instead you play constant 16th notes (heel-toe-heel-toe) and let the sound come from your hand without interrupting the motion of the pandeiro. Here’s a short video of Suzano giving a class.
If this all seems very overwhelming for you, don’t get discouraged. The pandeiro will require a lot of practice time and patience. It will hurt and you will build calluses on your hands (if you’re practicing enough!) But you need to stick with it, play slow tempos in the beginning and work on building your stamina.
I recently recorded a video lesson series for beginner pandeiro with my friends at Meinl Percussion. These video lessons start from ground zero. I make the assumption that you have never picked up a pandeiro before in your life. If you’ve already had a few lessons but feel like your technique is not so good, forget everything you learned and start over again. Remember, breaking bad habits is much harder than developing good ones!
Here’s video lesson #1
Stay tuned for the next blog post and video lesson for pandeiro!