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.
Partido-Alto (High-Party) is a sub genre of Samba that was born in Rio de Janeiro and was influenced by the melting pot of cultures migrating to the port city during the turn of the twentieth century. Partido-Alto can be classified as a style of singing improvised verses or a specific rhythm. The singing style is usually divided into two parts;
Verses: The lead singer/s improvise their verses based on a theme and usually compete with each other.
Refrain: This is the response to the verse and is sung by the coro, or the entire group.
The origins of Partido-Alto reside deep within the diverse Afro-Brazilian cultures of Congo-Angolian heritage and was influenced by many styles such as Jongo, Embolada and more. If you’re interested in digging in deeper into the history, check out my friend Beto González’s article where he reviews a book by Nei Lopes called “Partido-Alto: Samba de Bamba”. Click here to read the article.
Also, do yourself a favor right now and watch this video to really get a birds eye view into the roots of Partido-Alto. Skip to 14:55 to see various singers stepping to the mic and improvising over a theme.
Here’s a list of a few quintessential Partido-Alto icons for you to check out:
Aniceto do Império
Clementina de Jesus
….and there’s many more. But this will get your started with the roots of the music.
Now that you have a very basic background on what Partido-Alto is, let’s take a look at a few variations for pandeiro. This is one of my favorite Partido-Alto songs that I always give to my students first, before they learn any other samba groove. This is a song by Aniceto do Império called “Samba de Partido Alto”. The tempo is perfect for beginners and intermediate players and the rhythmic parts in the pandeiro are very clear in the recording. Here’s a transcription of the outline of what the pandeiro is playing:
Now practice along to this song.
Here’s another one of my favorite classic Partido-Alto songs by Clementina de Jesus and Clara Nunes. This is also great for beginner and intermediate pandeiro players because of the tempo and clarity of the pandeiro part. Check out the pandeiro part and then play along with the song.
The third Partido-Alto that I give to my students after they’ve internalized the previous two is this song by Martino da Vila. Notice how it’s almost identical to the pandeiro part on the Clementina song above but it leaves out beat one and adds an extra note on beat 2 in the 2nd measure. Those small differences have a huge impact on the overall feel of the groove. Check it out:
If you spend the next 6 weeks playing along to these songs or any other songs by these artists, your pandeiro playing will definitely break boundaries and you will begin to internalize the Samba de Partido-Alto rhythm. Remember to take your time practicing. If these tempos are too fast, slow it down with a program or start with a metronome at a slower tempo and build up to being able to play with these songs.
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:
Marcante is the lowest and largest drum. (22″-26″) This drum always plays the baque (beat) and rarely plays variations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Arrasto alfaia part:
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.
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!