Soloing can intimidating. It’s a tough skill that draws on multiple competencies; acute awareness of the pulse, a large “beat vocabulary,” confidence, and more.
Soloing can be taught, but students get overwhelmed if you try to do it all at once. My method of introducing soloing to younger students breaks the skill into bite-sized pieces learned over several weeks. It’s one thing I do in class over those 4 weeks, rather than the only thing we work on. With students this age I let them create and play duets if they want, which is less high stakes and cultivates confidence.
Here’s my method:
Teach kuchishoka using the Squirrel Village story.
Remind students of the squirrel rhythm pattern from the story. Have them play it on their laps. Point out that the number of syllables they’re saying corresponds to what they’re playing.
Draw a horizontal rectangle on the board. Divide it into 4 equal boxes.
Choose 4 kids. Have each say don or doko. Write the words they say on the board, one per box.
Lead the class through clapping the pattern their classmates created.
Have students move to drums.
Lead students in playing the pattern on the drums.
Repeat steps 3, 4, and 6 two or three times.
Introduce su. (It’s in the squirrel rhythm, but they won’t have realized it.)
Repeat steps 3, 4, and 6 several more times, adding su into the mix.
(Ask teachers to bring individual whiteboards, markers, and erasers to class.)
Do steps 3, 4, and 6 from last week to activate their prior learning.
Give 2-3 minutes for students to create a 4-beat rhythm pattern on their own whiteboard, drawing boxes and writing words inside them (the way they’ve been doing it as a class). Allow them to work in pairs with their drum partner or own their own.
Have students say and clap their individual patterns all at the same time.
Have students play their individual patterns on the drums all at the same time.
Have students leave their whiteboards and rotate to a new drum.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 at the new drum.
Rotate and repeat for up to 20 minutes.
(Ask teachers to bring whiteboards again.)
Have students make up their own patterns individually or in pairs.
Have students play their patterns all together.
Have students play patterns one at a time. You need to conduct this. I count in the whole group, then make friendly eye contact with a student when it’s their turn to play and mark their 4-beats with my hand. The first time around is rocky, but the second time goes fine.
At the end of Week 4, each kid or pair has a short solo ready to plug into a song. Have them play it twice if you need a longer one. Be sure to email your classroom teachers before Weeks 3 and 4 to ask them to bring their individual whiteboards to class (I have yet to run into a class that doesn’t have a set).
If you try this approach, let me know! I’d love to hear how it goes. Happy teaching!