Ethnomusic, Inc.

Roots of Rhythm: Professional Development Workshops for K-8 Educators Based on a Multi-disciplinary World Drumming and Instrument Making Curriculum

Roots of Rhythm: Professional Development Workshops for K-8 Educators Based on a Multi-disciplinary World Drumming and Instrument Making Curriculum

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Craig Woodson

17950 Geauga Lake Road
Chagrin Falls, Ohio 44023






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Dr. Craig Woodson is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, educator and instrument maker. He has presented Professional Development workshops on world music and instrument making for over 25 years in the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In 2004, he wrote the "Roots of Rhythm" (ROR), a multi-disciplinary world drumming curriculum for the Percussion Marketing Council (PMC). Since then he has trained over 2000 music and non-music teachers, administrators, parents and professional musicians in the use of this resource. Available online for free access at, the curriculum consists of a Teacher's Guide, 3 CDs, Curriculum Connections, Recommended Reading and Funsheets. Teachers take away creative, hands-on activities for immediate use in the classroom.

Program Objectives

Teachers use ROR and related content to help students find connections in their own lives to children in other cultures through stories connected to drums, drumming and rhythms from around the world. A key objective is to have teachers experience the value of studying world drumming and rhythms. Dr. Woodson models these rhythms including speech (African talking drum), layered (Asian gamelan), and human (Lakota heartbeat drum). This generates inquiry into the related arts of dance or visual arts. Cooperative learning results when teachers fit individual drum rhythms together within a particular ensemble tradition. Teachers learn to write rhythmic and tonal patterns in the fill-in box system.

Teachers learn about an individual country and culture then make and decorate age-appropriate instruments that represent idiophonic and/or membranophonic families, using simple tools and materials. Teachers receive Dr. Woodson's detailed instrument-making notes as a rubric for assessing the quality of work. Participants make instruments using these grade-appropriate steps, tools and materials that do not require special skills. Sound production comes from common items like plastic cups, coffee cans, wood, hoops, and packing tape. ROR includes the cultural and historical context (VAPA 3.0) of each instrument, and its country of origin including its flag, geography, population, and climate.

Teachers will reflect on how their PD tasks of performing, composing and making instruments can connect to teaching other subjects such as art, math, science, social studies, or language arts. The combination of performing music, making an instrument and composing provides rich connections to many other disciplines. For example, the craft of instrument making explores both art and science. Measurements while tuning a xylophone form a lesson in mathematical relationships to nodes. Teachers learn that pushing air out of a box drum creates a partial vacuum, thereby reducing sound. Stories about the social context of 'talking drums' generate inquiry into language and cultural heritage.

The "Roots of Rhythm" professional development program provides classroom teachers practical tools for experiencing 'music in culture,' as a multidisciplinary, worldwide phenomenon. The hands-on approach joins instrument making with music making and listening to engage teachers and students with percussion from around the world. In this process, learners become active participants as they make and decorate musical instruments, practice and perform music as an individual artistic expression, and join others in a group experience as a team member and possibly as a leader. Since ROR content ranges from simple to complex, from general to specific, from K-12, it is highly adaptable for general or special populations, and as such can be customized for a teacher's, school's or district's needs.


Working in partnership with the school, planning begins 3-4 weeks before the PD with an evaluation of how ROR content will be customized to adapt to the school's instructional needs at each grade level. The final sequential plan will include a Teacher Survey and Evaluation Form. The PD can last 2, 4, or 6 hours (1 or more days). Each teacher will take home instruments that they made along with instructions, box-notation pages, a CD, and parts of the free ROR Teacher's Guide. As follow-up, teachers can email or phone Dr. Woodson and can download all ROR content at, and ROR lesson plans at For 2011-2012, Dr. Woodson will be in Los Angeles around one week per month. Possible grant support for his fee may be available from the Percussion Marketing Council. Without that funding, the fees are $300/2 hours, $550/4 hours, and $800/6 hours. The materials fee per person with or without PMC support is $15/2 hours, $25/4 hours, and $35 for 6 hours.


The "Roots of Rhythm" curriculum was written in 2004 by Dr. Craig Woodson with support of the Percussion Marketing Council in cooperation with the International House of Blues Foundation. Primarily for use in professional development workshops by both organizations, it focused first on the needs of non-music 5th and 6th grade teachers. Since that time it has been used at all K-12 levels for teachers with and without musical training. The ROR curriculum emerged from the need to take percussion beyond the music room and into the general classroom, thereby creating opportunities for more students to learn about music as active music makers. Dr. Woodson's approach to best practices draws on the work of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences with the "musical mind," Pink's Whole New Mind with "inventiveness," Bloom's Taxonomy with "doing/hands," and Orff/Dalcroze with "music and movement." His methods draw on his training in music education and in ethnomusicology, the study of 'music in context.'

Participants' Experience

Teachers experience the joy of playing drums, finding that it is something anyone can do. Using humor and stories, Dr. Woodson puts everyone at ease as, for example, when he models the four basic tones on the Cuban bongos. Participants learn about different rhythms, countries, and cultures, and gain awareness of how music reflects life conditions and experiences. ROR increases their understanding of musical traditions and belief systems and of how diverse societies influence one another. When teachers make instruments, Dr. Woodson models each task offering solutions to problems that typically come up. Teachers experience the fulfillment of creating an instrument with an authentic sound. This craft provides a practical solution to supplying students with instruments, and it motivates children to become active artistic participants in music making. Those without musical background find it easy to participate by reading and composing music using the simple fill-in box notation.

Classroom Relevancy

Teachers are supported in adapting and integrating across their classroom instruction in several ways. For example, the ROR curriculum contains a valuable 50-page supplement called Classroom Connections written by noted educator Anne Fennell. It details how ROR uses California-based academic content standards in language arts, math, science, social studies, and visual and performing arts. Another valuable resource in the curriculum is the 25-page Recommended Reading section written by another highly regarded music specialist, Jessica Barron. This provides an important resource for the teachers and school librarians in support of a wide range of instruction. The "Roots of Rhythm" provides a sequential learning experience in history from ancient times to the present, in science from simple instrument technologies to the more complex, and in music from general to specific content. Assessment begins with evaluations designed to determine the ongoing value of teaching the ROR curriculum.


Participants make and decorate their own musical instruments using commonly available tools and materials, skills they take back to the classroom. Craft-making is central to the ROR approach as a solution to providing instruments; as an artistic experience in the music-making process; and as a way of understanding the musician's 'tool.' Teachers use a variety of materials including markers, crayons, and colored tape to help make meaning in the process of becoming art makers. Simple tools include child-safe scissors and a small saw and hammer for older students. In the Funsheets (student activity pages), one art project requires the drawing technique of foreshortening. In another Funsheet, students research the colors of the lotus flower for decorating a drawing of the Japanese kakko drum.

Cooperative Learning

In the music making and instrument making processes, teachers follow three of Dr. Woodson's rules: "Help your neighbor, ask your neighbor for help, and if you have a problem, solve it." These rules help set the stage for how participants are encouraged to interact. Since both music making and instrument making are social activities, conversation and discussion are to be expected. Performing music of other cultures may involve cooperative interaction and listening. An important example is how one performs in a typical African drumming ensemble. Here each person's rhythmic part is related to everyone else's as if they were roles in a family, sometimes referred to as 'call and response.' In contrast, First Nation drumming among the Lakota is a unified rhythm based on the universal heartbeat.

Differentiated Instruction

The "Roots of Rhythm" focuses on a creative, hands-on, cross-disciplinary approach. It affords an excellent opportunity to learn in a variety of modalities as defined by Neil Fleming (VARK) and Howard Gardner including kinesthetic/tactile, visual/reading, aural, and musical. For example, drumming with hands or beaters provides a positive, musical experience by the act of hitting. The process of making a drum requires the correct gross and fine motor skills, for example when pulling tape over a can to make a drumhead. In composing music for ROR lessons, teachers fill in a box notation and learn to define their composition with descriptive, analytic, synthetic, comparative and critical terminology. In all, such instruction builds teachers' capacity beyond specific lessons and concepts.

Interdisciplinary Connections

Teaching music through various disciplines is thoroughly addressed in the Curriculum Connections supplement, which describes how ROR can be used to teach K-12 math, science, social studies, and VAPA. Math concepts, such as ratios and percentages, come up when measuring and tuning xylophone keys. Elements of science like the Venturi effect, resonance, and conduction are all discussed with the African goblet-shaped djembé drum. Each ROR instrument is presented in the context of its historical, cultural and social background. For example, the buhai, a percussion instrument used during the Romanian Plugusorul folk cycle expresses the group's connection to agricultural wealth. Teachers learn to relate elements of dance, drama, and the visual arts to musical performance and instrument making.

Multi-cultural Connections

Through the study of world drumming, ROR demonstrates specific musical traditions in the five large cultural areas of Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. For example, in the area of Turkey during the Ottoman Empire, the first Sultan was given a set of kettledrums as a symbol of his new status, practical because they were important for signaling in battle. The ancient Japanese music called gagaku started as a result of the need for 'elegant' music for the royal court; it is still performed today. In Africa, drums are often used for communicating language, as for example when the dondo calls the bell player to begin playing a group's rhythm. ROR describes how drums traveled as nations expanded, such as when the Portuguese adufe was taken to Brazil during colonization.

VAPA Standards

The "Roots of Rhythm" incorporates the California's VAPA standards. For example, when teachers read, notate, listen to, and analyze music in the graphic box notation, they experience Artistic Perception. Participants create drums and perform drumming from around the world as Creative Expression. Teachers learn about Historical and Cultural Context as they understand contributions of drumming in five geographical areas including Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Responding to and critiquing new types of world music reveal Aesthetic Valuing. The PD explains connections of science to the art of drumming and drum making. Teachers explore Relationships among cultures, politics and music. The use of counting to play drums finds close Application to dance and even drama.