Book: How to Play Djembe: West African Rhythms for Beginners

Alan Dworsky and Betsy Sansby. Minnetonka, Minn.: Dancing Hands Music, 2000. $24.95. Reviewed by Ron Rienstra.

Music from the world church is finding its way into the repertoires of more and more congregations. Key to playing this music with authenticity and vitality is proper percussion accompaniment. The djembe, a West African drum, is an ideal choice for many churches. It is capable of a wide range of sounds—from a big bass boom to high, thin slaps. It is fairly inexpensive (around $250 for a really nice one), and it is often beautifully decorated. Best of all, hand percussion is fairly easy to play. A typical Western “trap set” is a rather imposing collection of hardware. Less intimidating is a single drum, especially for someone with a good musical ear but no formal training. A player can get quite far with some informal training, taken seriously. This book is just the right tool to bring someone step by step through all the percussion basics, and then a bit further: from holding the instrument to finding the right hand positions, learning the four simple strokes, feeling the pulse, playing polyrhythms, and so on. The two most difficult problems with percussion tutoring are addressed with a simple and ingenious way of rhythmic notation that tells you what type of stroke falls on which part of the beat, and which hand you play it with. There is also a play-along CD so you can hear the rhythms, not just see them. Add to this a glossary of terms and sources for further study— including the URLs for some great websites, and you’ll find this book is well worth the cost in money and time.

Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).