The Break, African Drumming

GRADE: 3-5
SUBJECT: Culture
GENRE: African Drumming
TOPIC: Djembe
DISCIPLINE: Music General


In this lesson, students will learn about the break in African drumming. They will practice and rehearse the break and bass, tone, and slap techniques. Students will demonstrate the break through a selected art form. 



  • Identify the purpose of the break and non-verbal signals. 
  • Learn and rehearse the break on a drum or desk. 
  • Learn and rehearse bass, tone and slap techniques.
  • Perform a collaborative exercise, demonstrating the break to signal a change through a selected art form. 



National Core Arts Standards

MU:Cr2.1.3a Demonstrate selected musical ideas for a simple improvisation or composition to express intent , and describe connection to a specific purpose and context .
MU:Cr2.1.4a Demonstrate selected and organized musical ideas for an improvisation, arrangement, or composition to express intent, and explain connection to purpose and context.
MU:Cr2.1.5a Demonstrate selected and developed musical ideas for improvisations, arrangements, or compositions to express intent, and explain connection to purpose and context. 

Common Core State Standards

ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.



Teachers should review all media and resources prior to the lesson. Students should complete the Djembe Techniques lesson prior to this lesson.





  1. Tell students they will watch a video where djembefola, Weedie Braimah, demonstrates an important rhythm in djembe music, the break. Play The Break: Start, Change and Stop. Ask students: What is the purpose of the break? Why are signals important?


  1. Model for students how to play the break rhythm on a drum or desk. Allow time for students to practice the break on their own.


  1. Generate a class list of non-verbal signals. Ask students: What are examples of nonverbal signals that you’ve seen or heard? (Examples: car turn signals, a referee’s whistle to start/stop play, crossing guard hand signals, an orchestra conductor.)



  1. Play Bass, Tone and Slap Techniques. In the video Mr. Braimah demonstrates bass, tone, and slap techniques for producing a clean sound. Have students practice the exercise Mr. Braimah demonstrated.


  1. Split the classroom into three groups and have each perform the break together for the rest of the class. Reference the video The Break: Start, Change and Stop to help students practice the break.


  1. Tell students they will be watching a video where Mr. Braimah will explain the history of the break and how it works. Play History of the Break.



  1. Building from the History of the Break video, have the class perform an activity where all students change modes each time the break is played (either by the teacher or a designated student). Examples:
    • Drumming: For students with drums, have them improvise a medley where one player is designated as the djembe player who plays the break. Each time the break is played, students will change rhythms, join in or drop out of the medley.
    • Improv: Have an improv theater game where groups of 2-3 students act out improvised scenes. Each time the teacher or a designated student plays the break, students either shift into new characters or tag in/out and allow the next group of students to take their places and continue the improvisation.
    • Drawing: Have students draw with one medium (or only certain colors, or any other parameter). Every time the teacher or designated student plays the break, students will change to a different medium/set of colors, etc.
    • Art Musical Chairs: Place several large papers on desks around the room. Have students draw on the sheet closest to them. Every time the teacher or designated student plays the break, students will shift to the next station and continue the drawing on that collaborative piece.



Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Weedie Braimah, African Drumming Teaching Artist
Produced by Preservation Hall Foundation



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