Units – Frame Drum

    About This Unit

    This unit will focus on frame drum techniques (how to get great sounds out of this drum!), composing and improvising rhythm patterns, and playing the rhythm of rhymes on the drum.

    The unit will culminate in a rondo using the classic rhyme, “Queen Queen Caroline.

    Lesson One
    1. Introduction: Frame drum positioning.
    2. Sounds on the Frame Drum:
      • Dum – Fingers are on the edge of the drum and create an open ringing sound.
      • Pah – Deadstroke right in the middle of the drum.
      • Brush – Brushing your hand (or your fingernails) up and down on the drum.
      • Knock – Knock on the top of the drum.
      • Back – Hit the back of the rim of the drum. This creates a bass sound.
      • Tecks – Take your ring fingers and place them right on the edge of the rim of the drum
        aiming them down.
    3. Sounds taught call and response style: four beats of quarter notes (dum, pa, tek, brush, knock, back of the drum).
      • 1:00 – 1:07: Dum
      • 1:10 – 1:15: Pah
      • 1:16 – 1:23: Brush
      • 1:24 – 1:26: Knock
      • 1:28 – 1:33: Back
      • 1:34 – 1:50: Teks

    Lesson Two
    1. Call and response 4-beat rhythm patterns.
    2. Call and response 8-beat rhythm patterns.
    3. Video Timestamps:
      • 00:59 – 01:09:

        q qr q q | qr qr q q

      • 1:09 – 01:18:

        qr q qr q | qr q h

      • 01:18 – 1:31:

        qttt q qr q | qttt q h

      • 1:32 – 1:45:

        q q qttt qttt | q q qttt q

      • 1:46 – 1:58:

        eq e q q | eq e qttt q

      • 1:59 – 2:09:

        eq e qr q | eq e h

    Lesson Three
    1. Have students sit in a circle in chairs.
    2. Introduce or review each frame drum sound by playing the sound four times with a steady beat and have students copy you.
    3. Enhance the call/response by playing four and eight beat rhythm patterns at the student’s ability level, using the different frame drum sounds. Start with simple patterns and gradually become more challenging. Use the video lessons if that is more comfortable for you, or you are learning along with your students.
    4. Video Timestamps:
      • 0:49 – 1:00:

        q qr q q | q q qr q

      • 1:00 – 1:08:

        q qr qr q | q q qr qr

      • 1:08 – 1:17:

        qr qr qr q | q qr qr qr

      • 1:17 – 1:25:

        q q q qr | q q qr q

      • 1:28 – 1:38:

        q Q q q | q q Q q

      • 1:38 – 1:48:

        q qr q Q | q Q qr q

      • 1:48 – 2:07:

        qr Q Q q | q Q Q qr

      • 2:09 – 2:19:

        eq e q q | eq e qr q

      • 2:19 – 2:27:

        eq e q q | eq e qr q

      • 2:31 – 2:53:

        eq e qttt q | eq e q qttt

      • 2:53 – 3:13:

        qttt qr qr q | eq e q q

      • 3:13 – 3:32:

        q eq e qttt | qttt eq e q

    Lesson Four
    1. “Send” a sound around the circle by playing either a “dum” or a “pa” sound and have each student play the sound once until it comes back around to the teacher. Go around the circle numerous times!
      • This is especially nice because each drum has a different tone and the students hear the tones as a melody around the circle when a “dum” sound is played.
    2. Send a four-beat age-appropriate rhythm around the circle. See if the students can stay on the beat! Use claves or a woodblock to help them.
    3. Send a rhythm around the circle, with each student playing only one beat, so the pattern is split between four students.

    Lesson Five
    1. Video demo: play the rhythm on the frame drum, each phrase using different sounds. See the lesson PDF for more detail!
    2. Teach the rhyme by welding (one phrase at a time, then two phrases, then four phrases).
    3. Demonstrate each phrase on the frame drum using the designated sounds.
    4. Teach each phrase on the frame drum through call and response.
    5. Weld all phrases together.
    6. Perform.

    Lesson Six

    (Have students in a group setting led by the teacher)

    1. Silently create a four-beat rhythm pattern while tapping the tops of their fingers. (teacher keeps a steady beat.) Students should use rhythms with which they are already comfortable.
    2. In unison, audiate their pattern while they tap the tops of their fingers to show and feel the beat (teacher counts off with “1, 2, ready, go”.
    3. Repeat patterns for understanding.
    4. In unison, recite their rhythm pattern out loud while tapping their fingers.
    5. Silently create a second four-beat rhythm pattern.
    6. Audiate the second pattern at least two times in the same manner.
    7. In unison, students recite their rhythm pattern out loud while tapping the beat on the tops of their fingers
    8. Review first rhythm pattern.
    9. Review second rhythm pattern.
    10. Audiate first and second patterns consecutively.
    11. Students recite their patterns out loud consecutively while finger tapping.
    12. Have students choose which order they want to perform their two rhythm patterns.

    Teaching Notes: Tapping the beat on their fingertips helps students distinguish between beat and rhythm (eg: they might think ti-taa-ti is three beats).

    Lesson Seven

    Have students

    1. Work in pairs and practice combining their rhythm patterns in different combinations until they find are happy with their arrangement.
    2. Practice their patterns, trying out different sound combinations on the frame drum until they create something that they are ready to perform.
    3. Practice playing the Queen Caroline rhyme in unison and then performing their rhythm patterns consecutively to prepare for the class rondo.

    Final Rondo Performance:

    • A – Queen Caroline rhyme played on frame drums in unison and audiated
    • B – Student Group#1 rhythm patterns played consecutively for 16 beats on frame drum
    • A –
    • C – Student Group#2 rhythm patterns played consecutively for 16 beats on frame drum
    • A –
    • D –
    • etc

    Have the class create a coda using a combination of their favorite sounds on the frame drum


    • Have students improvise their 8-beat patterns
    • Have students research other rhymes to play as the alternating sections

    Lesson Eight
    1. Teacher-led call and response in a circle with frame drums, same response.
    2. Lead students to respond with different rhythms by having them “borrow” some of your rhythms for their response.
    3. Have students pair up and lead each other in a call/response activity.
    4. Perform for the class.
    5. Include the following elements in subsequent lessons:
      • Space (add rests).
      • Repetition.
      • Borrowing rhythmic ideas from their partner.
      • Overlapping (student #2 starts before student #1 has finished).

    About The Author
    James Allen

    Initially self- taught by grooving to classic rock records, James earned a BM in music performance from SUNY Purchase, did three national tours as a show drummer, then went on to complete a master’s in music performance at Yale. James studied Latin percussion at the Boys Harbor in Spanish Harlem, and honed his hand drumming chops by accompanying dance classes. James obtained his teaching certificate from Central Connecticut State University and is now in his 21st year teaching music in Darien, Connecticut, focusing on the Orff Schulwerk methodology. He obtained his level 1 Orff training last summer.

    James also plays middle eastern percussion (including frame drum, riq and dumbek) with a Sephardic group and presents workshops on applying frame drums in the music classroom. He composes for the frame drum as well, having recently published a duet and a solo piece for the instrument. James also plays drum set regularly with a jazz trio.