Ross School - Senior Project 2007-08

Student: Peter Reale

Mentor: Kenneth Sacks


Title:  Ancient Traditions, Future Grooves

Description:  I designed a world music course for high school students on rhythm. It is designed to show students the different views of rhythm held by the Ewe people of Ghana and the Shona of Zimbabwe. the course shows students how to apply these concepts to contemporary music in their final project. 


Paper, Lesson 1, Lesson 2


Perception of rhythm varies from culture to culture, for us western music is often times predictable, if you enter a dance club in the western world playing house, techno or hip hop music you can easily predict the beat because it is based around a feeling of four. This is specific to European and western music. If you were to find your self at a performance of Balinese gamelan music, or Indian Mrdangam music in which rhythmic cycles can exceed 100 beats per cycle, you may feel disoriented as well as feel that the music was not danceable or did not have a groove.

For my project I decided to design a course for high school students around two African cultures and their views of rhythm. The cultures that I chose use polyrhythm in their music. Polyrhythm is the simultaneous playing of two or more independent rhythms. The goal of the course is for students to be able to understand and apply these concepts to contemporary composition and orchestration.

My interest in music of other cultures began when I was in ninth grade and took my first African drumming class. I played African drums sporadically up until 11th grade when I went on M-term to Ghana. Ghana was amazing I learned so much so quickly. When I got back it was spring trimester and talk of senior project was already beginning and I knew I wanted to do something involving African music.

I started work on my project this summer studying African drumming in two different programs. I spent a week studying at Berklee School of musicŐs percussion festival. And a week studying at Eastman school of music

The original idea was that I was going to write an in-depth paper about the evolution of the Akan Rhythm Adowa and how it came to the new world and the impact it had on music there. I started researching this but quickly realized that it was incredibly difficult and, rhythmic analysis of early American music is almost nonexistent.

My mentor and I threw around some ideas and we finally ended with the idea of designing a course based around African rhythm. 

The course is broken into four different parts the first part is the introduction to rhythm where the students created there own definition of rhythm and discuss their views of rhythm, this allows a starting point as they develop new ideas of rhythm.

The second part is the Ewe section where students learn about Ghanaian rhythm and the rhythm Gahu; they are also introduced to the notation system of tubs.

The third part is the Shona part in which students learn about applying the polyrhythmic techniques to melodic music. They move deeper into tubs and learn piano arrangements of nhemamusasa.

The fourth is the final project. Student are given time to work on a final project where they either write an rhythmic analysis or work in groups to compose music that includes the ideas taught to them in the course.

As for problems in my project, time management was a huge problem with me I can procrastinate for weeks at a time but I learned the hard way about procrastination this year and was sent into panic mode and had to work harder than I have ever worked before. I learned so much about rhythm this year; itŐs helped me in my own personal music out side of my senior project a lot.

Works Cited

Boamah, E (1999). Akom and adowa bell patterns in a traditional west African region. Unpublished Masters Thesis, Wesleyan University

Hartigan, R (1995). West African rhythms for drumset. Miami, FL; Manhattan Music

Holmes, M (1984). The pulse of adowa. Unpublished Masters Thesis, Wesleyan University

Ladzekpo, K (1994). anlo-ewe history. Retrieved December 17, 2007, from Web site:

Locke, D (1998). Drum gahu: an introduction to african rhythm. Gilsum, NH: White Cliffs Media.

Montfort, M (1985). Ancient traditions- future possibilities. Mill valley, CA: Panoramic Press.

Nketia, J.H. (1953). Funeral dirges of the akan people. Exeter, UK: James Townsend and Sons LTD.

Sacks, K (1992). The dialectic of shona mbira dzavadzimu.  Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of California Los Angeles

Community Member (Details)

My community member was Michael Guglielmo. He is a local musical therapist as well as a percussion teacher who has a long history playing on long island and in New York City. He gave me a unique perspective on views of rhythm.