The ability to focus and concentrate, or lack thereof, is often the reason students are sent to the GoodKids class. Whether they have some degree of attention deficiency, or are just unable to focus, these kids get bored and distracted and end up disrupting a class.  This results in bright and otherwise talented children, being labeled troublemakers. The GoodKids programme has a real cool way of addressing this, and helping kids to focus. This is through drumming. Aside from drumming being a cool activity in itself, what makes it even cooler is that the drumming is done on recycled items like buckets and tubs (Aah! Now the title makes sense).

The kids sit in a circle, each with a bucket/ tub/ biscuit tin/ coconut shell etc, and follow the beats the trainers give them in every class. It may sound like they are just sitting and banging drums, but the kids are taught the basics of music such as  rhythm and tempo, and they learn how to make interesting combinations of sounds to create music.

There is the “ta” or single rhythm, the “titi” or double rhythm and “ti tika & tika ti” the triple rhythm. The trainers string together beats to the count of four, and the “tub thumping” starts. Brimming with eagerness, the kids can barely wait for the trainers to finish demonstrating before they all start playing. The sound in the beginning can only be described as “enthusiastic” and is not easily mistaken for music. As they get comfortable, they are divided between low, mid and high, and play the different parts. Aside from the odd plaintive cry of “susah” (difficult), they soon settle into the beats, and play beautifully.

This may seem easy enough, but imagine you are trying to follow the beat, and enjoy it, but your mind does not want to stay in the room. Keeping on tempo and getting the beat right is harder than you think. While they can play well in a group with someone leading them, when they play individually, the real picture emerges. After a few repetitions, some of the kids lose focus and are suddenly playing faster than the given tempo, or mixing up their right and left hands. These kids pick up the beat really fast, and have no trouble getting it right the first few times. Then you suddenly see them falter and get mixed up. The more they try to fix it the more worked up they get, and it goes from bad to worse, till they just stop. Since banging on the back of an old paint tub is seen as fun, their cheeky grins are still in place. They are willing to laugh it off and give it another shot. However, in a typical classroom setting, with fractions and simultaneous equations, the smiles would be long gone.

There’s also another group of children who are shy and lack confidence. They play just fine in the group, but are too shy to play on their own. They keep making mistakes and even stop drumming if they are asked to do a solo. These are the kids who might have either been laughed at, or reprimanded for doing something, in the past So now they are too afraid to even try. Once again the unthreatening nature of the exercise in the GoodKids class makes it easier for them to lose their inhibitions and try.

Focusing on the beat, while keeping the tempo teaches the kids to focus, and slowly improve their concentration. Similarly, playing in the safety of a group before attempting it  individually helps the shy kids regain their confidence.  Our role as the trainers, is of course to continuously coax, cajole, praise and encourage them until they come out of their shells and start enjoying themselves. Some of the kids really surprise us with the talent they have hidden inside them.

Being a trainer in this setting is also harder than it seems. Particularly for someone like me, whose only gift when it comes to music, is being able to hear. I recall on the first day, feeling like a bit of a fraud, because I was learning the beats along with the kids. They would look at their Cikgu Tilo for assurance, or to follow her, and I would be mentally crossing my fingers, toes and everything else hoping that I would not mess up. When the kids were asked if they knew what tempo or rhythm meant, I had to look knowingly, smile and nod. My best acting skills were then on display.  Thankfully the other two trainers with me are both diploma holders in music, so the kids are in good hands. However, thanks to years of head banging and dance lessons , I have been able to pick up the basics without letting on. I am however constantly on my toes, and in my case learning from the students is not a figurative expression. If I do make a mistake, I laugh it off. If me being laughed at helps someone come out of their shell, or gives someone the confidence to try (and risk being laughed at), it will make it all worthwhile.