Drumming For Success
by Arvin Scott, auscott@rameau.music.uga.edu

Drumming for Success is a two-part youth and adult community-based program that I started in 1997 in Athens, Georgia. This program provides a positive and fun-filled environment that fosters achievement, creativity and self-esteem. It makes a difference in the lives of youths through positive role modeling and spreads the joy of drumming throughout the community and the Southeast.

The youth segment meets separately from the adult segment. Children are recommended to the program by local public school teachers, administrators, community agency leaders and adults who also participate in the program. Youth participants are between the ages of seven and seventeen and come from diverse backgrounds and ability levels. Some demonstrate exceptional ability and signs of upward mobility, whereas others have been identified as "at-risk" by community agencies or teachers. Children with developmental and neurological challenges also participate fully in the program.

The program is divided into two sessions - Jan. through June and Sep. through Dec. The basic idea is to teach utilizing the percussion instruments you have available; I use accessories, hand drums, congas, timbales and drumset. I teach using a very flexible method of aural tradition - where the leader sings and plays a rhythm and the group mimics. First, start with a simple pattern to get everyone relaxed and comfortable. As the class mimics, I gradually add more complex patterns and rhythms. Ultimately, the group will groove, playing a variety of Brazilian, Carribean and West African influenced music.

During the first weeks of the program, students are required to write goal statements for the class. I monitor their progress through consultation with parents, teachers and community agency leaders. Once students achieve their goals, they are rewarded with drums and percussion accessories, which are funded with the support of individuals, community and industry sponsors. The positive results from this program are reflected in grade reports and school attendance records, better attitude towards school and learning, enhanced self-esteem, improved family relations and greater mental concentration and muscle coordination.

Through this program, children also gain valuable performance experience. To date, there have been appearances at the local Boys Clubs, two branches of Girls Clubs, public schools, the Family Connections Project of Rome, GA and the YMCA of Chattanooga, TN. In July of this year, the "Drumming for Success" Hand Drumming Ensemble (comprised of children and adults) was the featured act in the first annual Athens Kids Festival.

The first step in building a community-based program is getting the community involved. Write letters and visit the local businesses and schools. They are usually receptive to supporting such a program. Though the adult class pays a nominal fee, the program could not survive without the support of sponsors and local businesses. Hillsman Middle School has donated their facility, which serves as the host site for regular community classes.

This program affirms a lesson I learned long ago - that drumming can transform a bad day into a good day, a good day into a great day, and an "at-risk" life into a successful lifetime. It is a source of joy and passion for me and those whose lives the program touches.