No need for words: Hand drumming continues Tuesday


By Paul Roberts

Special to The PREVIEW

Join musician and music therapist Paul Roberts for a free hand-drumming class at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at noon.

The class offers a welcoming environment that encourages fun, creativity, playfulness and connecting with others. Hand drums are provided for those who don’t have one.

Even participants who have no experience playing a musical instrument can immediately get into the groove. Besides hand drumming, the class includes body percussion and indigenous songs.

Non-lexical vocables, words without literal meaning, have been used in a number of songs composed for Walt Disney’s musical films. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is a song from Disney’s 1946 “Song of the South,” for which the film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is another of Disney’s many songs that use this device. The style migrated to a number of Scouting songs such as “Ging Gang Gooli.”

Native Americans and other indigenous peoples often use syllables without semantic content in their songs. The meaning of these songs is inherent in the sounds of the syllables, the melody, the song’s purpose and history. In the drumming class, we sometimes sing indigenous songs with non-lexical vocables to spice up some of our rhythms.

Non-lexical vocables are common in the traditional singing of Ireland and Scotland, where it is known as lilting, diddling or mouth music. It is used in traditional American folk songs such as “Sourwood Mountain” with its refrain, “hey-ho diddle-um day,” and the cowboy ballad “Git Along, Little Dogies,” with its “whoopie ti yi yo.” Yodeling is a syllable-based vocal technique used in many cultures worldwide.

Legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong brought scat singing, a vocal improvisation style, to the fore in his 1926 recording “Heebie Jeebies.” In popular music, it has been used in doo-wop, a style of rhythm and blues, and in rock and roll. Little Richard, in his 1955 hit recording “Tutti Frutti,” sang the lyric “a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom,” a verbal rendition of a drum pattern that he had imagined. “Be-Bop-A-Lula” is a rockabilly song first recorded in 1956 by Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. “Da Doo Ron Ron” was recorded by The Crystals in 1963. Vocal improviser Bobby McFerrin has created a sophisticated art form with his wordless singing.

Using non-lexical vocables in songs is a traditional form that continues to transform and become incorporated into music. It’s a style that frees the voice to sing as a musical instrument, untethered from the literal meaning of words. It goes well with hand drumming, adding to the collaborative creativity.

For more information about the hand-drumming class, email or call 731-3117. The Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave.