The Capoeira Blog


Intro To Capoeira Music: The Atabaque, Pandeiro, and Supporting Instruments
July 9, 2008, 8:33 am
Filed under: Music, Tips & Guides


Photo by faisca (Flickr)

Welcome to the fourth part of the Introduction to Capoeira Music series, where we will learn a bit more about the rest of capoeira’s orchestra.

The berimbau may be capoeira’s most famous and unique instrument, but capoeira’s sound is not truly complete without the accompaniment of the atabaque and pandeiro (and in some cases, the reco reco and agogo).

The atabaque and pandeiro are rhythm instruments more commonly known as a drum and tambourine, respectively. The capoeira game can be played without these two instruments, but it probably won’t be as lively or energetic if they are missing.

Hopefully when you’re done reading this post, you’ll know a little more about each instrument, and you’ll be able to take some basic rhythms with you to practice.

Atabaque


Photo from Wikipedia

The atabaque is a drum typically made from Brazilian jacaranda wood and animal skin. You play the atabaque with your hands, and most of the time while standing.

The basic rhythm is pretty easy to start with (definitely easier at first than the berimbau, in my opinion), but it gets a bit tricky when you are playing with the rest of the instruments and singing in a frantic roda. Like everything else: practice makes perfect.

This is a basic atabaque rhythm:

Once you get the hang of the basics, you can move on to other rhythms like maculele and samba de roda. And when you really start progressing, you can begin adding flourishes and improvisations to the basic rhythms.

Here are some things to keep in mind while playing the atabaque:

  • Keep your hands relaxed while playing.
  • There should be a distinct difference in sound when you hit the middle of the atabaque head and the edge.
  • The atabaque should not be played so loud that it overpowers the berimbau.
  • When switching atabaque players, try to switch quickly and not miss a beat.

Pandeiro


Photo by jandoo (Flickr)

The pandeiro plays essentially the same part as the atabaque: it keeps the rhythm.

Its smaller than the atabaque, but don’t let the pandeiro’s small stature fool you; it still takes time to master, and could even be considered harder to learn than the atabaque. But because it is small (not to mention less expensive) it’s more practical to learn on in the comfort of your own home. And you can then take what you learn on the pandeiro and apply it to the atabaque when you’re in class.

It takes a bit of dexterity to play the pandeiro well, because truly getting the most out of the instrument requires you to use the fingers, thumb, palm, and heel of your hand.

These are some basic pandeiro rhythms:

You probably noticed that it sounds a lot like the basic atabaque rhythm. Good obvservation! The basic rhythms are the same, you just play the pandeiro with one hand instead of two. And just like the atabaque, once you get good at the pandeiro you can improvide and add your own flourishes.

Here are some things to keep in mind while playing the pandeiro:

  • Hitting the middle of the pandeiro should produce a tone different from hitting the edge.
  • You can change the tone of the rim hit by pressing your thumb against the skin.
  • Try to practice the pandeiro on both hands so you can switch if you start to get tired.
  • “Don’t spank the pandeiro. Enough said.”

Supporting Instruments

These final two instruments are not played in all capoeira rodas, and in my experience, are more likely to be found in angola rodas than regional.

Reco Reco


Photo from LSC

The reco reco is a a bamboo instrument played by scraping a stick across grooves in the body.

I couldn’t find any video tutorials, but here are a few good tips:

  • The rhythm is 1-2-3 (rest).
  • Don’t make all the scrapes in the same direction. Try towards you (1), away (2), towards you (3).

Agogo


Photo from LSC

The agogo is a high pitched bell. It is played by tapping a stick against the bells.

Again, I couldn’t find any video tutorials, but I offer you a few words of wisdom:

  • The agogo has a high sound that can be heard above the other instruments, so stay on the beat.
  • Some groups play high-low-high, while others play low-high-low.

This concludes our Intro to Capoeira Music series. I will follow up with an appendix of useful resources so you can expand upon what you’ve learned. I hope this series has been useful and enjoyable. I’ve learned a lot from it, and I hope you have too!



Intro To Capoeira Music: The Berimbau
June 18, 2008, 9:57 am
Filed under: Music, Tips & Guides

Berimbau tocou na capoeira
Berimbau tocou eu vou jogar


Photo by Allison McCarthy (Flickr)

Welcome to the third part of the Introduction to Capoeira Music series, where we will learn a bit more about the berimbau.

The berimbau is a one-stringed instrument that originated in Africa. It is integral to capoeira, yet it is also used in many other musical styles and cultures. In capoeira, whoever plays the berimbau controls the pace of the music, and thus the pace of the game.

There are three types of berimbaus: gunga (low), medio (middle), and viola (high). The three sizes work together and provide rhythm, improvisation, and harmony. Traditional angola rodas use all three, while it is common to use only one berimbau in a regional roda (though, this is not a strict rule, and it is usually up to the mestre).

If you want to learn capoeira, you must learn the berimbau. Like anything in capoeira, and any instrument for that matter, learning how to play the berimbau takes dedication and practice. You will not master the berimbau over night. But the more you play the better you will become, and that’s what’s important.

Berimbau Anatomy

The berimbau is played by striking the string with a stick while a rock or coin is pressed against the string to change the tone. It may sound simple, but anyone who has seen or played a berimbau knows that it is nothing of the sort.

Before you start playing the berimbau, you should know what you’re working with.


Image from worldartswest.org

The berimbau is made of three main parts:

Verga: The verga is a wooden bow, four-to-five feet long. It is traditionally made from biriba wood, which grows natively in Brazil.

Arame: The arame is a steel wire that usually comes from the inside of a car tire. Check out this post on how to make your own berimbau arame.

Cabaca: The cabaca is a hollow gourd with a hole in one end that is tied to the main body of the berimbau and acts as a resonator. You can create a muffled sound by pressing the cabaca to your stomach.

To play the berimbau, you need:

Baqueta: The baqueta is a wooden stick used to strike the arame.

Dobrao: The dobrao is a coin or rock used to change the tone of the berimbau.

Caxixi: The caxixi is a woven shaker held in the same hand as the baqueta, and is used to enrich the berimbau’s sound.

Berimbau Basics

The berimbau is a unique instrument that takes time to learn, and a lifetime to master.

The first thing you need to do is string the berimbau. Luckily for you, I made an earlier post on how to string your berimbau, so check it out.

The second thing you need to do is get used to holding and balancing the berimbau. Your pinky goes under the string holding the cabaca (and yes, your pinky will be in pain and maybe go numb at first, that’s normal), your ring and middle finger curl around and grip the verga, and you hold the dobrao with your thumb and pointer finger. The best thing you can do is have someone show you the correct grip, because it’s tricky to explain.

Berimbaus are pretty long and end up being top-heavy, so you need to learn how to balance the berimbau and train your wrist to keep it straight. If you don’t balance the berimbau well, it will tip and sway all over the place, and make it a lot harder to play anything. Practice tilting the berimbau up and down and side to side with your wrist, without playing, so that you can get used to the way it feels. When you get really good, you can use this practice to show off.

Once you get the basic grip, you can start to make some sounds (I say sounds, because unless you’re an uber talented musician, I don’t think you’ll be playing crazy good music the first time you hold a berimbau).

Each note comes from striking the arame with the baqueta, which you hold in your opposite hand with the caxixi (to hold the caxixi, rest it in your palm with the loop facing your fingers, and stick your middle two fingers through the loop). The different tones (closed, open, and buzz) come from pressing, lifting, and gently touching the dobrao to the arame.

Mixing up these tones can create an infinite number of toques (rhythms) and improvisations. But, you’re gonna want to start with the basics. Here are some more tips for getting the hang of playing the berimbau.

Here are two basic toques that you can try:

Sao Bente Grande de Angola

Sao Bente Grande

These are two of the most common toques in capoeira, and if you learn them, you’ll be well on your way to learning many more. There are many more examples on Soul Capoeira’s YouTube channel.

So, there you have it. I haven’t told you everything there is to know about the berimbau, but I think I’ve given you enough to be dangerous with. You can’t get better unless you play, so grab a berimbau and PLAY!

Be sure to check out Part 4 of this series where we discuss capoeira’s other instruments.



Intro to Capoeira Music: Singing
June 11, 2008, 9:00 am
Filed under: Music, Tips & Guides

“[The singer] ought to emit a feeling of capoeira.” – Mestre Moraes

singer
Photo by pleaseknock (Flickr)

Welcome to the second part of the Introduction to Capoeira Music series, where we will learn a bit more about singing.

Let me begin this post with a preface, something I’ve said many times before: I’m not a very good singer. I have been improving lately, but it still gives me the most trouble of anything in capoeira. There are people out there, people reading and commenting on this blog, who are much more qualified than I to be giving you lessons on singing in capoeira.

But, the point of this series is to introduce you to the world of capoeira music, to give you a bit of background information and something to work on, and I think I can do that. I heartily encourage you to learn all you can from your mestre and more experienced capoeiristas in your group. Those lessons, and the experience that comes from hands on practice, are invaluable.

First, let’s go over the basic types of capoeira songs so we know what we’re dealing with. Songs in capoeira come in a few different forms:

  • Ladainha – a solo sung at the beginning of the roda. The ladainha usually occurs in capoeira angola, but can be found in regional too.
  • Quadra – a four-verse song in the call-and-response style.
  • Corrido – songs with one or two verses that are also answered by the chorus in call-and-response.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of capoeira songs out there. Some are more well known than others, some written by famous mestres, and some written anonymously. Lyrics might be different from group to group, but most of them stay very similar across the capoeira world.

As long as you have a basic understanding of how to sing in capoeira, and you don’t stand there with your mouth slackjawed open not trying, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to follow along.

To get an overview of singing in capoeira, why it is important to participate in the songs, and how to improve your singing, read this guest-post by Patrick. There’s no sense in me repeating everything he already went over in detail, so I’ll just give you some basic points:

  • The roda needs energy. Singing gives the roda its energy, it’s axe. So, SING!
  • Sing all the time. Sing in the car, in the shower, walking down the street, whenever you can. Don’t just sing in the roda.
  • You don’t have to be a good singer to be good at singing in capoeira. What matters is your passion and energy, not your tone.
  • Your singing should come from the stomach; don’t force it from your throat. This will save you from getting a sore throat!
  • Try to learn a bit of Portuguese, or at least learn the meaning of each song you learn, because you’ll be better able to keep up with the singing if you know what the words are.
  • Practice with capoeira CDs and MP3s on your own.
  • For more tips, check out Shayna’s wonderful list of singing tips on responding to the chorus and leading the songs.
  • SING!

So, now that you know why singing is important, you might be wondering how you can get started (especially if you have no one to learn from). Well, fortunately for you I’m psychic, so I’m gonna help you out.

First, check out these top five sites for capoeira song lyrics. Try to find some that you may have heard, or that you have on CD, or that you can find a sample of, and get to practicing! This is another good lyrics site.

Don’t go overboard and try to learn 10 songs at once. It’s just like learning movements; you don’t jump into florieo the first day. Start slow, and you’ll get there in no time.

Some of the best songs to start with are the ones with very simple lyrics, words repeated over and over, or even just sounds and calls. For example,

Oi sim sim sim, Oi não não não
Oi sim sim sim, Oi não não não
Oi não não não, Oi sim sim sim
Oi sim sim sim, Oi não não não
Mas hoje tem, amanha não
Mas hoje tem, amanha não
Oi sim sim sim, Oi não não não
Mas hoje tem, amanha não
Olha a pisada de Lampião
Oi sim sim sim, Oi não não não

Oh yes yes yes, oh no no no
Oh yes yes yes, oh no no no
Oh yes yes yes, oh no no no
Oh yes yes yes, oh no no no
Today you have it, tomorrow you don’t
Today you have it, tomorrow you don’t
Oh yes yes yes, oh no no no
Today you have it, tomorrow you don’t
Look at the footprints of Lampião
Oh yes yes yes, oh no no no

See? Not that hard at all.

Another common song with easy lyrics is usually sung at the end of a roda:

Adeus
Boa viagem
Adeus, adeus
Boa viagem
Eu vou
Boa viagem
Eu vou, eu vou
Boa viagem

Good bye
Good trip
Good bye, good bye
Good trip
I go
Good trip
I go, I go
Good trip

Now that you have some lyrics under your cord, let’s learn how to sing them.

For a very good intro to singing in capoeira (and another song you can learn), we need look no further than Soul Capoeira. Chan put together a three part tutorial on capoeira singing that I definitely couldn’t have done better myself. Here’s the first video:

And when you’re done with that, learn how to sing accompanied by the pandeiro, and berimbau.

By the way, it is quite difficult at first to get the hang of singing and clapping at the same time (nevermind singing and playing an instrument). Even once you think you’ve got it, you’ll be trying to learn a new song and then your clapping will get all messed up. It happens to everyone. Don’t get down about it. Just practice!

So, there you have it. A little foray into the vast ocean that is singing in capoeira. I hope I’ve given you some good basics to start from. And remember, like all things in capoeira, becoming good at singing takes time, dedication, and practice. You won’t become a pro overnight. But stick to it, and you’ll be sure to bring your axe to the roda!

Be sure to check out Part 3 of this series where we discuss the berimbau.



Intro to Capoeira Music: The Basics
June 4, 2008, 8:31 am
Filed under: Music, Tips & Guides

Quem vem la, sou eu,
Quem vem la, sou eu,
Berimbau bateu,
Capoeria sou eu

Who goes there? It’s me,
Who goes there? It’s me,
playing the berimbau,
Capoeira that is me


Photo by Roda de Angoleiros (Flickr)

Welcome to The Capoeira Blog’s new blog-series about capoeira music (a spinoff of the Capoeira for Beginners series).

All novice capoeiristas must understand that music is as important to capoeira as the ginga. Perhaps more important, in fact, because without the berimbau to lead, there could be no jogo. And without the jogo, there is no true capoeira

For some people, the musical aspect of capoeira comes very easy. For others, it’s the hardest part for them to learn. But the fact remains, if you want to be a well-rounded capoeirista, and truly participate in the roda, you need to learn the music.

Because of this, I’ve decided to write a few posts dealing with the basic aspects of capoeira music. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is not meant to be a comprehensive resource of all things capoeira music. This is meant as an introduction; a way to give beginners (and those for whom music isn’t a strong point) a place to get a feel for capoeira’s beautiful melodies.

The series is split into 5 Parts:

Part 1: The Basics

Part 2: Singing

Part 3: The Berimbau

Part 4: The Atabaque, Pandeiro, and Supporting Instruments

Part 5: Resources

As you may have noticed, this introductory post is The Basics, so without further ado…

Call and Response

Most capoeira songs (corridos) are sung in a form of call and response. That is, one person sings a verse (this is commonly whoever is playing the berimbau, but it certainly doesn’t have to be), and the rest of the roda sings a chorus in response.

An exception to this rule comes in capoeira angola, where, at the beginning of the roda, the mestre will sing a solo called a ladainha. Ladainhas can be songs written by mestres of old and passed down through generations, or they can be made up on the spot to fit the mood of the mestre and the roda. As I said, the ladainha is most often found in capoeira angola, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in capoeira regional.

Sometimes the songs are simple and easy to remember, and other times they are long and difficult to learn. When you are taking your first crack at capoeira songs, you’d do well to try and memorize some of the more basic songs until you get the hang of it. I’ll give you some ones to start with in another post.

One of the things that makes it hard for many people (especially non-Brazilians) to get the hang of capoeira songs is that they are all sung in Portuguese. If you don’t understand what everyone is singing, it’s hard to make out the individual words.

The BEST thing you can do is ask your mestre or other more experienced students to write down the lyrics of any songs that you practice, so that way you can follow along and actually know what you’re saying. The next best thing is to find capoeira music online, or on a CD, and search around online (or, again, ask other capoeiristas) for the lyrics, and practice with that.

By the way, your progress will be painfully slow if you only sing during class. You’d do well to get some CDs or MP3s and practice as much as you can on your own time.

The Bateria

For as long as capoeira has been around, instruments have accompanied the game. The area of the roda where the musicians stand is commonly referred to as the bateria.

The bateria is made up of three basic instruments:

The berimbau is a bow-like instrument that (many people believe) originated in Africa. It sets the pace of both the music and the game, and thus, is the most important instrument in capoeira.

The atabaque is a tall Afro-Brazilian drum that provides the basic rhythm and beat for the capoeira game. It is not necessary in all rodas, and is usually omitted in more spontaneous rodas or outside demonstrations because of its size.

The pandeiro, on the other hand, is a Brazilian tambourine that will be found in almost every capoeira roda due to its small size (easy to carry with you) and because it’s quite easy to play.

There are other instruments involved in capoeira, and you’ll learn more about all of them later in the series.

Music and the Game

If you’ve played capoeira for any decent amount of time, or even if you’ve only witnessed a roda or two, you’ve no doubt realized that music controls the capoeira game.

This can happen in more ways than one…

The most obvious example of music’s influence on the game is that the game follows the pace of the music. If the berimbau and atabaque play slowly and the singing is subdued, the players follow along and slow themselves down. If the berimbau speeds up, the singing becomes louder and faster, and the atabaque player’s hands seem like they might fall off, the game heats up as well and the kicks start flying in a blur.

But another way that music can influence the game is less obvious to anyone who doesn’t speak Portuguese, unfortunately. What I mean is, whoever is leading the songs (usually a mestre or high cord) can improvise and start talking about what’s happening in the game. He can comment on the game, telling a player what to do, or poking fun at some mistake. If the game is getting violent, he can tell the players to calm down, and if it’s too slow, he can tell them to pick up the pace.

So, there you have it; an introduction to the music of capoeira. If I’ve gotten anything wrong, or explained anything poorly, please let me know. I am by no means an expert on capoeira music, and I’m not adverse to updating anything if need be.

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this series where we take a closer look at singing in capoeira.



You Don’t Have To Win American Idol To Sing In Capoeira
May 27, 2008, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Guest Posts, Music, Tips & Guides


Photo by Mauro (Flickr)

This is a guest post by Patrick aka Cotonete or Rato Branco. Cotonete has trained with Axe Capoeira for 3 1/2 years in Kansas City, MO. Like many capoeiristas of his generation, his gateway drug of choice was Only The Strong. When he’s not training capoeira, he works as a copywriter and blogger.

Music is a key element to Capoeira. That’s pretty basic knowledge to even the most novice player. The instruments, chief among them the berimbau, are the anchor to every roda. Our guides. The clapping of other capoeiristas raises the energy. But how many really understand the importance of the songs?

Of all the things I love about Capoeira the music and songs are high on my list. I love to play berimbau and often transcend to somewhere else when I sing (lead or coro). I belt out songs as loud and as passionately as I can, because that’s HOW THEY’RE MEANT TO BE SUNG. I’m not a professional singer – amateur at best. I’ve taken no class in singing or drumming or berimbau. Everything I’ve learned is from the instructors in my group and by trying to emulate my mestre and other great singers.

However, having a wonderful singing voice is second to passion. It’s easy to find passion in the movements, community and history of Capoeira. But I’ve seen many fellow capoeiristas struggle with or shrug off singing. Sometime I think it’s because no one wants to mess up the lyrics or maybe their singing voice…sucks. Sometimes. Those obstacles are easy to over come. Print the lyrics and learn them. Then come to class and sing the hell out of that song.

I’ve been training Capoeira steadily for three and a half years and in that time have had many opportunities to witness amazing games and music. I love music in general. But what gets me about the music we in the Capoeira community create and share is that it’s so powerful. Where else can music raise your heart rate so fast with lyrics as simple as “o la la lay la la lay la la lay la lai la”? No tickets or amps necessary. Simply put it’s the energy the singer puts into his or her singing. It’s amazing to be in a roda of 60 people all pumped up, fighting to enter the roda. And then someone starts to sing “Quando Meu Mestre Foi” and everyone goes nuts. Why? Because it’s a great song, yes, but more so because the singer puts his whole soul behind it. It’s even better when instead of 60 people you have fewer than 10 and get the exact same high energy.

Anyone can sing in a flat monotone way. Which sadly many capoeiristas do. Some figure that getting the words right is enough and think that the coro should have all the oomph, since it’s one person singing against 10 or more. But it’s called a LEAD for a reason. Yes, you sing more lyrics than the coro in a song like “Luanda E” but you also lead the pace, tempo and energy of that song. At that point you’re as responsible for the energy in the roda as the berimbaus. And responsibility is a heavy yoke when in a situation like that, but necessary for us all.

Another important note is volume. If you’re leading a song and no one can hear you two things occur. First, no one knows what the hell to do when the coro comes around, so more than one song could be sung and collide with one another into a jumble of foreign words. And second, the attention leaves the two players in the roda and centers on the singer, sapping their energy instead of feeding it. It works the same as a hole in the roda. If there’s a gap in people it’s like a hole in a bowl of water. Pretty soon nothing is left but empty space, a ruined bowl and a drained roda.

If you’re a beginner in Capoeira I strongly recommend that you spend equal time training music as you do movements. Practice playing pandeiro or atabaque as often as you can. Practice on your days off from training or if you get injured. No drum? Sit down or stand at a countertop and play. Get comfortable playing the instruments and singing AWAY from the roda. That’s not the place to learn. People rely on you to keep the game going. All it takes is one half-note change to alter the pace of every other instrument and then a nice smooth banguela game turns into regional. Buy CDs. Sing along to them and practice the long notes and different inflections. Capoeira isn’t Catholic mass with slow, lumbering, organ-led “Aaaaaaaaameeeeeeeeen” music. There are ups and downs and long powerful notes. Even Ladaihinas can give you chills. Hell, ESPECIALLY Ladaihinas. Sing in the shower. Sing in your car. Write lyrics. Learn the meanings of the songs (very important).

When you train the movements of Capoeira you feel active. When you’re in the roda you can physically feel a contribution to the game. Make that same contribution to the whole experience by sharpening your music and songs. Capoeira is not Karate or Tae Kwon Do – focused primarily on physical movements. Capoeira requires strength, agility, coordination, speed and power like other martial arts. But what sets it apart is the music, singing and culture woven into the games and fights.

Great Capoeira doesn’t occur in a vacuum or with one person. There’s no formula, only guidelines and those are always changing (look at the differences in gingas). It takes the contributions of a group to create a great roda. Solid games, solid music and solid singing. A tripod. It needs three legs to stand. Remove one and everything you’ve built topples over.

So, if you take nothing else from this post take these tidbits:

  1. Get over the fear of singing. If you can enter a roda and play you can stand up and sing.
  2. Try to sing louder than your fellow capoeiristas singing coro (to get used to singing loudly).
  3. Learn the pronunciation and the meaning of the lyrics.
  4. Start small and build to longer songs. Challenge yourself to learn one new song a week or month.
  5. Put some emotion into it. When you’re alone in the car and your favorite song comes on how do you sing it? Exactly.

Life is about contributing. You decide your own level of involvement. The same goes for Capoeira. You can stand and watch the games and listen to the music. Or, you can let them become a part of you and move you to give a part of yourself to the Jogo.

Muito Axé.

Thanks Cotonete aka Rato Branco aka Patrick for answering my call for guest posts.  Remember, if you want to see your words here on The Capoeira Blog, just send me your submission.



What Is The Chamada In Capoeira Angola?
May 22, 2008, 7:56 pm
Filed under: Tips & Guides


Photo by bk. ninja (Flickr)

I’ve always been fascinated by capoeira angola; I love the playful yet dangerous dynamic that exists in the game.

I’m not an expert on angola by any means, but I think one of the best examples of this dynamic exists in the Chamada, which, up until a few days ago, I was woefully ignorant about.

One of the reasons I’ve never participated in an angola roda is because I would have no idea about what I’m doing, and that holds me back because I have tons of respect for the traditions and rules of the angola game.  Of these traditions, I think it’s really the Chamada that has held me back the most;  I’d have no idea what to do if someone called me to one.  And the last thing I’d want to do is make a mockery of capoeira angola by ignoring it or trying to make something up.

Thanks to Angoleiro’s blog, I now know more about the Chamada than I ever have.  I don’t think watching a couple of videos and reading a blog post makes me ready to jump into an angola roda, but his post about the Chamada is very informative, and I’m glad he decided to write about it.

Go check it out, I’m sure you can learn something too!



8 Ways To Be A Better Capoeira Instructor
May 13, 2008, 8:09 am
Filed under: Tips & Guides


Photo by travis.c.horn (Flickr)

Let’s get some things out of the way:

I’m not the best capoeira instructor in the world. In fact, I’m not even in the same league as many capoeira instructors out there, and my experience teaching capoeira (as well as my experience playing capoeira) pales in comparison to the mestres and other teachers I’ve learned from.

That being said, I have had the opportunity to teach a capoeira class (in the form of a college club) for the past few years. And I may not be the best capoeirista in the world, but crazy floreios and 15 years of experience does not a good instructor make. A good instructor needs to know how to teach, and just because someone plays great capoeira, doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically be able to translate their ability into great capoeira instruction.

In my experience teaching capoeira, I’ve learned a few things. These tips are not capoeira specific, mind you. You could apply them to the instruction of anything. But they make the whole teaching (and learning) capoeira experience a much smoother ride, and your students will be grateful if you take the time to understand how to give good instruction.

1. Have patience – Let’s not fool ourselves, capoeira is difficult to learn. (In fact, if you’ve stuck with it for any length of time, give yourself a big pat on the back!) Some people can pick up movements instantly, while others seem to take forever to grasp the basics.

As a capoeira instructor (or teacher of anything), you must have patience with your students. This means resisting the impulse to vent your frustration if someone isn’t getting a certain movement. One of the worst things a teacher can do is yell at a student, especially a beginner, because the student is having a hard time learning some movement. In my experience, negative reinforcement rarely works, and most of the time it turns people off from your class and just causes you to lose a student (or more if he spreads the work that you’re a jerk). So, please, for the sake of your students and your credibility as an instructor, be patient.

2. Think like a beginner – It’s not enough to just be patient with your students; you need to put yourself in their shoes. You were a beginner too once. Yes, you! Once upon a time, you had an ugly robotic-looking ginga, your armadas didn’t reach any higher than your waist, and you couldn’t do an au to save your life. We were all there.

When you teach, try to remember your humble capoeira roots. You need to realize that your students are feeling the same things you were when you first started. They are probably nervous, self-conscious, embarrassed, even scared. One of the most important things an instructor must do is realize this, and cater his instruction accordingly.

3. See all angles – Just because you learned a move one way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way or the only way. Capoeira teachers need to open their mind to different methods of learning and ways of instruction. I’m not saying that you should start teaching people how to do an arbitrarily customized ginga or imaginary moves; I’m just saying that different people learn differently.

Teaching is the same no matter if you’re in a classroom or a dance studio. What works for one person (this includes you) may not work for someone else, and the best instructors understand this and adapt to the needs of individual students. One student may quickly pick up on a movement if you demonstrate it a few times, but another one might need you to explain each step in detail before they can really understand what you’re demonstrating. Learn your students’ educational quirks, and you will be on your way to becoming a great teacher.

4. Give individual attention – This isn’t always possible, especially in big groups and at workshops. But, if you find yourself teaching a small class, you need to make the most of the opportunity to give individual instruction to your students.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world to be part of a big class where the instructor is 3 rows in front of me, and I just have to hope and pray that I’m doing things correctly. The best thing about working closely with someone is that you have the opportunity to see the little nuances in their movements, and if they’re doing something wrong, you can take the time to better explain it to them (see the previous tip). This is much better than an instructor yelling across the room, “No! Do it this way! Just do what I’m doing!”

You have to keep in mind, though, to strike a balance between an individual and the class. You can’t spend time teaching one person at the expense of the rest of the students’ time. You might be a great teacher to that one student, but you’ll be a really sucky teacher to the rest.

5. Have a plan – There’s nothing worse than a class that has no focus and just meanders along until time’s up. Unless, of course, you plan to just have a “messing around” session, which is fine once in a while, but not for every class. If you have no idea what you want to do for the class, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time thinking of movements and combinations.

Class is not worthwhile when you come to the end and nobody has broken out into a sweat because you’ve just been standing around the whole time trying to figure out what to do.

The best classes are ones where the instructor has an idea of what he wants to teach, and how he wants to teach it. I’m not saying that you need to create lesson plans for every class (but if you want to, by all means go ahead, because it definitely helps), but it’s a good thing to have a basic idea of what you want your students to learn.

6. Mix it up – Don’t spend the entire class standing in rows doing kicks towards the mirror. Change up your exercises. Spend some time on kicks, then partner exercises, then combinations, then end with a roda, etc. Your classes will get stale and your students will get bored if you do the same thing all the time. The last thing a capoeirista wants to be is predictable!

And switch things up from class-to-class as well by focusing on basics one day, then music the next, and maybe floreio on another. There are so many facets of capoeira, and it hurts you (as an instructor) and your students if you don’t branch out.

I’m afraid to say that I’m guilty of this myself, because I’m really not that great with the music of capoeira. But I’ve tried to make up for it by having people who are good at the music come in and give instruction for a class or two. Even if you’re not so good at one thing (say, music or floreio), you can still figure out a way to expose your class to everything that capoeira has to offer.

7. Build on what you teach – Even though I just said you shouldn’t do the same exercises the whole class, you can (and should) plan on using similar movements and combinations throughout the class.

This goes back to the “thinking like a beginner” point, but it’s very hard for someone new to capoeira (and even for more experienced students) to learn and remember 6 new movements in one class. To combat this, the best thing you can do is come up with a theme for your class (did you remember to plan?).

For example, you can start off with some warm ups and from ginga do a couple of esquiva variations. Then you have the class stand in rows and practice quiexada to esquiva and eqsuiva to martelo. Next, you have everyone pair up and one person throws quiexada, while the other ducks with esquiva and counters with a martelo, and the first guy does esquiva to dodge. This way, you reinforce everything that you’ve been teaching all class, and your students won’t forget as easily.

8. Have fun – This is probably the most important part of a capoeira class (and capoeira in general), at least to me. Capoeira is meant to be playful and fun, and you defeat the purpose of the the entire game if you don’t remember that. I’m not saying you can’t train your class hard (you should be sweating bullets!), but you don’t have to run a class so intense that it ends up feeling like a boot camp. To me, that is not enjoyable, and I might not be so excited to come back for another class.

I can’t tell you how to have fun (well, just don’t be a jerk!). Hopefully, if you love capoeira as much as you should if you want to teach it to others, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

So there you have it. This is by no means a definitive list, and maybe what works for me and the students I’ve had in the past won’t work for you and your students. That’s the beauty of capoeira though (as I said previously), there are almost infinite possibilities for individual adaptation.

If you have any suggestions about anything I’ve said, or if you have tips of your own, please share with us in the comments!