My ‘Speaking of Rhythm’ project is an aural/oral system of teaching and learning a basic repertoire of drum music, and is simply the best way to learn. It is the same way children learn language: listen, repeat, correct, repeat, listen.

‘Speaking Of Rhythm’ Overview

…as entertaining as it is educational” – Arthur Hull

“Kim breaks these rhythms down in every way possible and keeps your attention, while making listening and playing along to the different parts less like practice and more like fun. He then builds the rhythms back up again in such a way that you hear every relationship between the parts as played by the different instruments.”

The best element in the series is his unique vocal adaptation of the different instruments played in the rhythms…
I thank Kim Atkinson for Sharing His Spirit with us in such a way that we can all become better players and facilitators…”
~ Arthur Hull

In this play-along lesson series you will learn ancient drum patterns by speaking and singing syllables that mimic the sound of percussion instruments. The syllables are a map to the drum strokes and teach the basic melody and feeling of each part.

You learn how to start each pattern, how it fits in time, and most importantly, how each pattern fits with the Clave rhythm, the key to the puzzle of these African based patterns. During the lesson you and I play on conga drums, bells, shakers and sticks and build up an entire ensemble rhythm with solo movements.

Speaking and singing these rhythms will enable you to express them on any instrument.

How does ‘Speaking of Rhythm’ work?

Each drum syllable is connected with a drum stroke and hand position, you learn the movements associated with each drum part. ‘Speaking of Rhythm’ does not require reading or watching, only listen, repeat, listen, repeat, listen, repeat. You develop your ability to listen deeply, to make an accurate inner copy, and express with your voice and body.

First you hear a brief performance of the complete rhythm on the instruments, then I break down each part and teach it to you through syllables and drum. Then you speak the pattern while clapping the main beat (“pulse”).

Next we learn to sing each part while clapping the Clave rhythm.

This is the key to turning the spoken sounds into music: singing rhythmelodies in Clave. The Clave feeling is the guiding principle in all of the rhythms I present as part of the ‘Speaking of Rhythm’ series.

To get the most out of ‘Speaking Of Rhythm’ lessons you must understand Son Clave.

At each stage of leaning I play the rhythm part on the instrument so you can hear how the syllables relate to the actual drum part. After I teach you three key parts, I play them for you in a groove for you to play or sing along with. Then I teach any additional parts and play them in a groove. You can play the first parts you learned with this groove or play the new parts with the first groove. Then I play all the parts together with a changing mix to highlight each combination. Finally I show some solo ideas for the lead part and play some of them in a performance. Each lesson includes a vocal percussion ensemble where I sing all the parts together.

Here’s a portion of the first lesson for Afoxé

After many years of teaching and leaning, I know this process to be the one most aligned with music and the best way to get the music into your body. ‘Speaking of Rhythm’ is the most effortless learning process I know. You can learn from these lessons while cooking, driving, sewing, even napping. Just put it on and repeat, repeat repeat.

After you’ve purchased and downloaded lessons, you’ll want to check out the Study Guide here.

Where does the material come from?

I have collected the material presented here over more than 25 years of study with master teachers from Africa, Brazil, and the Carribean.

This collection forms a basic repertoire for the beginning and intermediate student of this music. These rhythms have become part of mainstream American culture via Santana, Paul Simon and David Byrne as well as hundreds of other artists.

It’s important to note that in any aural/oral tradition, regional, stylistic and personal differences will cause these same rhythms to be played differently by different people. I encourage you to go beyond media learning and ask other knowledgeable people about these rhythms and the cultures where they originate.
All instruments and voices performed by Kim Atkinson.


The entire Speaking of Rhythm project is dedicated with great respect to the spirit of our late teacher and friend of drumming, dancing, singing and unity, Babatunde Olatunji. I thank him for the gift of his Gun Go Pa method of teaching and hope it inspires you to learn to speak rhythm. Lesson 3, Djesse Muloumbo, is dedicated to the the spirit of Malonga Casquelourd.

I deeply and humbly acknowledge C. K. Ladzekpo of Ghana for first introducing me to spoken rhythm, foot falls and hand claps as a way of anchoring rhythm in the body. His masterful teaching and high standards of musical integrity are the basis of how I work.