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Rhythm of the Week...

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This Week's Lesson:


Lesson Four: Improvisations and Variations


Improv Variations

Solo practice gives much opportunity for experimentation, taking off from traditional patterns into new variations. samba accompaniment:

_______ _______
| | | | | | | |
P - P d G - G D
     

 mp3 drum samples Click for sound: RealAudio - Track2-9

usually described as a 2/4 .

This rhythm can be extended to a 5, 6, 7

_______ _______ ___
| | | | | | | | | |    5/8
P   P d G   G d g d   
              
_____ _____ _____ _____ 
| | | | | | | | | | | |    6/8
P   P d G   G d g d P d  
P   P d G   P d P d G T   
_____________ _____________
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |   7/8
P   P d G   G T g d P d g d 
_______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |     4/4
P   P d G   G T g d P d g T g d 
P   P d G   G T g D P d G T g D     Roll with Me
P   P d G   P d g T P T P d G T     Edging Max

As you can see, adding your own titles is the next logical step in creating your own rhythms.


Improv Variations, Revisited

One useful strategy for getting a handle on new improvisations, or to compose interesting new rhythms, is to break a pattern down to see what each hand is doing. I developed and refined the following pattern using this method. The root of it is that familiar samba accompaniment, again (first two

_______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |     
P - P d G - G D g - P d G D g d

      mp3 drum samples Click for sound: RealAudio - Track2-10

At first glance this

_______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |     
P   P   G   G   g   P   G   g      right hand
  -   d   -   D   -   d   D   d    left hand

By focussing on one hand at a time, the hands may learn quicker and you can also appreciate the distinct pattern of each. Like playing polyrthythms in a group: each hand plays its own part and together, they make a dynamic sound.


Ashiko Samba

The previous pattern leads quite naturally into the Ashiko Samba. This rhythm is based on one taught by Babatunde Olatunji, a longer sequence he demonstrates as a precursor to the Latin sambas. Compare, play along with, or back and forth between

_______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
P - P d G - G D g - P d G D g d Latin samba accomp.
g - P T G - G T - d P T G - G T Ashiko Samba

   Ashiko Samba - mp3 drum samples Click for sound: RealAudio - Track2-11

Notice the difference between the straight-ahead roll of the first, and the distinctive samba "hitch" in the middle of the second which is emphasized by the "T -".


Counting Up

This sequence began one afternoon out of the blue, practicing a standard 6/8 accompaniment pattern until a double bass invited itself in the back door...
_____ _____ _____ _____ _____
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - d P - g T - d P - G - G -

The result is a count of five (five threes),

Notice how different the same rhythm feels with just one less beat:
_____ _____ _____ _____ ___
| | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - d P - g T - d P - G - G

Having done this much with it, the next logical step is to try the four-four or 16:
_____ _____ _____ _____ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - d P - g T - d P - G - G - g

Note the unusual division into five bars here. This sixteen-beat phrase comes from a feel of 3+3+3+3+4, instead of the conventional 4+4+4+4. Play one of each simultaneously and

At this point my solo improvisation became more analytical, as I wanted to explore all the possibilities in

_____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - d P - g T - d P - G - G d g d g

      mp3 drum samples Click for sound: RealAudio - Track2-12

This one, like the others, has a mixed feel. But notice how regular the count is: six threes. Play this with a conventional 6/8 of twelve beats and watch them cycle together

At this point it gets pretty esoteric in terms of the total count. Still it's an interesting opportunity to blend familiar elements together in a new arrangement. In the first of these, a 19-count (9+2+8) pattern, notice the steady 8-count

_____ _____ _____ ___ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - d P - g T - d P - G - G - d g d g

In the final example, a seventeen (9+2+6), we drop a couple of notes to bring back the possibility of a three

_____ _____ _____ ___ _____ _____
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - d P - g T - d P - G - d g d g


Choice of Feel

In drumming as in love, feel is everything. It's not what you play, it's how you play it. With this in mind, "Sandia."

_____ _____
| | | | | |
g - D g - -

G - d G - -
P - d P - -

Each version carries a different feel.

Within each of these choices is further choice, a refinement of the desired feel. We fine-tune by varying the hand-pattern.

_____ _____
| | | | | |
P - d P - -

The dominant, slap note is played with the same (right) hand. This kind of repetitive motion gives it what I call a "vertical" feel. Compare what happens when the

_____ _____
| | | | | |
P - g T - -

Technically the same rhythm: but it feels "rolling" motion.

Teachers give different emphasis to this idea of the importance of handing, depending on the learner's level, the traditional requirements for the feel of a particular rhythm, and perhaps the inclinations of the individual teacher. Tempo and hand fatigue plays a role, too, especially if you're playing extra notes for the rests. In that case a strict alternation of hands on every beat is usually the most practical approach.


Summer Green Special

Yet another blend of three and four feels presents itself. Begin with a nine-beat phrase in three. Notice the pronounced difference in feel (a chill wind?) when you switch from the roundish three to the more squarish feel of three paired notes. Then play with this difference by playing the two parts in sequence.
_____ _____ _____
| | | | | | | | |
D - G T - P d -(g)

_____ ___ ___ ___
| | | | | | | | |
D - G T P d g T P

Summer's short;

watch out for fall.


Gumboot Dance

Did somebody say "morphological resonance"? Once started, it seems this three-four thing keeps coming up. The latest iteration comes by the name of "Gumboot Dance," from South Africa. Apologies for lack of video: you'll just have to put on the shit-kickers and do it!
_______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
D G d g D g d G d G d g D g d G

September Turnaround

Here's a pattern which can be lengthened like the autumn nights. The key feature is an offbeat slap-and-double-bass combination in the middle, which rolls the rhythm over from a three-feel

Here's the core of it notated in 4/4.

_______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

Then add on to stretch the 16 beats to 18,

_______ _______ _______ _______ ___
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

_______ _______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - - - - - P - G - G - d g d g D g d -

_______ _______ _______ _______ _______ ___
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - - - - - P - G - G - d g d g D g d - D -

_______ _______ _______ _______ _______ _______
| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
T - - - - - P - G - G - d g d g D g d - D - D -

Here's a variation to play with, using the

Split it in half, and play together as 2 parts; or, play with two drums as a round, with drum 1 starting T and drum 2 starting on the first d.

Let me know which one of all these patterns you like the best!


Return to Top

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Page One

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Lesson Two

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Lesson Three

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Lesson Five

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Lesson Six

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Lesson Seven

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Lesson Eight

Go to Rhythms of the Week, Lesson Nine


See lots more rhythm notation and drum lessons in my Roots Jam rhythm books, with optional audio files (CD or mp3). And read my latest tips and insights about drumming: African Drumming Blog

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