Reading Drum Tabs
Drum tabs are simplified ways for drummers to read and notate rhythms. They replace traditional sheet music for many drummers who want to start playing and practicing but have not gotten to the point in their studies where they have learnt how to read musical scores. In this book, I will use drum tabs to notate the rhythms we will learn. It’s essential to read the following section slowly to understand precisely what a drum tab is and how it’s supposed to be read. This understanding will make it much easier for you to read the rhythms that we’ll cover later on.
If we were learning proper musical theory and reading from sheet music, we would start this section with an understanding of time signatures. However, drum tabs simplify this for us by allowing us to use beat cycles to just count beats to help us determine the length of a rhythm. A beat cycle is the repetition of a specified number of beats. For example, the number of beats in a 4-beat cycle is… 4! So, to count out a 4-beat cycle, we just say: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2… etc. Simple! Let’s look at how this looks on a drum tab: This drum tab shows a 4-beat cycle, which means we count upwards to 4, and then repeat. Let’s look at a few more examples:
Rhythmic emphasis (Iqa’)
There is another vital element of a drum tab, specific to Arabic Music. This is referred to as the Iqa’, or rhythmic emphasis. We will refer to this as rhythmic emphasis in this book, however, note that the word Iqa’ will be commonly used by most experienced Darbuka players.
Rhythmic emphasis is used in most forms of music; it helps us understand where the points of emphasis are in the rhythm and to understand the rhythm better. We will look at examples of where this is essential later on in the book. However, there is a critical concept for Arabic Music that must be understood to read drumming tabs properly. An Arabic rhythm is defined by its ruh’ (soul), not it’s notation. This is especially the case in non-percussive rhythms, like Arabic Maqamat (scales), where there are noticeable tonal variations between what’s written on the sheet and what’s played in real life. In drum rhythms, the concept of ruh’ is used. However, it is used to define what notes of the rhythm constitute the “core rhythm”, to allow for good ornamentation (covered later on in this book). Let’s look at the below rhythm, the Heavy Sa’idi: This rhythm is 4-beat rhythm, as we can see (there are only four beats in the second row). However, there are 5 points of rhythmic emphasis in the rhythm (there are 4 Doum notes and 1 Tek note). For this rhythm to be the Heavy Sa’idi in practice, these Doum and Tek notes need to hit exactly where they are supposed to hit; otherwise, the Ruh’ will be lost. If the Ruh’ is lost, we lose our rhythm. The location of these five beats is known as the rhythmic emphasis. Multiple notes within each beat The only problem is, there seems to be space for four gaps underneath each beat! Take a look at the 1st beat of Heavy Sa’idi for example: Within the first beat of this rhythm, we have space for four notes. At the moment, two of them are filled with Doum notes, and two of them are empty. Let’s look at how this works. To help us notate what notes we are going to play within each beat, we can split every beat into several different notes. For the sake of simplicity, I have divided all of the beats in this book into four notes. This means that within each beat, four possible notes can be played. We can count this as follows: If counting just the 4-beat cycle, we can count as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. If counting the 4-beat cycle, including the four parts of each beat, we can count as follows: 1, e, &, a, 2, e, &, a, 3, e, &, a, 4, e, &, a, 1, e, &, a, 2, e, &, a, 3, e, &, a, 4, e, &, a, etc. This will be difficult to get your head around initially. To understand this better, try saying the above count-cycle in time with a clock. At every second, you should be saying a number. Between each number, you should be saying “e & a”. Remember to repeat after every four counts! You can check out the Darbuka Mastery Program on the Malik Instruments website to see me demonstrating this in action.
Chapter 6 The Heavy Sa’idi Introduction Let’s get down to business and put some of what we have learnt into practice. We are going to look at our first Darbuka rhythm, the Heavy Sa’idi. The basic form of the Heavy Sa’idi The basic form of Heavy Sa’idi includes only Doum notes and Tek notes and is a straightforward rhythm to learn. I almost always start with this rhythm when teaching Darbuka because of its ease to play. The drum tab looks like this: As you can see, the Heavy Sa’idi is a 4-beat rhythm, with five notes in it; 4 Doum notes and 1 Tek note. However, to get us playing this rhythm quickly and decently, I’m going to present it differently for you. Internalising the Heavy Sa’idi rhythm Look at the following drum tab: If you notice, the rhythmic emphasis is still the same, i.e. the highlighted Doum and Tek notes haven’t moved at all. However, I have added three instances of the letter “X” into the rhythm. These “X” notes stand for a Space. All I want you to do is remember that when you see the letter “X”, there is a space there. If you’re confused, don’t worry! We are going to internalise this rhythm using the “X” notes to help us. I’m going to introduce two ways to internalise this rhythm. Note that this doesn’t work for every rhythm, and we shouldn’t need to internalise more complicated rhythms like this later in the book. We are just going to try a few things to make it easier for us to learn our first rhythm. Internalising the Rhythm by saying it One of the easiest ways to internalise a rhythm and get used to it before playing it on the Darbuka is to say the rhythm and get used to its flow. I want you to say the rhythm like this: Doum Doum Space Doum Doum Space Tek Space REPEAT Each Doum, Space and Tek should be said with an equal amount of time between them. I want you to tap repeatedly and evenly on something (like a table, or even your leg) while you say this rhythm. Each time you tap, you should be saying one of Doum, Space or Tek. After every eight taps, you should be repeating the rhythm. Once you can do this, move on to walking the rhythm. Internalising the Rhythm by walking it Once we can say the rhythm, we are going to practice the rhythm by saying it while walking. It might seem a little strange at first, but it is a fantastic way to get used to the timing in this particular rhythm. Step 1: Find a place where there is space to walk around (a garden, a street, a park etc.) Step 2: Start walking at a constant speed, not too fast, not too slowly. About the same speed you would walk when regularly going about your day. Step 3: Start repeating the rhythm, saying a note every time you put your foot down and take a step, as follows: Footstep Note that you say One Doum Two Doum Three Space Four Doum Five Doum Six Space Seven Tek Eight Space Step 4: Once you can do this, and you are comfortable with it, I want you to stop saying “Space”. This means on your 3rd, 6th, and 8th footstep, you just take a step, without saying anything. It should sound like this: Footstep Note that you say One Doum Two Doum Three Four Doum Five Doum Six Seven Tek Eight Congratulations, if you can do this, you’ve been saying the Heavy Sa’idi rhythm correctly! That’s a fantastic accomplishment. It’s now time to start playing this on the Darbuka. Playing the rhythm on the Darbuka Now that you can say the rhythm correctly, we’re going to start playing it. Note: You should be able to make a decent sound with your Doum (if not, revisit Chapter 3) and you should also be able to make a good sound with your Tek (if not, revisit Chapter 4). Here’s how I want you to start playing the Heavy Sa’idi: 1. Before you start playing, just practice the Doum Doum sound. Just get used to playing two Doum’s right after each other. 2. Once you’re confident at this, ensure you are in the optimal sitting position (either on a chair or on the floor) to start practicing. 3. Start saying the Heavy Sa’idi rhythm, as you’ve been practicing. 4. Once you are saying the rhythm in a nice flow, start playing the Doum and the Tek strokes along with your voice. 5. After a little practice, and a maybe more than a few mistakes, you should be able to play the Heavy Sa’idi confidently! Note: If you are struggling, you can watch the instructional videos in the Darbuka Mastery Program.
Chapter 8 Basic Ornamentation Introduction Ornamentation is the act of making something prettier. As such, we can make our Darbuka rhythms prettier by ornamenting them! While the next book in the Darbuka Mastery series is dedicated to ornamentation, we are going to introduce some primary forms of ornamentation to our repertoire, by utilising the Ka stroke that we have just learnt. The Ka stroke is known as an ornamentative stroke, because it is almost exclusively used for ornamentation, and very few rhythms use the Ka for rhythmic emphasis. Let’s look at how we can ornament the rhythm that we’ve just learnt, the Heavy Sa’idi! Adding ornaments to the Heavy Sa’idi Let’s get started, the ornamented version of the Heavy Sa’idi we are about to learn looks as follows: Now, upon first glance, that is quite a complicated rhythm! We’ve added four notes into the rhythm we were playing previously, and the last section is relatively advanced to play. Nevertheless, I’m confident you will be able to play this rhythm. For us to play this rhythm, let’s break it down into some more accessible versions so we can progress up to this rhythm. Since this is one of the first rhythms we are learning, we’re going to break this down a lot more than we usually would, so if you’re finding it easy, you might get through this chapter quite quickly! If you’re struggling a little, don’t worry. Take your time, practice, and it will come. Progression 1 – Adding a single Ka In our first progression, we are going to start by taking the standard Heavy Sa’idi and adding a single Ka. I’d like you to get used to walking this rhythm also (like we did with the basic Heavy Sa’idi). However, there is a slight twist in this scenario. I want you to split the rhythm into two distinct sections. The first section is Doum – Doum, and the second section is Doum – Doum – Ka – Tek. Walk the rhythm out like this: Footstep Note that you say One Doum Two Doum Three Four Doum Five Doum Six Ka Seven Tek Eight Note that on the 3rd and 8th footsteps, you should stay silent and not say anything. After a few minutes or so of walking out this rhythm, you should have it memorised. Remember to think of the two separate sections, as we will use these later on when building up our rhythm. Once you are confident with saying the rhythm and understand the two sections, play it on the Darbuka! I’m confident that with some practice, you’ll get it. Progression 2 – Joining our two sections Once you’ve mastered the first progression, it’s time to move on to the second progression. This progression involves joining the sections you have previously practiced and feel confident with. Let’s first look at the drum tab for the next progression: For this progression, we are going to join the sections we learnt last time with a Ka. As follows: It might help to walk out the rhythm as you did for the previous progression. You can find the notes below: Footstep Note that you say One Doum Two Doum Three Ka Four Doum Five Doum Six Ka Seven Tek Eight If you can master saying this rhythm, and you’re comfortable with it, give it a shot on the Darbuka! This one should drop into place nicely if you’ve gotten this far. Progression 3 – The Teka Congratulations on making it to the final progression. In this progression, we will look at the “Teka” stroke that needs to be played at the end of the rhythm, to join the end of this rhythm with the start of the next rhythm. This is the fastest series of strokes we have played so far, a “Tek Ka”, or “Teka”. The drum tab looks like this: As you can see, the end of the rhythm contains a Tek and a Ka. However, these have some previously unseen characteristics: – The Tek is in lower case and is not highlighted. This is because it’s an ornamentative Tek, and hence should be played more lightly than a standard Tek. – The Tek and Ka are very close together – and they are played immediately after each other (at twice the speed that you play the Doum Doum!). To help us with this, we will refer to them as a “Teka”, rather than a “Tek Ka”. Mastering this Teka stroke is essential to play this rhythm properly. For us to learn this Teka, let’s take a little break from the Heavy Sa’idi rhythm and study a more straightforward phrase: This is a phrase that needs to be played multiple times to feel it properly. Note that it only lasts one note, which means that we repeat on every beat. It sounds like this: TekaDoum – TekaDoum – TekaDoum. To internalise this rhythm, I’d like you to walk the rhythm out, just as we’ve done previously. This time though, you’re going to do something slightly different: – On each footstep, you should be saying Doum. – Before each Doum, there should be a Teka. – The Teka and the Doum should be so close together that it’s almost as if it were one word: TekaDoum. – So, every time you take a step, you should say TekaDoum, while ensuring that your foot only actually touches the ground when you say the Doum part of TekaDoum. – Try and walk for a few minutes while saying this phrase! By the end of this exercise, you should understand how this TekaDoum is used in action. – After you’ve walked this exercise, try and play the rhythm on your Darbuka. TekaDoum, TekaDoum, TekaDoum, etc. From this exercise, you should notice that the Teka is directly connected to the Doum, even though the Doum is at the beginning of the next line. This is precisely the case in our Heavy Sa’idi Rhythm: At the end of the rhythm, we are going to play a Teka which leads directly into the Doum of the repeated rhythm. Let’s play this rhythm in sets of four so that we can get used to joining the rhythms together with this “Teka” sound: Notice how the 16th beat (the very last beat on the bottom line) finishes with just a Tek. This is because we aren’t going to join this final rhythm onto anything, so we don’t need our Teka. There we have it, practice this ornamented Heavy Sa’idi and feel proud that you can play such a complicated rhythm! It’s no easy accomplishment! Remember, if you’re struggling you can always check out the Darbuka Mastery Program on the Malik Instruments site for further clarification.
Chapter 10 The Maqsum Family Introduction The Maqsum family! A group of some of the most famous and popular Darbuka rhythms that have ever existed. The Maqsum (or one of its derivatives) can be heard in musical tracks throughout all of the Arab world, and it is a critical part of the heritage of Arabic music. If you don’t believe me, listen back through the tracks of the greats of Arabic Music, the likes of Umm Kulthum, Asmahan, Fairuz, Farid Al Atrash and you will hear the Maqsum in so many of their compositions. It is the bread and butter of Darbuka rhythms, and any Darbuka player worth their stuff should know and be able to bang out a great Maqsum! Rhythm families To make it slightly easier to remember all the different kinds of rhythms that we have available in our arsenal, and to make ornamentation and rhythm switching easier, I like to group rhythms into families. I typically group rhythms by their rhythmic emphasis (Iqa’). If the emphasis is at very similar points in multiple rhythms, I group them under a family to simplify this. I’m not sure whether I’m the first person to have done this, I assume not, however not everyone will refer to these families as “families”. Just keep that in mind! However, for the purposes of our learning, we will treat the Maqsum family as a collection of rhythms that sound very similar and share similar emphatic points. The good thing is, you have already studied a member of the Maqsum family, the Heavy Sa’idi. Let’s take a look at the Maqsum and see how similar it is to the Heavy Sa’idi. Maqsum Maqsum, the big daddy itself. Maqsum is the king of all Arabic rhythms, and it is one of the most fun to play rhythms you will ever come across. Maqsum, in its most basic form, looks like this: Notice the similarities between the Maqsum and the Heavy Sa’idi. The Maqsum has two extra Tek notes compared to the Heavy Sa’idi. This gives the Maqsum more of an aggressive sound. It’s more of an “attack” sound, and it can sound faster because of this. However, it’s this sound that is prevalent through so much of Arabic Music. Let’s also take a look at a slightly ornamented version of the Maqsum. This version of Maqsum uses the same basic ornaments that we learnt for the Heavy Sa’idi. The drum tab looks like this: The Maqsum has many derivatives, but we are just going to look at the most popular of them for this chapter. I have included two versions of each rhythm, a basic rhythm and an ornamented rhythm. Baladi Baladi is very similar to the Maqsum, but it has a Doum-Doum at the beginning rather than a Doum-Tek: Sa’idi Sa’idi shares very similar characteristics to the Maqsum also, however, it has a Doum-Doum in the middle, rather than a Tek-Doum: Note that the Sa’idi and Heavy Sa’idi are different rhythms. Heavy Sa’idi includes two sets of Doum-Doum’s, whereas a standard Sa’idi only has one set of Doum-Doum’s. Chapter 11 Jumping between rhythms Introduction By this point, we’ve learnt a great deal, well done. In this section, we are going to bring together a lot of what we’ve learnt. Let’s consolidate some of our rhythms and turn them into something a little longer by looking at how we can link different rhythms together. Basic and ornamented rhythms It’s essential to understand the difference between basic and ornamented rhythms and to understand where and how to play them. We cover this in much more depth in the Darbuka Mastery 2 book; however, let’s understand a few basic concepts. Firstly, there are times where you should play basic rhythms and times where you should ornament. For example, if you were playing a song, it’s best to keep a stark contrast between the rhythm you play in the chorus compared to the rhythm you play during a verse and to contrast this further with a solo (although I wouldn’t recommend soloing at this stage). For example: – In the chorus, generally, if it is louder or more emphatic (e.g. more instruments or singers joining in), we should play a more ornamented rhythm, for example, an ornamented Maqsum. – A verse in a song, generally involves a singer or instrument soloing and delivering the verse in an ornamented, improvised way. At this time, you should switch your rhythm into something basic, without too much ornamentation, to help accentuate the lead singer or instrumental soloist. Something like a standard Heavy Sa’idi would be great. The above example illustrates just one scenario, and there is no right or wrong answer for this scenario either. Choosing the right rhythm to play will come with time and experience and is very situational. However, the key thing to understand here is that you have to adapt your rhythm to your circumstance dynamically, and you will have to switch regularly between different rhythms. It is for this reason that I like grouping rhythms into families because you know that it will be easy and seamless to switch to any other rhythm in the family you are playing in. Use of a metronome A metronome is one of our greatest allies when training ourselves to switch between rhythms. As a beginner, when you switch into a different rhythm, it may well confuse you and cause you to either pause, slow down or speed up, or a combination of these. You must get used to seamlessly switching between rhythms, and this is where a metronome can help. The metronome’s steady beat should allow you to judge what speed you will enter the new rhythm at, and how fast it should be played. It should also keep you in time. Using a metronome is highly recommended when practicing switching between rhythms. Rhythm switching drills Here are some drills you can practice to help you switch between rhythms: Basic to ornamented switches In the first instance, just get used to switching between the basic and ornamented versions of rhythms we have learnt. Practice this at 80 BPM. The tabs are below: Sa’idi with ornamented fourth bar In this exercise, we’re going to play 3 bars of basic Sa’idi, and then play an ornamented Sa’idi for the fourth bar. Practice at 80 BPM, then go to 100 BPM when you are confident. Heavy Sa’idi to ornamented Maqsum switch In this exercise, we are going to switch from a Heavy Sa’idi rhythm into an ornamented Maqsum rhythm, playing one bar of each. Practice at 80 BPM, and then 100 BPM when confident. Ornamented Baladi to ornamented Sa’idi switch This is a really tough one and will test your skills a lot. Switch between two ornamented rhythms and build up to as fast as you can. Start on 80 BPM and keep increasing by 10 BPM when you feel confident with the previous speed. If you can reach 150 BPM, hats off to you! That’s a huge accomplishment. If you can’t do 150 BPM, don’t worry, because it’s pretty damn hard!