Posted in For Project 1 Examples

Example 3 Research, Part 1: Finger Cymbals and Middle Eastern Rhythm

Continuing on with my musical journey, the search for new ideas for my third example lead me to the wondrous rhythms and concepts of musical time in Middle East and India. It is a small pair of resonant, metallic plates – the finger cymbals, that directed me there.

I have already mentioned in a blog post that a single finger cymbal often has its own approximately clear pitch, but the other is usually purposely tuned about a quarter step apart, so that:

“The result of this dissonance is a delicate, high pitched sound of indefinite pitch that blends well with the higher orchestral sonorities.” (Miller, 2015: 269)

There are two styles of finger cymbal playing for two different settings. In the traditional style, the finger cymbals, known as zilleri or zills in Turkey, and sagat or sajat in Arabic, are played by the belly dancers. They remind of the castanets used by flamenco dancers – each hand has its own pair of cymbals: one plate goes on the thumb, and the other on the middle finger. (Fig.1) The cymbals are struck together flat, often in an alternating rhythm, and just as any other movement, the motion of the fingers can be a part of the dance. There are also a part of the dancer’s wardrobe, and add special charm to the music and dance. (Kalani, 2008:22)

In Morocco, there is another style of playing, found in the folkloric dance – schikhatt, that employs three finger cymbals: two in one hand, and one in the other. (At the moment I can’t seem to find any source to confirm this, just several websites like this one here.)

finger-cymbals-1

Fig. 1. Traditional way of playing finger cymbals

In a more orchestral setting, the way percussion musicians play them, is to hold one plate in each hand, by the strap. Unlike the crash cymbals, the finger cymbals are struck together at the edge (Fig. 2), or brushed one against the other. (Fig. 3).

finger-cymbals-2

Fig. 2. Finger cymbals being struck at the edge

finger-cymbals-3Fig. 3. Finger cymbals being brushed against each other

A single finger cymbal might also be struck with a plastic mallet, brass mallet, or a triangle beater. (Solomon, 2016: 157) For example in this video of Bernstein’s West Side Story, in Cha-Cha (around 4:00) is when the finger cymbal is used and you can see it being struck with a mallet. Here is the score as well. (Fig. 4)

bern rotated

Fig. 4. Finger cymbals in West Side Story, Cha-cha, bars 207-210

Since finger cymbals are a part of the Middle Eastern cultures, I looked at the various rhythms they offer to find that their percussion is “extremely dynamic and contain some of the most advanced rhythmic forms in the world.” (Justice, 2012: 8) While the drumming of West Africa has layered rhythms from several drums to create complex rhythmic combinations, the Middle Eastern drumming is largely a solitary venture, so that a single drummer creates those complex rhythms with an almost infinite variety of layers and textures. (Strong, 2006: 240)

The time signatures vary from standard 2/4, 3/4, 3/8 and 4/4 to more complex such as 7/8, 10/8 and other. Each of these time signatures has more than one appropriate drum pattern and the instruments use three pitches to keep time: the bass tone or doum, the open tone or tek and a slap called ka. This shows how Middle Eastern drumming has its own language, as the drums have been around longer than the written word. (Strong, 2006: 239)

While the drummer plays the distinctly recognizable rhythms, of which, some I’m going to list below, the dancers perform and play the finger cymbals to these drumbeats.

One of the fundamental rhythms is baladi or small masmoudi or masmoudi saqhire. Notated in 4/4, the very basic baladi rhythm looks like this:

Fig. 5. Baladi rhythm

Drummers often play variations and fills in the basic rhythm. Baladi would then look more like this:

baladi-2Fig. 6. Baladi played by drummers

Maqsoum shares the same accent pattern of baladi, but is played faster and livelier, and begins with a doum, tek instead of the doum, doum of baladi:

maqsoum

Fig. 7. Masqoum rhythm

Ayoub is notated in 2/4, and similarly Malfouf and Fallahi:

middle-east

Fig. 8. Ayoub, Mafouf and Fallahi rhythms

Masmoudi is in 8/4:

masmoudi

Fig. 9. Masmoudi rhythm

Samai Thaqil is in 10/8, with 3+2+2+3 (Fig. 9a) to aid the counting or with 3+2+3+2 (Fig. 9b)

samai-taqhil

Fig. 10a. Samai Thaqil ver. 1

samai-taquil-2

Fig. 10b. Samai Thaqil ver. 2

There are many other rhythm, with more complex meter with over 10 beats, like those in the Muwashahat, a musical form that originated in Al-Andalus (medieval Spain and Portugal). (Menocal and Scheindlin, 165) Such is Awfar that is in 19/8:

Fig. 11 Awfar rhythm

Some even range to 48/4, for example, Shanbar Kabir:

kabir

Fig. 12 Shanbar Kabir rhythm

You can find more here and on this website you can also listen to the rhythms in midi there.

While I was searching for the time signatures that are used in the Middle Eastern music, I found out that it is indeed these repeating rhythmical patterns that were used as an expression of musical time, rather than the sense of fixed metrical beats and measures, which seems weaker. This is when I discovered the Northern Indian – Hindustani music, where, on the contrary, the idea of metric system is emphasized.

It’s true that both the Northern Indian and the Middle Eastern music show us that “Metre as commoly understood in the West is clearly not a universal concept, nor is it a phenomenon observable in all world musics.” (Clayton, ) However, in the Middle Eastern music it is defined through the rhythmical distinctions, as listeners don’t listen for the metric pulse, but rather listen for the rhythmic patterns in compositions, in order to tell and count musical time. On the other hand, in the Northern Indian music, this is reversed.

More about the music and meter of Northern India, I will write in my next blog post.


Illustrations:

Fig. 1. Traditional way of playing finger cymbals [photograph] In: Kalani (2008) All About Hand Percussion: Everything You Need to Know to Start Playing Now! pp. 22 Los Angeles: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.

Fig. 2. Finger cymbals being struck at the edge [photograph] In: Kalani (2008) All About Hand Percussion: Everything You Need to Know to Start Playing Now! pp. 22 Los Angeles: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.

Fig. 3. Finger cymbals being brushed against each other [photograph] In: Kalani (2008) All About Hand Percussion: Everything You Need to Know to Start Playing Now! p. 22 Los Angeles: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc

Fig. 4. Finger cymbals in West Side Story, Cha-cha, bars 207-210 [segment from the music score] In: Bernstein, L. (1957) West side story (Full Score). p. 121 (Pub. 2000) New York: Boosey & Hawkes

Fig. 5. Baladi rhythm

Fig. 6. Baladi played by drummer

http://www.maryellendonald.com/BasicRhythmsForCabaretBellyDanceRoutine.htm

Fig. 7. Masqoum rhythm

Fig. 8. Ayoub, Mafouf and Fallahi rhythms

Fig. 9. Masmoudi rhythm

http://www.outiofcairo.com/cd/rhythm1.html

Fig. 10a. Samai Thaqil ver. 1

https://ravishdears.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/rich-complex-and-beautiful-lamma-bada/

Fig. 10b. Samai Thaqil ver. 2

http://majdaanwar.com/samai-is-much-more-than-a-rhythm/

Fig. 11. Awfar rhythm

Fig. 12. Shanbar Kabir rhythm


Reference:

Justice, D. (2012) [online] Middle Eastern Music for Hammered Dulcimer. At: https://www.melbay.com/Products/20616EB/middle-eastern-music-for-hammered-dulcimer.aspx (Accessed on 16 September 2016)

Kalani (2008) All About Hand Percussion: Everything You Need to Know to Start Playing Now! Los Angeles: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.

Miller, R. J. (2015) Contemporary Orchestration: A Practical Guide to Instruments, Ensembles and Musicians. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Solomon, S. Z. (2016) How to Write for Percussion: A Comprehensive Guide to Percussion Composition. (2nd ed.) New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Strong, J. (2006) Drums For Dummies. (2nd ed.) Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley Publishing, Inc.

2 thoughts on “Example 3 Research, Part 1: Finger Cymbals and Middle Eastern Rhythm

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