Gilded Serpent presents...
and Reason Series, Article 1
Cymbals, Beyond Basics
by Mary Ellen Donald
published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing
column. This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto,
This article is now available with permission from MaryEllen and
GS on Lisa
Chen's site in Chinese! http://atsforeverlisa.blogspot.com/2008/02/3-1.html and
Back in the '70s
I recieved this question that is still pertinent today:
have been dancing and playing cymbals for sometime now. I
can get through a piece of music with my cymbals but I don't
feel very creative while doing so. I would appreciate your
offering me some suggestions for improving my overall cymbal
is my advice this young dancer:
Based on what you've said, I'm going to assume that you can already
play the "gallop" and "singles" patterns (what I call basic and
alternating strokes), that you are holding your cymbals properly,
and that you know how to alter the tone of your cymbals. Below
I would like to list some essentials to keep in mind if you'd
like to get beyond the mediocre level of cymbal playing.
Increase the strength in your hands and fingers.
You have to have enough strength in your hands and fingers to
execute intricate patterns smoothly and with speed. You will
be helped toward such strength if when you practice cymbals separate
from your dancing, you hold your arms fairly stationary out front,
forcing your fingers and hands to work instead of receiving the
strength from larger arm movements. Also, I would suggest two
Strike both cymbals together in both hands simultaneously as
a long stroke and then play a quick right and left stroke afterwards,
resulting in a pattern sounding like the "gallop."
Play alternating strokes beginning with your left hand and accent
the first of every four strokes. These exercises are especially
helpful for the left hand. Whether you begin with your left
or your right, eventually try to play alternating strokes continuously
through two or three minutes of a moderate tempo piece of 4/4
music. Whenever you find yourself jerking your hands, slow
down. A smooth sound is very important.
Familiarize yourself with some basic concepts of rhythm
and allow this knowledge to free up your imagination as you
choose rhythmical variations.
such useful concept is that involving the filling in and emptying
if the original pattern that you learn calls for one sound at
a given beat, say, count 4-and, you can substitute two, three,
four sounds, etc. for that one. You just have to remember to
make the multiple sounds take up the same amount of time as
the original single sound. So with one basic pattern in mind,
you can play numerous variations. Learning how to count time
evenly should be another essential part of your rhythmical training.
Also you should become familiar with the concepts of syncopation
and counterpoint. Keep in mind that rhythmical expertise
cannot replace your imagination but rather enrich its possibilities.
Learn the accents of the Middle Eastern rhythms
popular within your dance music. It's not necessary that you
reflect the accents of a rhythm continuously but it's important
to be able to pick up the accents with cymbals and/or body when
you wish to.
you will want to coincide with the accents of the drummer
and other times you will play over the rhythm and be in counterpoint
with the drummer.
rhythm has a distinct arrangement of accents. If you are sure
of where these accents come, you can bring a unique flavor to
each section of your routine.
Play your cymbals with good taste. More often
than not you are probably dancing to recorded music, so you
have the opportunity to study the music and decide ahead of
time on what type of cymbal patterns would be appropriate for
each section. If you hear the drummer playing a series of fancy,
perhaps syncopated strokes, then you should probably keep simple
and not muddy up the sounds with additional intricacies. On
the other hand, when the drummer is playing quite simply, you
might choose to embellish your playing more. Remember to aim
at a pleasing totality involving your movements, your cymbals,
and the various instruments in the band. Showing off at the
wrong time can destroy the beauty of the whole presentation.
Also, in keeping with tasteful playing, remember to play cymbals
delicately when the melody instruments are playing gentle solos.
Good taste might also help you to decide to play solid baladi
accents with very little filler when the band is playing slow
heavy baladi. You probably would sound out of place if you
at that time tried to throw in all kinds of delicate and fancy
the rhythm is not being enunciated so clearly, maybe a mellow
bass keeping the beat in the background, then following the
melody line or inventing a light filler type of sound with
your cymbals might bring out the best in the music.
comment on this topic of taste. Many question whether or not
the dancer should play cymbals during the drum solo.
think that you can add to the excitement of a drum solo if
you can play cymbals very well, fast enough, smooth enough,
and syncopated enough at times.
Also, if you
are playing to a drum solo that you have memorized and can pick
up all of the breaks, you might consider playing cymbals. If
you don't have such expertise, then please don't play your cymbals
during the drum solo. If dancing to live music, you might ask
the drummer's preference on your playing or not playing cymbals
on the solo.
Finally, I'd like to urge you to play your cymbals assertively
with feeling. All of the rhythmical knowledge
in the world will not make your dancing and cymbal playing touch
and transform your audience. I would hasten to add that playing
cymbals just from a sense of what you call feeling without knowing
anything about counting or rhythm in general or Middle Eastern
rhythms more specifically can be a disaster. Just as in other
aspects of life, it's very important that you balance knowledge
and feeling. Let the music call forth a celebration of life's
beauty from within you. Let your cymbals sing out this celebration.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
The London Belly Beat! by Alexandria
have nothing against tribal or fusion styles and seem to enjoy
all belly dance.
Rakkasah West Festival 2005 Photos-
Friday Page 1 photos by GS Staff and Friends
“My Aim in Organizing a World-inclusive
Oriental Dance Festival” by Amani
Amani of Lebanon Comments, "Oriental dancing has become a
widespread art; it is now found all over the world, and among
all levels of society in all the five continents! "
"What is Belly
Dance?" The First Presentation in the New Symposium Series,
by World Arts West A report and review by Sadira There
has been much controversy surrounding the particular groups and
soloists who have been chosen to represent the Middle Eastern
Dance category in the Ethnic Dance series throughout its entire
25 years of production.