Gilded Serpent presents...
and Reason Series, Article 5
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,
of you are teachers who really care about sharing accurate information
with your students. I would like to heartily encourage you to
continue seeking and sharing clarity in a field that is often
shrouded in mystery. As I listen to your questions and comments
in my travels, I have discovered an area of confusion that I would
like to clear up with this article. I’ll
use the format of an ongoing dialogue with an imaginary bellydance
If you find
from reading this that your information has been incorrect, I
suggest that you let your students know about your latest discoveries
and help them not to make the same mistakes. In the long run
my guess is that your students will respect you for this honest
approach rather than abandon you because you don’t know all there
is to know about Middle Eastern dance and music. Ask my students.
They’ve learned all kinds of new things step by step along with
me, as I have corrected and refined my knowledge about percussion
cymbal patterns fit the 4/4 rhythm?”
can answer your question I’d like to clarify something about the
term 4/4 rhythm.
is no specific rhythm that is called the 4/4 rhythm. 4/4 refers
to the way that you can count the passage of time.
is, over and over again as the music is playing, you can count
four beats – one and two and three and four and. In 4/4 music
the repetitive pattern that you hear should fit within those four
counts. The 4/4 is called the time signature or the meter. But
that’s not the rhythm. As I say at the beginning of each workshop,
“Rhythm is the patterned arrangement of sound and silent.” The
skeleton of a rhythm consists of the pattern that its accents
form, a pattern that is repetitive.
the 4/4 tells you how to count. The rhythm tells you where
to put your accents and the musical director tells you how fast
this all goes.
Most of the
music that you dance to is in some form of 4/4 time. Baladi and
bolero are in 4/4 time and so is the lesser known fast chifte
telli. Slow chifte telli and masmoudi take up eight beats so
you can picture them as taking up two measures of 4/4 time or
count from one to eight beats and picture them as in 8/4 time.
recognize the accents of most of those rhythms that you mentioned
but as I listen to lots of music that I know is in 4/4 time (because
I can count four beats evenly throughout it), I can’t identify
any repetitive rhythmical pattern. That’s why I call that music
just 4/4 rhythm.”
I would be
surprised to find that your bellydance music doesn’t have a repetitive
pattern of accents. You just have to have a better idea of what
you are listening for. Sometimes a bass instrument marks the
accents regularly and the drum plays unrepeated frills on top
of that. In that case the accents of the bass give you the rhythm.
Other times the drum is enunciating the rhythm with many embellishments
surrounding the accents so it’s hard to pick out the pattern.
Many times fast chifte telli is the rhythm in question. I know
you recognize the slow chifte telli. Just hum it over and over
and speed it up until it goes twice as fast as you are used to.
See if that fits some of your music.
first step is always that of identifying what the repetitive
accent pattern is. Labeling it is another concern.
asking Middle Eastern rhythm experts and musicians, you don’t
learn of a commonly used label for your pattern, then make up
a name for the sake of clear communication with your students
and associates. Of course, tell them that it is your own label
so they won’t find themselves in the embarrassing position of
entering a life or death struggle with someone who dares to call
that rhythm by another name.
By my insisting
that you should be able to find a repetitive accent pattern that
is the rhythm, I don’t mean to say that these accents are rigidly
played through every measure of the music. Often the percussionist
will play what I call a “fill-in” for one or two measures at a
time and then returns to the rhythm. I trust that such ‘fill-ins’
are thrown in with taste, enhancing the drama of the music and
not so overused that no one can recognize the main rhythm anymore.
For those of you who are not familiar with my terminology, a ‘fill-in’
refers to any arrangement of sounds that can be played to fit
into the number of beats required by not necessarily retaining
the accents of the original rhythm.
course drum solos afford ample room for ‘fill-in’ explosions.
Besides looking out for ‘fill-ins’, you might keep in mind that
the percussionist might change rhythms several times within
a single piece.
might be dictated by the music or at times come about because
the percussionist wishes to introduce a new flavor into the music.
So your task is that of careful listening so that you can recognize
a repetitive rhythmical pattern of accents and then realize when
this pattern has given way to another repetitive pattern.
Now I understand that there is no such animal as a plain old 4/4
rhythm. But still I want to know what patterns to play on my
cymbals once I figure out the accent patterns. I don’t want to
play incorrectly so I want you to advise me on what to play.”
At the risk
of having fewer seminars to teach, I’ll say that you have done
the hardest job once you’ve identified the accent pattern.
your own imagination.
try to match the percussionist’s accents with your own cymbal
accents with little fillers in between and other times play ‘fill-ins’
using a combination of what I call basic and alternating strokes.
Now that you have correct information, create your own patterns
and encourage your students to do the same.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Rhythm and Reason Series, Article
4, For Whom Do You Dance? by Mary Ellen Donald, Who
do you dance for – your audience or yourself?
Rhythm and Reason Series,
Article 3, Community Warfare by Mary Ellen Donald
and again I hear dancers deplore the fact that in many parts of
the country there are warring camps among dancers; that is, groups
that openly oppose each other and that try to keep all useful
information and all jobs to themselves.
Tips on Dancing to Live Music (a
Musician’s Perspective) by Frank Lazzaro
dancers find performing to live music intimidating, but with a
little preparation, good communication, and a positive attitude,
you can make it the most exciting part of your dance performance.
Fels, Master Cymbal Maker by Shelley
made the most exquisite finger cymbals. Each one was a work of
Zil Thrills in
the '70s, Memories from another Viewpoint by Najia Marlyz
My experience with Bert was the opposite, however; the cymbals
were hardly a secret.