Dancing Hands Music

You may be able to play many of the patterns in this book right off the page without any intermediate steps. But whenever you can't, you can use a simple method we call say-it-and-play-it. Here are the steps:

Count out loud
  1. Tap the pulse in your feet (and keep tapping through steps 3–5)
  2. Accent the pattern you're working on in your counting
  3. Stop counting and vocalize the pattern
  4. Play the pattern on your instrument
  5. Once you learn this method, you can use it – or parts of it – to learn any pattern.

Now we'll walk you through all five steps while you learn the two timelines on the CD. One is in four and the other is in six. They're among the most common timelines found in African and Afro-Cuban music, and they're among the most wonderful rhythmic patterns ever invented.

The timeline in four

Put your instrument aside for now and start counting out loud "one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and" over and over. Count as evenly as you can, with all the counts exactly the same volume and the same distance from one another. Then keep counting and start tapping the pulse in your feet on 1 and 3:

How you tap is up to you. You can alternate feet or use just one foot. You can tap your heel or tap your toe, or you can rock back and forth from heel to toe. If you don't like moving your feet while you play, put the pulse somewhere else in your body like your hips or your head. Do whatever feels comfortable and natural to you, but keep that pulse going on 1 and 3 while you count out loud.

Now you're going to learn the timeline we use in four. This pattern is known in Afro-Cuban music as the son (sohn) clave, but it's also used in many African rhythms, where it's usually played on a bell. Whenever you're working in four and we refer to "the timeline," this is the pattern we're talking about. It's also the timeline in four you'll hear on the CD. (Later we'll introduce other timelines in four.)

We've shaded this timeline on the count row in the next chart. Keep moving your feet on the pulse and add the timeline by accenting those five notes in your counting – "ONE-and-two-AND-three-and-FOUR-and/one-and-TWO-and-THREE-and-four-and":

Notice how each accented note of the timeline feels in relation to the pulses in your feet on 1 and 3. The first note coincides with the first pulse. The second note comes just before your foot comes down on the second pulse. The third and fourth notes fall midway between pulses. And the last note coincides with the last pulse.


Once you're able to comfortably tap the pulse in your feet on 1 and 3 while accenting the timeline in your voice, keep the pulse going but let the count drift away while you vocalize the pattern with any syllable that's comfortable for you. We like "ka" (notice we've gone back to shading the pulse on the count row):

Vocalizing is a great way to learn a new pattern because you don't have to think about technique. You can concentrate completely on rhythm. This method of learning has been used around the world for thousands of years. In Indian music, for example, there's a highly developed system for vocalizing rhythms. A student may vocalize for a year or more before being allowed to touch a drum.

In the United States, the Nigerian Babatunde Olatunji has popularized a method of vocalizing in which each syllable stands for a particular technique on the drum: "pa" is a slap with the right hand, "ta" is a slap with the left, "go" is a tone with the right hand, and so on.

Many drummers develop their own style of vocalizing to learn parts and communicate with other drummers. There's no "correct" way to vocalize rhythms; the main point is to find a way that works for you. Remember: If you can say it, you can play it.

Once you can vocalize the timeline while tapping the pulse in your feet, keep your feet going and play the pattern on your instrument. Now you know the timeline in four you'll be working with throughout this book.

The timeline in six

Next you'll use say-it-and-play-it to learn the timeline called the 6/8 bell (or the "short bell"). This timeline is widely used in African and Afro-Cuban rhythms in six, and it's usually played on a bell. Whenever you're working in six and we refer to "the timeline," this is the pattern we're talking about. It's also the timeline in six you'll hear on the CD. (Later we'll introduce other timelines in six.)

Start by counting "one-two-three-four-five-six" over and over out loud. Then keep counting and start tapping your feet on 1 and 4, the main pulse you'll be working with in six. We've shaded this pulse on the count row below:

The timeline in six is shaded on the count row in the next chart. Keep your feet going and start accenting the pattern in your counting: "ONE-two-THREE-four-FIVE-SIX/one-TWO-three-FOUR-five-SIX":


You may have noticed that this timeline is quite a bit harder than the timeline you learned in four. That's because most Western music is in four; six is unfamiliar territory for most of us. So slow it way down if you need to. Take your time, noticing the relationship between the notes of the pattern and each foot tap.

When you're able to comfortably tap the pulse in your feet and accent the timeline in your voice, let the count drift away and just vocalize the pattern using whatever syllable you like. When that's comfortable, keep your feet going and play the pattern on your instrument:


Now you know the timeline in six you'll be working with throughout this book.

Now that you've gone through all the steps of say-it-and-play-it on these two timelines, you should be able to use this method to learn any pattern. And once you're comfortable playing a pattern while tapping a pulse in your feet, you'll be ready for the joy of triple-weave practicing, which we explain in the next chapter.