Phrasing in Djembe Patterns (from the book "How to Play Djembe")

Phrasing refers to where you perceive the beginning and end of a repeating pattern. To understand this concept, it's helpful to think of a rhythmic phrase like a sentence. Even if you repeat a sentence over and over, you always know where it begins and ends. For example, no matter how many times you repeat the sentence, "Let's have some fun," you never lose your awareness that each repetition begins with "Let's" and ends with "fun." And that awareness affects how you say the sentence every time.

While we were recording the CD with Joh Camara, we discussed the concept of phrasing with him. Joh explained that he has a definite sense of where each part he plays begins and ends. He then clarified the phrasing of each part you'll be learning in this book, and this is the phrasing we'll be teaching you. We don't mean to imply that all other phrasings are wrong. Drummers from other West African countries or regions may perceive the phrasing of the same patterns differently.

What's important to understand is that how you perceive the phrasing of a part will influence how you play it. And knowing Joh's phrasing of each part in this book will help you play with the subtle nuances of emphasis and timing you hear on the CD.

For this part from Kuku, the phrase starts on 2 in each measure and ends on 1. In the next chart, we've used brackets to indicate this phrasing.

Don't play anything for now. Just look at the chart: 

You're probably wondering why you start playing on 4 if the phrase actually starts on 2. Good question. According to Joh, you do this to bridge the gap between the end of the break and the beginning of the phrase.

To remember the phrasing of a part, it often helps to come up with a sentence that matches the rhythmic phrase. For this part from Kuku, we use the same sentence we used in the example above: "Let's have some fun." Saying it while you play the part will help you hang on to the phrasing.

We've put this sentence on the chart below. Each word is underneath the stroke it corresponds with. We put "fun" in caps because it falls on the pulse. Even though you start playing on 4 in the second measure, remember that the first slap and bass you play are a fragment of the phrase. It's like saying the sentence fragment "some fun" before launching into the full sentence – "some fun, Let's have some fun, Let's have some fun ...":