Inject some Arabic influenced independence into your playing.
Here we will start a look at some independence which one quite often
finds in Arabic percussion. It is very common for the percussionist to
play a basic rhythmic ostinato with one hand whilst the other picks out
various phrases and counter rhythms against this. I will be writing it
for percussion but there are also options for drum set players where the
repetitive ostinato could be with the right hand around the toms whilst
the left plays the counter rhythms.
Example one sees the basic percussion ostinato voiced between the open
stroke and slap stroke.
Example two involves simple voicings for drum set players for this
ostinato. The counter rhythms could be on a second snare, hi hat or
Our first counter rhythm is every off beat 16th notes. Be careful to
keep this even and unrushed. One instrumentation for this might be with
the ostinato on a djembe or conga whilst you do the counter rhythms on a
second drum such as Doumbek or even bongos.
For example four we have the same off beat 16th notes for the first half
of the bar and for the second half the counter rhythms fall in all the
gaps created by the ostinato. Switching between these two patterns is
I find this approach really useful for coming up with interesting multi
drum parts and also for solo stuff. You could voice the right hand
ostinato on a djembe or conga and do the counter line on darabouka,
bongos or whatever. It even works on a set of bongos with the ostinato
on the low bongo and the counter line on the high bongo. Also, by
articulating the counter part with the split hand technique you can
really hit this at some fast tempos. (The split hand technique on
Darabouka involves hitting the drum alternately with the ring finger and
first finger. It is a direct relative of similar techniques found in
Indian percussion whete the hands are sometimes divided into two
striking units. It is one of the things that makes possible some of the
incredibly fast rolls that you hear on Indian drums).
Next we will play a pattern in three over the repetitive 4/4 ostinato.
The counter rhythm is three sixteenths long and takes a whole bar of 6/4
to land back on the beat. If we were doing this in 4/4 we would
obviously need to make up the other two quarter notes to make it sit in
Next we have the same construct but the
counter rhythm is single dotted eighth notes which are also three
sixteenths long. The same applies in that it is one bar of 6/4 in
Now we will take more of a phrase you might hear in Arabic percussion.
The following example is created with the counter rhythm only sounding
in the gaps of the ostinato. This is a simple but surprisingly effective
groove. There is an illusion that only intense independence can work
with this type of approach but something simple such as only playing in
the gaps of the other hand can really work well.
This style of soloing and pattern building is actually very common in
the Middle east where percussionists will take a skeletal rhythm and
voice that with one hand whilst playing independently against it with
the other hand. The skeletal pattern serves the purpose of creating a
‘kick / snare’ style backbone which serves as a great base to improvise
over. I like to approach this with a Djembe on my right for the ostinato
and darabouka on my left. A lot of the voicings with the left hand have
a lot of potential when you use the ‘split hand technique’ which
involves splitting the hand into two striking units. For the Darabouka
this involves the ring finger and first finger of the left hand. There
is lots more info on this in the free lessons section.
When juxtaposed with some of the more involved independence from the
previous examples, sections where the counter voicing is in the gaps of
the ostinato can work really well. Example one sees a pretty sparse
The end goal would be to improvise with this, to be able to sit and
freely create counter rhythms against the ostinato in a similar way that
a jazz player would be independent against the ride pattern.
Example two sees another spacious pattern.
There is a tendency to think that this type of approach needs to be
crammed full of notes but the extensive use of space in conjunction with
busier sections really makes the whole thing a lot more musical.
Check out the space in example 3
Example four is a straighter feel which would work well as a repetitive
groove. Spend a lot of time developing your own ostinatos and counter
rhythms as it can be very productive. Don’t be fooled by how easy these
are to play. It is incredible how effective these simple patterns can
be, esp when combined with some of the more intricate variations from
"You were born an
original; don't die a copy."
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