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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 whatever.

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 really effective.


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 4/4.

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 length.

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 counter rhythm.

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 previous examples.


"You were born an original; don't die a copy."



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