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Say What? How to Speak Drum in Plain Language For Better Finger Cymbal Playing

When I teach Finger Cymbals, I will alternate how I call out the rhythms: "by the numbers," right-and-left, or using the Middle Eastern Drum Language.

While it is not required to learn the Drum Language while learning ow to play the Finger Cymbals, I highly recommend it. For instance, when I first took Middle Eastern Drumming class, I had an advantage over the other students, as I already "spoke" the language and knew whether it was my right or left hand that corresponded to the Dum, Tek, or Ka.


When you are playing Middle Eastern rhythms with the Finger Cymbals, you are a dancer AND a musician, because you are adopting and adapting the rhythm of the drum. It may seem intimidating initially, but I promise that the "best way to understand Middle East rhythms is to play along with them."

Please refer to my previous article about how to count rhythms! You will want to gain proficiency at playing at quarter-time, half-time, full-time, and double-time. "Once you’ve gotten the hang of these simple rhythms, start working on the most important rhythms used in Belly Dance."


In both drumming and Finger Cymbals, most teachers speak about the "dominant hand." If you are left-handed, go ahead and reverse the rhythm layouts below.

And, "if you find yourself to be ambidextrous, and you can sign your name equally well on both your right and left hand, you can use either hand to lead."


And while we are on the subject, I'd like to point out that there is the Egyptian Finger Cymbal method where you alternate right and left, and there isn't a dominant hand. This is not a method that I teach, as I use the Drum Language, but you are more than welcome to use it if you are comfortable.

During class, when I face you, you will see me cross my arms, so that my right is the same as your right. When you are behind me in class, I will have my arms extended so you can see me clearly. And, for the class replay, I will often face sideways with my right arm extended; again my right hand is the same as your right hand.

If you are only using the Basic (or Ring) stroke when playing the Finger Cymbals, you will not notice a difference between Dum, Tek, or Ka. Please refer back to my article about how to make various sounds with the Finger Cymbals, so you have more options.

Let's take a look at a popular Middle Eastern rhythm, Baladi.

1     E     &     A     2     E     &     A     3     E     &     A     4     E     &     A

D           D            T     k      T           D           T      k     T            T      k (Drum Language)

R           R            R     L     R          R           R      L     R         R L (right/left)

1           1            1 2 3       1        1     2 3            1 2 (numbers)


While we are in class, I will oscillate between therse as I call them out. I understand that no two students are alike, and not every method works the same for everyone! Find the one that resonates with you, and use that to become proficient with your Finger Cymbals.


SOURCES Virginia Mesmera Caroleena Nericcio Ansuya Michelle Joyce Alexandra King Jamila Salimpour Maria Strova Tamalyn Dallal Neena and Veena Keti Sharif

Elsa Leandros

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