The Troupe
This drummer's journey with other drummers.

About me and drumming

I should probably explain about the kind of drumming I do, so that the four of you reading this don’t get confused.

I play hand held percussion, mostly with Middle Eastern and North African instruments.

The drums themselves are very, very simple. What people call them and do with them is where it gets complicated and confusing.

Specifically, I play the doumbek, which is also called a darbuka, and sometimes a tabla, and often a bunch of other things as well.  In short, a doumbek is a goblet drum, which refers to its general shape.  Picture an uneven hourglass with the drum head on the larger end and you have the right idea.

My doumbek is about 17″ tall, has a 10″ plastic drum head which is held down by the rim and six bolts. This allows you to “tune” the drum, which really just means “tighten that sucker down until it sounds even all the way around”. It is a lot like tuning the spokes on your bike when you were a kid. (Or, for that matter, this weekend after you didn’t see that rock coming down the trail and crashed the bike.)

The doumbek (or darbuka) is played all around the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, and up into the Balkans, and down into Egypt. They tend to be named in the local language for the sounds they make. “Doum” is the deep tone in the middle of the drum while “Bek” is the sharper sound made on the rim of the drum. The people who call it a darbuka just got fancier, and used three sounds (“Dar”, “Bu”, and “Ka”).

But, this is not a drum lesson.   For that, just hit your favorite video site, type in “Doumbek” or “Darbuka”, and you will see what I am talking about, and hear it, and see someone playing and maybe even get into it yourself.   I recommend that you do.

I also play the Riqq (Middle Eastern Tambourine/Drum) and the Tar (a basic Frame Drum, also called a Dar, or Daf depending on where you are).

I have been playing the doumbek for about 6 years now, but only seriously playing for about 2.  The riqq and tar are more recent, about the last year or so.

And here is the why of it.

I am married to a fantastic human being, who happens to be my best friend and a great partner.   She was an athlete all through high school, and sometime in her mid 20’s and in the middle of the corporate cubicle hell realized she hadn’t played anything in a long time.   She joined a softball recreation league, laced them up and promptly shredded her ACL running out a ground ball and getting tangled while trying to dodge around the first basewoman.  (Short moral: Run them over.  Being nice in sports gets you hurt.)

After the 3 month nightmare that was X-Rays, MRI’s, diagnostics, scheduling and ACL replacement surgery, she was down, out and depressed.  She was limping around, taking the elevators, and was not happy.   Then she lucked out.

Her mom convinced her to take a belly dancing class at the community center, with all the other older moms, and my wife was delighted, enthralled, hooked and saved all at once.  She became a dancer in her heart, overnight, and attacked learning it with a passion that was awesome to watch.  Two years later she was teaching, and a year after that leading a dance troupe, and then she said to me, “What we really need is some live drummers.”

And so began my adventure.

I bought a basic drum (read: “Used and Cheap”), took a beginners workshop, practiced just enough to not be embarrassed around a drum circle or campfire, and started drumming out basic beats for the dancers to do their thing to.

And then, I started to like it.   It wasn’t just something that I was doing to hang out with my wife, and make her happy with me (although, that would be more than enough).  It became FUN.  Challenging.  Suddenly I wanted to not only hit the drum in time, but know why that was in time.  I wanted to understand the difference between silence and space, musicality and dynamics, the difference between swing and groove.

So, I started to actually practice.  To seek out teachers, and good drummers, and workshops.  To scour the internet for clips and websites.

And, I became confused.  Happy and challenged, but confused.

Somewhere along the line other drummers (husbands, boyfriends and the occasional injured dancer) started joining in for performances, and suddenly I was leading a drum troupe.

And I became not only confused, but concerned.

This blog will be about my experiences, as an amateur drummer, leading a troupe, learning as I go, exploring, practicing and expanding.

Hopefully getting better.

Definitely trying to.

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