The Troupe
This drummer's journey with other drummers.

Variations: How to make it fun

Fun psychology experiment # 21: The coffee shop!

Here is the game:   Go to a coffee shop that you are not well known at, and don’t mind never going to again.   Grab a mocha, or hot chocolate, and find a table where you can sit with your back to the wall and facing the room.  Try to keep a straight face.  Tap out a six part rhythm.  1-2-3-4-5-6.  Tap only on the 1, 2, and 3, and keep silent count on the 4, 5, and 6.  Go nice and slow, and keep your taps of moderate volume.   Not loud, not soft, just medium.   You are not calling for attention, just doing your own thing…   *grins*

What will probably happen is this:  The first taps those who are near you will glance at you to see if you are trying to get their attention.  When you ignore them they will go back to what they are doing.  They will ignore the next 4 to 5 series of taps.   Around about 6, they will glance up at you again, a bit curious and a bit annoyed.   They will try to ignore you again for 1 or 2 more cycles but then, at about the tenth repetition, will look up at you and give you the “Harumph!” expression.

Here is the lesson:  This is true of virtually EVERY human on the planet.   Adults, kids, men, women, old, young, whatever…  We all are wired to perceive repetitions, and to respond with attention.   When we figure out that the repetition doesn’t require attention it annoys us.   The important fact here is that when performing your audience is usually going to be made of humans.

And, maybe I am a bad person for admitting this, but I love to do that experiment in snooty coffeehouses.  *laughs evilly*

Most of drumming is the repetition of patterns.   Essentially a rhythm is a series of techniques played within a beat pattern and then repeated.  Simple rhythms are easy to learn, but often become boring or stale after a few repetitions.  You need a way to make if fun, freshen it up, and make it interesting even if it is at heart a repetition of what you have been doing.  You need some variations.

So, the key to playing the same rhythms over and over is to make it worth attention.

This process is called ornamentation.

I will go through some basic ornamentation using the two most basic rhythms, Malfuf and Kahleegi.  In fact Malfuf is so basic that the Kahleegi is really just a variant of it.   (Side note:  Maybe that is the other way around, but who knows?  Night and Day.  Day and Night.)

Here are the basic Malfuf and Kahleegi.  You can easily play these, back to back, over and over again.    (Fun fact: If you cannot play the simple stuff, nothing you do is a variant, it is a mistake.)  It sounds great at first but after about eight times you can feel your attention wander.  Believe me, the attention of the audience, the dancers and anyone else listening is wandering too.

No Ornamentation:

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

T

T

Kahleegi (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

D

T

Ornamentation 1:

The simple adding of two Ka in between the basic beats is usually the first variation most drummers learn.   The single Ka at the end is known as a “Pick Up Beat” and it provides and transition into the start of the next rhythm.

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

T

K

K

T

K

Kahleegi (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

D

K

K

T

K

Ornamentation 2:

Same thing, just add a second Malfuf at the end.   So, the pattern is now: Malfuf – Kahleegi – Malfuf and then repeat.  Not too bad!  That is getting interesting.

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

T

K

K

T

K

Kahleegi (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

D

K

K

T

K

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

T

K

K

T

K

Ornamentation 3:

Now we are going to play with REMOVING beats.   As the famous cliché says; Music is the space between the notes.

This is a bit tricky and will certainly take some practice.   You are playing only the second of the double Ka on the first Malfuf, and only the first Ka on the Kahleegi.  Play the last Malfuf straight.

This takes a long time to get down, so go slow while you practice.   (During practice, when I am saying and playing the rhythm at the same time, I use a “Puff” sound for the empty beats.   So, I say, “Doum  Puff  Ka  Tek  Puff  Ka  Tek  Puff.”   Is it silly?  You bet!  But it works for me, and it might work for you…

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

T

K

T

Kahleegi (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

D

K

T

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

T

K

K

T

K

Ornamentation 4:

Oh no!  We added an Ayoub as the fourth phrase!   That has become very, very interesting!  And this is a lot harder to play.

The pattern is now Malfuf – Kahleegi – Malfuf – Ayoub.    Yikes!

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

T

K

T

Kahleegi (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

D

K

T

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

T

K

K

T

K

Ayoub (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

T

D

T

Ornamentation 5:

And now, the toughest ornamentation!

What you are doing here is putting the double Ka back in the second half of both the Malfuf and the Kahleegi, but leaving the first half of the rhythms unchanged.

Madness!   But, a lot of fun to play!

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

T

K

K

T

K

Kahleegi (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

D

K

K

T

Malfuf (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

K

K

T

K

K

T

K

Ayoub (2/4)

1

E

&

A

2

E

&

A

D

T

D

T

When performing you now have a total of six different ways to play the Malfuf and Kahleegi.   I tend to mix them up, playing no single ornamentation more than four times in a row.   And, I go back to the basic, no ornamentation Malfuf and Kahleegi fairly often, because it reminds the audience (and me) what the heck I am playing in the first place.   And really, all this ornamentation is just the simple beats.  I haven’t even gone into making some of the Doums into Mutes, or the Teks into Rizzes, or the Kas into Pops and Half Teks.

The keys to keeping it interesting:

  1. Know the basic rhythm.
  2. Vary everything you do, including the amount of varying you do.
  3. Silence and space can be as useful an ornament as any other technique.
  4. Practice.  Practice!  PRACTICE!
  5. If it is fun to play it is fun to listen to.

Always remember, there is no such thing as a boring rhythm.

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