The importance of random
When we first started I had the troupe vary the rhythms we played a great deal during performances, going from Beledi to Maqsum to Saiidi to Nawari and back again. We play them all in 4/4, and all at the same tempo, but shifting constantly. We are not playing with a lot of ornamentation, and we do a good job of not playing on top of each other too much. (Read: If one of us is playing the ornamentation, the rest of us drop down to the base rhythm and let that support the ornamentation.) Too much ornamentation, from too many sources, makes everything muddy and overwrought.
The reason I started us with so much shifting of rhythms was simply to get all of our new drummers a lot of repetition of all the basic rhythms. I also did not want them to get too hung up in how difficult switching from rhythm to rhythm can be, and figured if I had them doing it early, they would be comfortable with it before they realized how hard it was. That part worked. Or, rather, I thought it had until I played with K on Sunday and he had some trouble playing the Beledi four times in a row. His hands kept trying to follow each Beledi with a Maqsum.
Oh. And also, uh-oh. I should have seen that coming, but being new to all of this, didn’t. What was happening was a lack of variation on our variations. All of the new guys were learning the changes by rote, not by practice.
So it is time to introduce a new set of practice drills to correct that. I also am going to take the woman’s advice and put each drummer on the spot a bit during our rehearsals, and have each of them run through a few phrases solo. The goal is to hear how they sound, of course, but also to gauge their comfort and confidence level with that rhythm or those changes. Not to embarrass, never to embarrass, but so that I can help them with what to focus on to best improve in their individual practices.
But that is for next week’s rehearsal. This week is with the dancers again, so we will be focused on our sound. Also, this is the week that we control the changes for the first time (AKA: The Great Experiment) and that will be fun as well.