on learning drum solos and how to speak “percussionese”

Raks Makam (from l. to r.) Jessica Hamilton, Jon Silpayamanant, Jo Hadley

So today, after several exhausting days with little sleep but much exciting activities (see my previous post for some details) I went to rehearse with Raks Makam for our upcoming performance this Friday.  My brain is still a little bit fried and with little sleep I was making more mistakes than I think I would normally.  Granted, the Uzbek doira is still a relatively new instrument to me and I don’t have one of the best instruments but mostly it’s my skill level (and the mitigating physical circumstances) that got in the way.

I almost want to say this instrument is far more difficult than, say, the Egyptian tabla which I also play regularly in a couple of groups but I’m not entirely sure that’s ever a useful type of comparison to make.

What I will say that the standard rhythmic patterns are very different than what you might find in the Middle East (or in any other region for that matter) and even the inter-Central Asian countries differ to a significant degree.  There’s tons more finger work and as many patterns in three beat measures at duple/quadruple beat measures, if not more, than what you might find in the Middle East.  And the phrasing–that’s the kicker–as many in multiples of three as not!

The piece I’m learning is called “Doira Dars” which almost literally translates as “Doira Study” or what classical trained musicians might call a “Doira Etude.”  And it is just that–an exercise for drummers that uses many of the basic rhythms found in the art dance music of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

But it’s not just a study piece for drummers–it is designed as a training or warm-up piece for dancers as well. By going through the rhythmic patterns–roughly 12 or 14 depending on how the Uzbeks would count them; and about a handful of different shokh (transitions); and the intro and ending–a dancer will have an opportunity to use a great number the moves in the repertoire of the dance.   Now, 12 (or 14 depending) different rhythmic patterns may not seem like a huge amount but keep in mind that many of the (non-native) Middle Eastern drummers here in the US will rarely learn more than 10 different rhythms for the entirety of the repertoire they might play.  Unless we’re talking about the art music, e.g. Ottoman classical music which has several dozens of rhythmic modes used for the repertoire.

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