Friday, January 31, 2014

Reading Drum Music - Ways to Notate & Teach Drumming Rhythms

This is a list of various rhythms I enjoy playing, and ways to read and notate drum music. It's my own interpretation of them. There are a few different ways I like to notate, and/or and vocalize the start of a drum circle rhythm. Print this out if you want to, it’s a Word doc at my site - I like to help people enjoy drumming more. A big part of being a musician, is helping other musicians along.

Most drum circle rhythms are played in either 4/4 or 6/8 time. Try it in 4/4 time, before you go to 6/8. Also, try tapping your foot as you play. 1-2-3-4 There are 4 quarter notes are in a measure of 4/4 time. Then break it down to 8th notes, then 16th notes this way. 1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a Try saying them out loud as you play your drum. (With no spaces)

There's a variety of different ways I like to use to notate a drum rhythm. It's really a matter of personal preference, and what ever you find the easiest for you to use. Here's some various ways I've seen to notate a drum rhythm. Using one of these methods, you can quickly and clearly transcribe a drum rhythm to save it for another day. The accented strokes, (or slaps) are all in caps.

Here's an example with the basic "Fanga" drum rhythm in 4/4 time notated a few different ways with different notating styles:

Gun go-do-go Gun-Dun go-Do (Also, pa & ta are used in some rhythms.) (As far as I know, this is a style that was taught by Babatunde Olatunji. It’s probably the most common, and well known method.)

(Middle Eastern style) Doum tek-ka-tek Doum-Doum tek-Ka
(Or in shorthand = D t-k-t D-D t-K)

(Play it how it sounds.) Boom chickaChick Boom-Boom chicKa

(Basic notation) B o-o-o B-B o-O

Bass=B, Slap=S, Rim Shot=R, Open Tone=O, Closed Tone=C, Muffled Bass=M (I don't use this one very much, but it’s a good way to notate.)

If I'm in a hurry, which is usually the case: I sometimes use Morse Code to quickly jot down a rhythm. _ ... __..

I've seen some others use just this style just notating which hand to use as a method:
R l-r-l R-L r-L

Or, very basic: B= bass tone, T= tone note, S= slap note, lower case letter for softer tones.

Jazz scatting - Just write down what it sounds like. Boom sha-ka-la Boom-Boom sha-Ka, or Ba-Dum BaDay Ba-Dum BaDum, etc. Maybe even make up your own method.

If I work with a group on a regular basis, I eventually work in how to traditionally read music, and music theory. Whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, meter, various time signatures, musical terms, and so on. If I work it in a little at a time during the circle – even 8 year olds can pick it up pretty fast. 8 years olds can design video games these days, so learning a drum rhythm – no problem. I just don’t want to overwhelm them with too much right away, or make it feel like a school class. (Even if that’s what it is.)

When I'm suggesting a rhythm to play. I like to vocalize the first few bars of it before I begin playing it, and I start it out very slowly, then I can gradually bring it up to the desired tempo (speed) once they are comfortable with it. I always mention that this is just a starting point, and you don't have to play this support rhythm, play whatever you feel fits.

Interestingly, I've found that most people can wrap their heads around it quicker if I vocalize sounds with a "K" in them. ie: Doum tekka-doum Tek. (or) Boom chicka-boom Chick. (or) I just "scat" them out jazz style any way I can think of. My main objective is to get them playing a drum as quickly as possible, and get them creating, and not thinking

Another idea is drumming to common word phrases, rhymes or well known commercial jingles to get things rolling. ie: "Yum, Yum, tastes like chic-ken" (D, D, t k t-k) or try "pep-per-oni-Piz-Za" (t-k-t-k D D) 2 bass, 4 tones

KC & The Sunshine Band inspired drum circle rhythm:
"That's The way, Uh Huh, Uh Huh, I like It, Uh Huh Uh Huh"
Doum ka-tek, ka-DoumDoum Tek, KaDoum ka-tek, ka-DoumDoum Tek
(I guess that disco era helped me out after all!)

Good start up drum circle rhythm: "Yum Yum Tastes Like Ckic-ken" (Just like it sounds) - doum doum tek-ka tekka, doum doum tek-ka tekka

An easy way to get a Clave drum rhythm jamming is to remind people of the beat to songs like "Mockingbird" or "Hand Jive"

Sly & The Family Stone inspired beat. Boom sha-ka la ka, Boom sha-ka-la-ka

Word association is a great way to get a 6/8 drum circle rhythm going.
Fol-low-the-yel-low-brick-road-go-do-pa-ta-pa or cabbage & broccoli…

The "conga line" rhythm usually turns into a good drum jam. On the Doumbek:
doum-ka, doum-ka, tek--tek. Or on the Djembe: gun-pa, gun-pa, go--do
or just feel the rhythm vamp to MJ's “Thriller".

Variation of an African drum rhythm Gunazi. Boom sha-ka Boom Boom, shakala, Slap! Boom sha-ka Boom Boom, shakala, Slap! (or some accented tone at the end)

Common commercial jingles, or rhymes make fun drum circle rhythms:
Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs - Shaka-sha-lakaBoom, Shaka-sha-lakaBoom

Drum circle rhythm with a Brazilian flair to it:
Doum--ka-tekka--Doum--ka-tek-ka,- Doum--ka-tekka--Doum--ka-tek-ka

Boom-Boom chakachaka ping ping ping! (gun dun patapata slap slap Slap)

Masmuudii 316 - A fun drum circle rhythm that rolls like a freight train
D---D---t-k-T-k-D-tktkt-TktkT-t (1 measure in 4/4 time) 1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a

An odd rhythm: oom-pah---oom-pah---oom-pahpah__oom-pah---oom-pah---oom-pah-slap (start with dominant hand, RL,RL,RLR__LR,LR,LRL) Bass, tones, and etc. (Alternate to balance both sides of the body.)

"Bambii" A cool drum circle rhythm -
Doum-tekka-katek-tekka-kaDoum-Doum__Doum-tekka-katek-tekka-kaDoum-Doum Doum (It's in 4/4 time, the 3 Doums at the end is what makes this one really groove.)
(Or, try it filled: Dk kT kk Tk kT kk D D)

Nice support rhythm to start at the drum circle:
Boom sha La-ka Boom Boom-Cha__Boom sha La-ka Boom Boom-Cha

Cool drum circle rhythm Karsilama 3, it has a triplet at the end:
D-kkT-kkD-kkT-T-T (2+2+2+3) (Shorthand notation on this one.)

Addictive drum rhythm that's similar to the rhythm Ayyub ( D k-D t )
On the Doumbek: Doum tek-keh Doum tek (repeats and builds) Or on the Djembe: Gun go-do Gun go

Tootie Fruitie Drum Circle Jam - Wop-baba-lou-bop__a-wop-Bam-Boom, Wop-baba-lou-bop__a-wop-Bam-Boom(I think Little Richard might dig us drumming to this.)

Sweet drum circle rhythm: Boom - che-boom_che-boom-a-choc_o_late__choc_o_late, (dramatic pause) Boom - che-boom_che-boom-a-choc_o_late__choc_o_late

Drum to rhymes or phrases to start a 6/8 drum circle rhythm rolling:

Saiidi Drum Circle Rhythm - Doum tekka tekka doum doum tekka-Tek

Beledi - Zaffah variation, Boom chick-a chick, Boom Boom _ chick-a-chick-a boom.

Gawazi - a great drum circle rhythm for dancers
D tkD D tkt tktk, D tkD D tkt tktk

Slower grooving drum rhythm. Usually a hit with beginners & pros - Boom, sha-La-Ka-Boom-Boom (pause) Boom, sha-La-Ka-Boom-Boom

A fun variation of the Chifitelli rhythm (played nice and slow)
Doum, tek-ka tek-ka doum doum Tek (pause) Doum, tek-ka tek-ka doum doum Doum.

Zaffah drum rhythm (As far as I know it's an Egyptian wedding processional in 4/4 time.) D-tkt-t-D-t-t-tt (repeat)

One of my favorite drum rhythms:
Doum tek a tek tek-ka, Doum tek a tek tek-ka, Doum tek a tek tek-ka, Doum Doum Tek. (pause, and repeat)

This drum circle rhythm has kind of a hip hop feel to it. (4/4 time) Doum Doum, kaTek-doum, kaDoum Tek, - Doum Doum, kaTek-doum, kaDoum Tek (fun!)

Boom ShaLa-Ka BoomBoom (pause) Boom ShaLa-Ka BoomBoom (pause) This drum circle rhythm played nice and slow has a spiritual vibe, it’s good one to get the group in sync. Great with 3 djun djuns.

A good warm up rhythm, or drum circle starter is the basic drum circle standard Doum Ka-Tek Ka, Doum Ka-Tek Ka, (or) Boom Sha-La Ka, Boom Sha-La Ka in 4/4 time. If played softly at a slow tempo, you can speak to the rhythm and welcome people, etc. It's also great for someone who does spoken word, or even a budding rapper. Makes for some great improvised fun. We had this guy who used to bust out some great rhythms and stories to this one.

An intriging drum circle rhythm in a count of "7" (1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3) Triplet at the end. Sounds like this: Doum(rest) Doum(rest) tek-ka-tek or Doum_Doum_tek-ka-tek, Doum_Doum_tek-ka-tek - Interesting stuff happens, or you get a train wreck. But that's half the fun, taking a risk.

One of many Native American heartbeat drum rhythms in 4/4 time, mellow bass notes: Boom__boom__boom,boom,boom_, - (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &) Boom__boom__boom,boom,boom_ -

Another Native American Rhythm: kaBoom…kaBoom…kaBoom ka Boom Boom

Doum-Tek-Ka Doum-Tek-Ka Doum__Tek, Doum-Tek-Ka Doum-Tek-Ka Doum__Tek, - Start with a real slow tempo and it's a trance rhythm. Speed it up and it rocks!

A Tabla rhythm, but fun to try on a djembe or doumbek: da-di ki na doum, da-di ki na doum doum doum.

This drum circle rhythm the bellydancers request a lot. It's a Greek line dance in 2/4
Doum-tekkatek-tek, Doum-tekkaDoum-tek. It has a nice groove once it gets going.

Here's a basic Irish beat that sounds like this: Boom-ba-da-ba, Boom-ba-da-ba Boom, Notated in Bodhran speak, it looks like this: 0 \/ /\ \/, 0 \/ /\ \/ 0, - Have fun and add some more beats to it: - Boom-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da, Boom-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da Boom.

This drum circle rhythm is the same one the Greek national hymn goes to: Doum-tekkaTek-tek-Doum-tek-, Doum-tekkaTek-tek-Doum-tek

This 4/4 drum circle rhythm has a "hand clap" in it, which adds to the fun & creates a new dimension. Doum Tek-Ka, Doum Tek-Ka, Doum Tek Clap, (pause, repeat phrase) I suggest playing it at a slow tempo, and it gets people laughing if you make the hand clap a high five to the person on their right.

Speaking of clapping, the clapping beat at the beginning of the song "Car Wash" makes a jovial drum circle rhythm. doum, doum, doum ka-tek ka tek! (pause) doum, doum, doum ka-tek ka tek!

Bolero Drum Circle Rhythm in 4/4 time, the accents are in caps:
Doum tekkaTek ka tek ka tek ka, Doum tekkaTek ka tek ka tek ka

Word association is a great way to get a drum circle rhythm going especially with kids: "The people on the train go round and round" ("The" is a whole note, "people on the train" all quarter notes, "go round and round" half notes, and there is a pause at the end.

Another "sweet" drum circle rhythm Agilablanca in 4/4: I-like-to-eat__choc-late-cake, (pause, repeat) (the 1st half is all tones, the last half is all bass notes)

A variation of an Egyptian drum rhythm called Karaatshi in 2/4 time:

Less sometimes really is more. A simple beat can make a great drum circle rhythm starter, (and really please the “players”) : Doum-Doum (pause) Doum-Doum (pause, repeat) Or, Gun-Dun (pause) Dun-Gun (pause)

Similar to the rhythm Ayyub (D k-D t, D k-D t) it leaves plenty of space to add fills, solos, and to improvise.

A good party drum circle rhythm we played at a last Mardi Gras: The roof, the roof...the roof is on Fire! Say it then play it. doum Doum, doum Doum...ka tek-ka Ka Tek!

Interesting yet challenging drum circle rhythm in 6/8 sometimes known as Darj:

An Egyptian drumming rhythm called Jaark in 4/4 time:
D-kkT-tkDDtkT-tk, D-kkT-tkDDtkT-tk

At public drum circles, occasionally after a couple of hours of drumming, sometimes people run out of group drum circle rhythms to start out with. People will look around and say, “Anyone got a rhythm to start out with?” This djembe support rhythm always turns into a good drum jam. It’s in 4/4 time: Go Do pata padaTa, Go Do pata padaTa (Go and Do are 1 & 2, the Ta is a slap tone) (I use "da" as a closed tone note, or as a different softer lower pitched sound between "pa" and "ta".) 1, 2, 3, 4, Try tapping your foot on the 4 counts as you play it. Or here is 2 measures, count to 4 twice, D D tk ktT, D D tk ktT

Here’s another djembe support rhythm to try, the gun and dun are all bass and the rest tone notes, in 4.4 time: Gun pa gun-dun, Gun pa da-pa, (half beat pause and repeat the phrase) Gun pa gun-dun, Gun pa da-pa. If there’s any good soloists, or even djembe cowboys in the house, they will love you for it. lol

Drum circle rhythm WaaHida in 4/4: 1+2+3+4+
Doum-tekkatekkaTek-tekkatekkaTek-ka-, Doum-tekkatekkaTek-tekkatekkaTek-ka-,

Drumming out a waltz? It may sound like a bit of a yawner, but honestly, I think the drum circle waltz is a great way to balance the mind, body, and help get people firmly grounded. Once it gets rolling, it can always easily transition to a snappy 6/8 rhythm. It's an especially good rhythm for groups of beginners. Try to get them to alternate hands, R-L-R, L-R-L (Gun-do-go, Dun-go-do) Accent on the 1st bass note. The key to this one is to keep it at a slow tempo for awhile.

Try drumming out "Morse Code" rhythms. Ask someone to suggest 2 letters, or numbers, and put them together to make a new drum circle rhythm. _ _...._ _ A dot is a tone, and a dash, is a bass note. Sometimes they work, & sometimes they don't, that's part of the fun. There’s a Morse Code alphabet chart at or do a search, you can find one easily.

An interesting drum rhythm known in some cultures as Sabamaa. Played in 4/4 time.
D-TkTkT-D-TkT-Tk, D-TkTkT-D-TkT-Tk

Again, try tapping your foot as you play. 1-2-3-4

I dig this drum circle rhythm because of the long pauses. It gives the bass a chance to resonate a little bit. It’s in 4/4 time - Doum---tekkatek-tek-Doum---tek-, Doum---tekkatek-tek-Doum---tek-

Basic yet fun drum circle rhythm sometimes called the Turkish 5. Plenty of room for fills. It's in 5/4 time, all the beats are on the numbers:
D k t k t

Fun djembe support rhythm for the drum circle: Gun Dun godo pa-ta-pa, Gun Dun godo pa-ta-pa (or) Doum Doum tekka ka-tek-ka, Doum Doum tekka ka-tek-ka

"A Drum Circle Rhythm You Can't Refuse" Ba-da Bing, Ba-da Boom, Ba-da Bing_Bang_Boom, (or) Go-do Pa, Pa-ta Go, Go-do Pa_Ta_Pa

"Little Drummer Boy" Christmas drum rhythm, if you can hum it, you can drum it!
Let's All Play Our Drum...Pa - Rum Pa PumPum...Rum Pa PumPum

Sort of a trance drum circle rhythm. Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek, Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek

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Sometimes to have a great drum circle rhythm jam, it needs a great ending. Rather than the usual fade out, or rumble ending, try this out. I usually mention the idea to the group, and we quickly practice it in advance before we start, so everyone is ready. Like about a 30 second rehearsal. Then get right to the rhythm you had planned to play. For me, 4/4 time works the best. The end is 9 tones then 2 bass notes. Repeat 6 times with a pause between each rep. As we are still playing, I will holler out, “Okay, here comes the ending! And count them down out loud. “ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 boom boom, (pause) “5 more” 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 boom boom, (pause) “4 more times” etc. ♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪_♪_♪_

Another fun ending is 5 tones followed by 3 bass notes. A 1 beat pause and repeat them whole thing 6 times. After the rhythm has run it's course, get everyone's attention & say, "ok here comes the ending", and go right into it. 12345_1_2_3 (Again, I count the reps down out loud), "5 more times" and we play, tek ka tek ka tek, doum_doum_doum. “4 more times” etc. ♪♪♪♪♪_♪_♪_♪_

The cool thing about these drum rhythm endings is that they all catch on after the 2nd or 3rd rep. and all end together. On the last one, everyone usually stops in unison, then a big whoosh of silence, followed by smiles claps and pride. It's very cool, and a good confidence builder. To help this work smoother, I usually I quickly practice the ending in advance with the group before we start, and then go right into it, so they are prepared when the time comes.

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Another fun idea to entice movement in the center is to bring along a hula hoop to ramp up the fun at your drum circle. It gives people a rhythmic motion to groove to. I was surpised when I saw people of all different ages wanting to get in there and try it. The drum rhythm Beledi is a good one to use. D D tkT D tkT(pause)D D tkT D tkT. 4/4 time, it sounds like: Doum Doum tek-ka-Tek, Doum tek-ka-Tek. {One of my dancer friends said the Beledi rhythm is the "Catnip Rhythm" for belly dancers. lol. I like that.)

I hope this list helps you and your friends to enjoy drumming more.

If you would consider picking up my 101 Drum Circle Rhythms DVD, hand drumming and drum circles book, or possibly some of my drum circle jam CDs – mp3s - I would appreciate that. It would help out a little bit with the work I do in our community. Many of the groups I work with have very limited recreational budgets. A hundred bucks for 2 – 45 minute drum circles is a stretch for most of them. Thanks in advance if you do purchase something from me. My 2 hour DVD will show you how to play over 120 diffferent rhythms for $15. It’s on Amazon Instant Video for $14. It helps out the most, if you buy direct from me. Please visit my site for my 101 Rhythms DVD, book, drumming music, and more.

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