Some years ago we wanted to learn hand drumming. But we couldn't find much in the way of information. We puzzled over musical notation which none of us could read. We listened to tapes where the drummers seemed to be playing about a hundred miles an hour. They sounded very good but we didn't have a clue as how to make those sounds, how to make our hands play much of anything of interest. So we set out, like fools, investigating everything we could find, trying most things we thought of. We read, drummed, built drums, asked a lot of questions and had an immense amount of fun. Then slowly a method began to evolve. We came up with a system and notation that even we could understand. Now you can easily learn to Hand Drum. Read on, your hands will do the rest.
No drum?? Then find a big fat book to use as your drum, it'll work just fine.
We'll have you drumming shortly, but first, a few tips:
1. While playing let your wrist, hand and finger joints flex and move. Slap more than push. Keep your hands and wrists loose.
2. Strike the drum with the middle part of your fingers.
3. If you can say it, you can play it. We won't have you count, you'll learn a drum language right from the beginning. Say or sing "Ta" for a regular beat and "Boo" for a heavy beat. We'll add more later on.
4. Play each drumming pattern very slowly at first. Allow a period of time for it to 'imprint', then speed up.
The number of drumming patterns is so large as to be infinite. Most patterns are just a few beats long, then they repeat. Complex patterns are created by arranging basic patterns into a larger structure. As letters of the alphabet can be arranged to create words and words arranged to create sentences and sentences arranged to create paragraphs, so too can drumming patterns be built into longer structures.
This page will teach you the basic building blocks of hand drumming. Once you have mastered them you can create and evolve your own particular style.
Remember: Any time you make a 'mistake' it's really just the creation of a new and different pattern!
Play a steady, even beat:
This is the most basic pattern in drumming. Whatever happens, you can always come back to it.
This pattern is the basis of all drumming.
Left Right Left Right
The second right-hand beat is slightly heavier than the others (heavy hand). On this fourth beat move your right hand a little closer to the center of the drumming surface.
Play : L-R-L-R-L-R-L-R-.....
Notice that we've taken the first pattern and changed it just slightly. Made a 'mistake' so to speak and came up with something interesting.
If necessary, play this pattern very slowly at first.
The light and heavy hands should strike different places on the drumming surface.
Sing the drum song as you play.
More on Drumming Patterns:
The first two patterns are even. They are divisible by two. The third pattern is odd, divisible by three. With just two hands all drumming patterns must be either even or odd.
Play every even pattern first left handed and then right. Continue until both hands knows the pattern equally well. With odd patterns the emphasis naturally moves from hand to hand. That's part of the fun with odd patterns.
Alternate starting patterns with the left hand and then the right.
After a while you may find a startling sensation of being able automatically to transpose drumming knowledge from one hand to the other. A kind of mirror symmetry. As each hand is entirely controlled by the opposite brain hemisphere, some interesting things must be going on upstairs.
Since your hands go everywhere you go, you can drum anytime. Play on any surface you find. Counters, boxes, books. Drum on your knees. Drum on the steering wheel while waiting for a light. Waiting in the grocery checkout? Drum on the handle of the cart--just flicking your fingers. Sing your drum songs while you practice and if you're in a circumstance where neither drumming or singing is recommended, practice sub-vocally. Sing and listen to the rhythm in your mind, the best practice of all. In time you may even dream drumming. Or is it drum dreaming? Tap out patterns with just your forefingers while waiting in the checkout line. In short, put some rhythm into your life! And also listen for it. Traffic rhythm, adding machine rhythm, leaky faucet rhythm. If you think it's just noise, this means you haven't found the pattern yet.
Just add an extra beat with your right hand to the Second Pattern. Another 'mistake', another pattern.
Play this starting with the left, then begin with the right.
Adding double beats to the Third Pattern. Eight beats total. Starting to sound a lot like real drumming!
For fun, leave out one of the doubles. Try it both ways. Triples? Soon.
Time and Timing:
This is the philosophical part of the page. Rhythm, at its core, is structured time. So far, all the patterns have been played with a steady beat. That's just part of the fun. What can send you over the top is finding your own particular rhythms, discovering and trusting your personal "structure" of time.
Play three or four beats, then stop and wait for an impulse to repeat the beats you began with. Don't consciously count during these pauses! Rely on your own internal clock to tell you when it's time to repeat the beats.
Keep practicing the phrase you're "writing" until you "hear" your own private "ticking", then get a little crazy. Change the length of the second phrase--any length that feels right, as long as it's different from the first phrase. Don't Count! Repeat this new prase until you've got it. then change number of beats between the two pauses by adding or subtracting a beat. Then you'll be on you way to Ecstatic Drumming.
The first two beats, quick ones. Then left-right-left.
Now add a heavy beat at the end.
Startin' to cook!
Three rights and one left, the first four beats, quick ones. Then right-left.
We've just taken the Time Pattern and added a little. Notice how a single beat can completely change a pattern.
How to continue development? Well, a lot of drumming seems to help. Then drum some more.
Once every drumming session play the First Pattern as fast as you can. Start slow and then speed up. When you don't think you can go any faster let your hands surprise you. There will be that day when they just take off on their own. TaTaTaTaTaTa....
Drum with friends. Just a few in the beginning, otherwise things can get chaotic quickly. Everyone should have something to bang on.
Start noticing the 'texture' of rhythms, even washing the dishes has a definite 'textural' rhythm.
Notice people: some are fast, or slow, or jerky, or smooth. And some can change pace to match the beat. Rhythm is a very basic component of all life
If you are or have become an intermediate or advanced drummer then you know way more than we do. You're on your own. The rest of us should be aware that every drumming surface has a different tone. For a change in pitch, drum on the cutting board instead of your drumming book. Or if you want to get tricky, place them side by side--book bongos! Which brings up the subject of multiple drumming surfaces. There is no reason why you can't play any of these patterns on more than one surface. Start by drumming each hand on a separate surface. And then......
And Venturing On:
All hand drumming consists of just two things: different kinds of hand strikes and structured time. That's it! Tone and time. We've notated timing with dashes. None for quick, one for regular. You can add two, three and so on. Remember that dashes are time units relative to an individual pattern and that patterns can be played faster or slower.
We have used two hand strikes: regular (Ta) and heavy (Boo). You can add playing on the edge of the drumming surface (Bim) and curling the hands slightly and striking with the finger tips (De). Experiment with hand strikes: palm flat, the heel of the palm, edge and thumb strokes. Give each of your new hand strikes a drum-language word and then you can easily record any new pattern either as lefts and rights or as a drum song.
Now You Do The Cooking:
Most of the patterns so far have been played with alternate hands. Right-left-right-left. Now you can begin your own drumming style. The first recipe, for instance can be played:
We recommend that you first learn any pattern with alternate hands and then develop your own hand style particular to the pattern. Watch out for relying on just a few hand styles. Keep flexible, learn to play any pattern with several hand styles. Your hands will become very knowledgeable. Then there will come the day when they compose and play on their own. You can just listen and be amazed!
Evolving New Patterns:
Or making 'mistakes', however you want to think about it. New patterns are just additions to and variations of what you already know.
Different methods of evolution:
1. Be alert for interesting 'mistakes'.
Once you've got the basics down, it's time to go public. Drumming with others is a rare form of communication, a way of expressing our most basic "rhythms" and responding to the rhythms of others. Like other exchanges of such basic information, it's exhilarating.
Start with the simple stuff. Play a basic pattern with another player who won't be bored with your level of skill. First play the pattern together and keep repeating it until the two of you are in synch--that is, until your individual internal rhythms are matched. Then switch to a "call and response" sequence. This is where the conversation starts getting interesting. Invent a pattern--make a statement--and the other player repeats it. Modify or improvise on the pattern and your partner follows with his interpertation of the same rhythmic idea. Then reverse roles.
Pay careful attention and you'll experience the timelessness of escstatic communication without exchanging a single word.
From: The Shirt Pocket Hand Drumming Guide by The Embudo Center--N. Zink and S. Parks
The guitar-banjo sequence in the movie Deliverance.