February 10, 2014

Doum taka taka doum tak

I am, very slowly and hesitatingly and not at all seriously, learning to drum.

I picked up a frame drum — a 16” Remo Fiberskyn3, for those that know and care about drums — some time ago to use in Bacchic ritual. Of course, I had no idea how to use it properly, as I have never studied drumming and know fuck-all about it, so I just used a simple four-beat rhythm, or tried to keep the beat of whatever I was dancing to.

There comes a point, though, where I just feel like a fake for not having the slightest idea of how to play the thing. So I put out a call on Twitter, asking for help finding resources, and Sooj very kindly pointed me at YouTube and gave me the search term tar (a Middle Eastern frame drum that matches what I’ve got). It’s called a lot of different things in different places, but the frame drum is probably the oldest skin drum there is, and has been found in most cultures. Middle Eastern rhythms for it probably pretty well echo the way the ancient Greek frame drums (called tympaneus or tabala, I think) were played, at a guess. I’m no music historian.

Drums like mine are what Maenades are always depicted as playing, along with finger symbols, flutes, and more. I just want something simple.

With “tar drum” as a search term, I turned up some very useful basic videos, like <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM8k64lpGOQ>this and <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcYdxgcrfRQ>this. Which are good videos, but they’re played sitting down, and I want to be able to play with dancing or walking. Fortunately, <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWaGQvm6cHI>this also turned up, which is just what I need for holding the drum and striking it with both hands while they’re holding it. I may, if I ever get brave enough to play in a drum circle, find the lap position useful, but the upright is what I want. The others are good for terminology and rhythms, though.

One thing I found particularly useful was the offhand way Mark Reetz, in the second video, mentions that it’s ok to go slow while you’re learning. The others seem to be teaching for drummers who just want to pick up a new kind of drum, and will expect to be able to go quickly right off. I am not a drummer, and my sense of rhythm is not that hot, so it was nice to be encouraged to go slow.

I’m only playing the simplest rhythms for now, Doum tak tak doum tak (Persian 6/8*), doum taka taka doum tak (same rhythm, but with taka taka as four beats in doubletime instead of two), and one from a song called “Raven, Owl and I” off a Boiled In Lead album that’s the soundtrack for a Steve Brust book I won’t name (because I have since learned that it’s a racial slur). The intro to the song is played on a tambourine, but is clearly a pattern that can also be played on a frame drum, and it sticks in my head, so I’ve been playing it for variation. Doum taka taka taka doum taka tak. No idea what the proper name for it is. Don’t really care. I can play it, very slowly, about 2 times in 3.

I go slowly, concentrating on getting a good solid strike and a good sound, and on keeping a good time even if it’s slow. I can only manage to play a few minutes at a time before I get frustrated with my mistakes, but I keep going back to it. Morning and evening rituals, last night when I couldn’t sleep, whenever it occurs to me during the day. Five minutes here and there. Already I get a cleaner sound more reliably (although kah continues to give me trouble). I’ll never be a real percussionist, I think, not practicing five minutes at a time. I don’t have the dedication or the passion. That’s ok, I have enough things to be passionate about. It will be enough if I can play competently. Play for my ritual, play, maybe, someday, in a drum circle or for a group ritual.

And the rhythms are in my head. Doum taka taka doum tak doum taka taka doum tak doum taka taka doum tak…

*I haven’t ever had a good grasp of the nomenclature of time signatures, and probably won’t any time soon. Plus, there are specific words for the different strokes. Hence: doum taka taka doum tak.