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Applying Indian Rhythms 1

A look at the Rhythms of South India and how to apply them musically.

Development of thematic material is something all musicians and percussionists strive for, whether they are at the early stages of their technical development or already well versed. No system seems to have a deeper reservoir of methods towards this end than that of the Indian sub continent. We will begin with a simple five beat unit called 'Kandam' found in South Indian 'Carnatic' music. (It's worth noting that the North and South Indian systems are quite distinct from one another, both in their rhythmic formalities and in the drums used. In the North you will find drums such as Tabla and Phakawaj whilst in the South it would be the Mridangam, Kanjira, Thavil and Ghatam. This is one of the reasons 'Shakti' was such a ground breaking group back in India. Before this it was a rarity for percussionists from the North and South to share the same stage.)

Our five beat unit stems from a striking pattern found on the double ended 'Mridangam' (For those of you who might not know, each syllable in the drum language represents a stroke or combination of strokes on the drum. It is a practical but incredibly complex system).


It is then possible to mutate this phrase into six, seven, eight and nine beat units by the addition of strategically placed gaps. When I first began my Mridangam studies I was informed that the placement of these gaps is a vital factor in maintaining the idiomatic integrity and lyrical shape of the phrases. Indeed, only rarely have I come across these phrases constructed in a radically different fashion. Examples two, three four and five show the respective mutations.



EXAMPLE 3 Alternative gap



For the Mridangist, the striking routine for all these patterns would derive from the first five beat unit. This is our basic phrase or thematic material. Notice that all the units so far contain the same number of played notes, the syllables for which fall in the same order each time. Similarly, we will need to find a sticking for our basic five beat unit which will then apply to all our derivative units. We will begin with this sticking pattern for our phrase. RLRLL (Ex 6 ) Therefore, the derivative patterns will be as in example seven A, B, C, and D. This will all begin to make more practical sense when we compile larger phrases from these smaller units.




EXAMPLE 7b Alternative gap



For now we will keep the sticking on the snare drum and employ the five, six and seven beat units in a rhythmic adventure. The construct of this example involves repeating each of these three units three times, each time followed by accented note five sixteenth notes in length. This method of repeating identical phrases three times is common in Indian rhythms. It is called an 'Arudie' in the South and a ' Tihai' in the North and is mostly employed as a rhythmic cadence to conclude a piece of rhythmic work. I find them extremely useful as a device for creating an elusive ‘off beat time’/’over the bar lines’ feel in a more western playing situation, as well as being great for playing odd meters over even meters for a pre determined number of bars. This is where the phonetics come in. If you can keep them firmly in your mind then you can use them as a template and improvise less rigid patterns within those time units, knowing you are going to come out smack bang on beat one at the end of it. (Notice that after the three groups of seven, the accented note actually becomes beat one of the next bar. This is the whole point of the rhythmic cadence.) For now we will recite the syllables as in example eight whilst clapping a steady quarter note pulse.

EXAMPLE 8   Click to enlarge  Click on the photograph to enlarge

Now we will apply this to the kit whilst keeping steady time with the feet. It might be an idea to play four bars of eighth note groove followed by the example each time. The sticking is the same as our earlier sticking pattern. Try also to recite the syllables aloud whilst playing. Believe me, it helps.

EXAMPLE 9   Click to enlarge  Click on the photograph to enlarge

The final example involves keeping time with the left foot whilst employing a more linear style pattern for the phrases. If you fancy challenging the throne of 'El Negro' then why not try it with the left foot clave as well. GOOD LUCK!!!!!

EXAMPLE 10   Click to enlarge  Click on the photograph to enlarge



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