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Darbuka/Doumbek Lesson

This article will get you up and drumming in no time.


So you are learning the Darbuka! Now what? What do you practice and where do you go to learn this amazing new drum that sits in the corner of your lounge room floor?
It’s exotic, mysterious and it’s calling you to play it, but how!?

Let’s break it down a bit so you can get an idea of how to plan your practice time.

Darbuka lesson #1: First things first- how do you hold it? Ok, sit down with the drum resting across your left leg and the drum ‘head’ hitting your right leg. This means the darbuka is now running along the left hand side of your body and you can comfortably rest your left arm down on the drum (reverse everything I say if you are left handed!).

From here the hand is placed straight down onto the drum itself and the finger should be just hanging over the edge a little. At the moment both of your legs are at the same level and the drum can easily fall off your leg. To fix this problem, pull your right foot back a little and your right leg will then be at a lower angle than the left. This uneven position will now hold the drum in place for you. Your left elbow will also make sure it doesn’t escape you!

Darbuka lesson #2: Have you ever heard people say that if you can play just four chords on the guitar you can play most popular songs? Well, it’s the same with this drum. There are four main tones that will allow you to play all of the popular darbuka rhythms. These tones are the Dum, Ka, Tuk and Slap.

The ‘Dum’ tone is the bass sound played with the left hand, ‘Ka’ is the high tone played on the outside of the rim with the left hand and ‘Tuk’ is the high tone played with the right hand. This leaves us with the ‘Slap’ tone which is also played on the right hand but more toward the centre of the drum skin like the ‘Dum.’

Darbuka lesson #3: The best way to really understand this drum and its enticing rhythms is to learn to play with just one hand! Easy you may think? Well, almost.

The reason for this is that under every rhythm there is the fundamental or skeleton.

Yes, darbuka rhythms are just like us! Are we not rhythmic creatures ourselves? The heart beat, a constant drum that keeps time and plays its rhythm for as long as we are lucky to be alive on this earth. We are born into rhythm and then somewhere along the way have lost what was once a part of every day existence. Welcome home!

Every rhythm has its own fundamental which we must learn first before adding the ornamentation or rhythm ‘bling’ as I like to call it.

Darbuka lesson #4: There are many was to kneel and kiss the ground ‘Rumi’ once said. The same could be said for playing the Darbuka. There are also many names for it! Darbuka, Doumbek, Derbouka, Doumbeleki, Toumbeleki, Tablah, Dumbek, Darabuka etc.

Each country and then region within that country has its own unique way of playing these drums. Styles vary as do the rhythms and the instruments that accompany. For the sake of this Darbuka lesson I am giving you, I will show just one of these styles but one that I strongly believe superior to others.

We are going to play the fundamental part of the rhythm with our right hand and then play the high parts (Ka) with our left. There will still be times that we use the right hand to also play a high note (Tuk) but just stick with me. For now you will need to go and learn these four tones (and maybe a fifth) and then how to play the fundamental part of each rhythm. To learn these, visit Fingers of Fury and start with the 2/4 cycles. There is a cost to join this website because it is more like an Online school for Darbuka/ Doumbek and Frame drums. You will find over 100 tutorial videos there and a fantastic e-book to study from. There are also CD downloads to use as backing tracks, a community forum and more. If you are struggling with the finances at the moment visit the YouTube link found on this page and see some great videos on darbuka there for free although they wont be as in depth as you may require.

Our aim once we have learnt some rhythms is to then add the high tones to the fundamental.

Part 2-Darbuka lessons: #5- #7

Darbuka lesson #5: At this point I will now stress the importance of learning the names of these rhythms and a little on the background of each one. Just ‘Google’ and surf the net to find some history of each rhythm. You will be very surprised at how much you change the way you play a rhythm if you understand it. Where’s it from? Who plays it? Why do they play it? Is it to use in a trance/healing ritual? Is there a dance that goes with it? What do they wear? Is it feminine or masculine etc.

Darbuka lesson #6: At this stage you can play the fundamental parts and name each rhythm from memory, you can add the high tones to the rhythm and even play a few variations. Where next? The fast and the flashy? Speed rolls of thunder? A black suit with white socks and gold chains?  Sure, be my guest! But I wouldn’t if I were you.

Next we want to understand ornamentation. Ornamentation is like a flower unfolding. It’s the deeper and unique part of music. It’s what makes Persian rhythms sound Persian, a Turkish rhythm sound Turkish and a Balkan rhythm Balkan. This is where we start to make an Arabic rhythm come to life. It is also what you will be learning and trying to master for the rest of your drumming life. This is it.

Darbuka lesson #7: Repertoire is next in line folks. Just because we don’t need to learn chords and site read all those fast notes that the bouzouki player is doing, we still need to know how the song goes!

If it’s an Egyptian orchestral piece there will be a heap of changes and breaks to learn. If it’s a Turkish Longa you will need to know all the changes also. Most songs require a few rhythmic changes and even a couple of breaks at some point. The best way to learn this? Listen! Get some music from the local ‘world’ CD shop or the net. Listen and learn as they say!

Darbuka lesson #8: Lucky last I will say this: Playing the darbuka or music in general is not a competitive sport. It is about listening, supporting, having something to say, transporting yourself from the scattered world around you and making something beautiful, inspiring, interesting, original, energising, uplifting and so on, get the drift? I really hope so!

Need more help?
You can find me anytime hanging in the forum at the  Fingers of Fury online school for Arabic and Turkish drumming. If you need a teacher or some drumming guidance…catch me there! Take care and as always, enjoy your drumming.

Matt Stonehouse
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