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 Forming an Arabic drumming group- Part 1.

So you have been attending all your local Arabic drumming classes for a while now, you know all the rhythms and even a few fancy tricks, what’s  the next step to take on your new found musical journey? A band of course!

Lots of money, envious eyes watching you on stage, never pay for a thing when you go out, travel to exotic destinations, movie offers and so much more.

Well, if you never expect any of the above then disappointment will surely pass you by. You will find though, that it’s a fantastic social experience and does wonders for your playing.


When I formed the Fingers of Fury drumming ensemble in 2004, I had just returned from studies in Turkey and Iran and really needed to play with like minded musicians. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful darbuka player Anita Larkin and a great frame drummer Ben Last. We aimed at creating the biggest, baddest sound possible with only three musicians and no drum kit.

This brings me to the first stage of forming the group: Really like the people you are about to form a group with. A group is like a club, even a gang! It’s also very much like a relationship except you are dating perhaps more than five people all together!

So, if you enjoy everyone’s company and really look forward to rehearsals just so you can hang out then you are travelling down the right path.

The second stage of forming your awesome new drumming group is?

Buying a 57’ chev’ with flames down the side and personalised number plates that say ‘MAQSUM.’ Well… not just yet. The next important part is to work out your instrumentation. Lets face it, we all love to hear ten people playing the darbuka at once and the ‘wall of sound’ that comes with it, but after a while…..yawn……it gets a bit…..yawn….boring!

As musicians we need to be aware of the full spectrum of sound/ frequencies available. In the world of Arabic percussion let’s start from the ground up.

The drum that covers the bass frequency (this will be your groups ‘sub woofer’) is called the Davul (Turkey), Tabl (Lebanon), and Tupan (Balkans). Moving up the frequency range a little we come to the frame drums. Frame drums are a huge family of drums that are played in many parts of the world and come with all sorts of variations such as snares (Bendir), zills (Riq) and chains (Daf).

The e-book ‘Percussion of the Arabic World and beyond’ offers a much more in-depth look at these drums with lots of illustrations and lessons on how to play each one. There are also tutorial videos featured in the member’s area of this site showing some fantastic rhythms and techniques.

For the higher, brighter sounds, we use the darbuka and then zills on top of this.

So now you can see that when only darbuka’s are used in an ensemble, so much more is missing.

We need to think about dynamics, texture, colour and contrast.

Let’s say your new group has eight keen members, one of which is a dancer.

One possible combination of instruments could be this:

·        Three members playing darbuka

·        One playing daholla (bass darbuka)

·        Two are playing frame drums such as the Bendir and one on the Riq (Middle Eastern tambourine).

That leaves one person, the dancer! At most gigs the dancer will not be performing the whole time. Chances are she/he will only dance over a few of the songs. So what to do in-between? Drum!

Most belly dancers are proficient in zills (finger cymbals) and most are pretty keen to learn something else such as the Riq. The Riq is perfect for a dancer to play because it really adds to the sound of any band. Added to this is its small size and user friendliness so it can be played standing up and even whilst dancing, perfect.

If you are lucky enough to have someone in the group that can get their hands on a Davul or Tabl then you will have the full spectrum of sound: this of course will be instantly reflected by the crowd on the dance floor!

So now your group is formed and you have all found a place to rehearse where the neighbours just love to hear drumming all day (I’ve heard there is place like this just left of Pluto?) There is also a gig booked in further down the line so you have something to aim for.

Now all we need to do is create some repertoire that allows your group to perform for perhaps 30-40 continuous minutes.

Where do you start?

Forming a drumming group- Part 2.

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