Traditional Middle Eastern Drum Styles

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The goblet style drum (often called a darabuka, dumbek, or arabic tabla) is played as a part of traditional folk and classical music all around the Mediterranean and nearly everywhere in the Middle East. There are several playing styles: in most traditional technique the drum is placed on the lap and struck with the fingers of both hands.

This style of playing probably evolved from the way in which the frame drum (the goblet drum's predecessor) was played. The frame drum was historically (and is still traditionally) played by holding it in one hand and striking it mostly with the other. The fingers of the holding hand can also be used. If you flip over your hands from this technique you wind up with a very similar position to the modern asymmetric in-the-lap style of darabuka playing.

In this article (orignally posted to the Goblet Drummers e-list), Ulf describes the differences between the two most common playing techniques and how the shape and weight of the drum have co-evolved.

Subject: Re: [Goblet_Drumming] The edge of doumbeks

>> Of course the upper edges of the doumbeks are very important for playing
>> them. For example when the upper edge is curved -- as you mentioned -- then
>> playing finger snaps is almost impossible.
>> While for playing Persian doumbek -- its name is tonbak, tombak or zarb --
>> we really cannot go far without snaps.
I think most beginners are puzzled by this bit. I was too... I hope you all do not disagree too much with this:

Many of the list participants are not from countries where hand drumming is a usual kind of music. This means that there does not exist a German drumming style, nor do we talk about a style typical for the USA.

But there *are* actually at least two main drumming styles in the world what the strokes on goblet drums is concerned.

If I may be so free as to call them Egyptian and Turkish style, everyone knows what I mean, nothing against Lebanese, Moroccan, Persian or other drummers. Just that we have a name for them.

The two basical strokes of the goblet drum are without any doubt the doum and the tek (occasionally called ess).

While the doum is identical in the two drumming styles, the playing of the tek is different.

In the Turkish drumming style your left elbow rests on the drum, and the left ulnar edge of the hand rests on the drum rim. The tek is stroked by snapping your left ringfinger on the periphery of the drum head. This gives a loud and very crisp, very defined tek. When damping the drum head with the right hand, be it with the thumb, the 3rd and 4th fingers together, or with a hand that has been left there after a slap, the finger snap gives a particularly wonderful "splip", "plop", "plak" depending on where and how the drum head is damped. Learning a Turkish finger snap on a Turkish drum does take some time but it is not difficult and after two or three days you will master it to perfection.

These very nice sounds make it particularly attractive to buy a Turkish drum with straight edges. The Turkish drum typically have very low doums, and because of the very high teks when they are stroked in the said manner you can say that a typical Turkish drum, even if it is made of extremely thin aluminium and even if it is quite small, it is a versatile instrument very appropriate for accompanying a guitar, or a saz, or a singer.

Yeah, let's go buy a Turkish drum right away. They are cheaper than the Egyptian, so absolutely nothing speaks against them.

Wrong! You won't have to listen to much drum music before you start wondering how some drummers can play extremely fast. When I say extremely fast I think of 32nd notes played at a speed of 100 or more, meaning 800 beats per minute and things like that. When only two or three beats follow another at that speed we may speak about "flams" etc. But you also hear longer runs of 8 or more beats. Here it is you start wondering how they do that and if you would be able to go and do the same thing.

One of the ways it is done is the finger roll. This can be done with the right or with the left hand. For technical reasons, not to be discussed here, we can say that it is easiest to do a finger roll with the right hand, but doing it with the left hand makes a ten times more beautiful music. Here the problems start...

Turks are capable of playing a left hand roll using a triple snap technique. First the ring finger is snapped, then the middle finger. Both are snapped off the thumb. At last the index finger is snapped off - either you snap it off the thumb or you snap it off the index finger. You may take my word for it that this is not an easy task to do and that you don't learn this neither in three days nor in three weeks.

We will conclude that the Turkish drumming style has a lot of advantages, but when it comes to speed and virtuosity you may have to train a long time before you become good.

Now let us turn to the Egyptian drumming style. Here you hold the drum in a specific position such as your teacher will instruct you. The drum head is in a line extending from right elbow to right hand joint. The left elbow may rest on the drum. The left hand is optimally held so that the thumb is firmly pressed against the distal joint of the index finger (as if you would hold a very tiny thing between index and thumb). The middle and the ring finger are flexed in the proximal joint. What the middle and the distal joint do is unimportant. The left forearm is now moved away from the drum and then hammered against the round rim of the Egyptian drum. This doesn't hurt because this rim is round. The hand will strike the drum such that the flesh under the thumb (the "thenar") and the flesh under the little finger (the "hypothenar") will hit the drum. These two meat masses are soft and so you don't end up with bruises. By way of the common laws of inertia the middle and the ring finger will hit the drum head with a loud Tek. You will probably hold the drum such that you can't see the drum head. In your conscience the drum head doesn't exist at all. All that exists is the rounded rim against which you bang your left hand.

Alternating right and left hand you will be able, with time to play "tekka tekka tekka tekka..." faster and faster. Within few months you will reach a speed of 32nds, of 100-120 - (right, 8 beats on every metronome beat, will say, on every metronome beat play tekkatekkatekkatekka)

Try doing this on a Turkish drum and you will end up having a very very sore left hand! The next day you won't be able to play any more. If you want to do things like this on a Turkish drum you must raise your left elbow to the ear and beat with extended fingers of the right and left hand. In this case the drum is not supported and may fall down because of its light weight.

Using the above technique of left hand tek will give a clean tek which is not so beautiful as the Turkish one, but within short time (few weeks till few months) you will be able to play subtle and varied rhythms. A lot of people end up with liking this style and these teks more than the Turkish ones.

You will need a big Egyptian style drum for this. The good ones which really sound nice are a bit more expensive. They can be played very very loud. You may get the feeling that you are not dealing with chamber music. Remember - Turkish music has developed from chamber music. Played in a room, to listen to. Typical Egyptian music is used for dancing, for marching and different things that are typically done outdoor. Typically an Egyptian Darbuka is not played solo, but has a Douf and a Riq to play along with it. The douf is played in Egyptian style too - means, holding it up in the air and banging on it. (The Turk will sit down on a stool, put the douf on his left leg and start fingersnapping it).

Since you are probably not a Turk and not an Egyptian, you won't feel obliged to obey the cultural rules of either country. You can play what you want on the drum, and in whatever style that suits you.

We have seen what the Americans have done to the guitar. The modern electric guitars have nothing to do with the original Spanish guitars. We will see what the Americans and others will do to the goblet drum. Perhaps we will in 50 years say: Modern goblet drums have nothing to do with the original Egyptian or Turkish versions. Who knows?