JeremyP wrote:Having chatted with Mady K about this before (and had others do the same) and walking away with varying replies including: "after one is come one again" and "the one is before the two", and having chewed this over for quite some time, I'm wary of throwing lamp oil on the fire... but can't resist the chance to kick this around further.
awesome post, thanks for that!
That said, it can be hard to find (esp if trained with a Western music ear - be that formally trained or only through cultural exposure), particularly with what seems to be the West African penchant for disguising and disambiguating the downbeat and/or 'one'/said anchor (which is one of the great things about this music style)!
I well remember my bewilderment at the first dundunba rhythms I heard. They didn't make sense. It wasn't until after I'd learned my second dundunba in class that I realized that my perception had been all "wrong."
If however we sit and both agree that this point in your part is where I begin, and that point in my part is where you begin, and thus we synchronise relative to each other then a 'one' (or external reference) point seems no longer necessary... I know where I am and should be because I know where you are, and vice versa (again, this still offers no assurance of good or poor music).
I agree with that. This also relates to some of Jon's comments about student M and student P. There is certainly more than one way to "understand" the music, from the beat, or from the overall melody. Either works. Not sure whether it would be correct to say that one is better or more preferable than the other.
A few of my own experiences that relate to this…
When I first learn a rhythm, I can perceive the overall melody in an instant, no problem. If you play me a loop of the rhythm, starting somewhere in the loop at random, I'll be able to sing and feel the melody immediately, typically after two repetitions, and almost always no more than three.
However, that still leaves the rhythm ambiguous. For all I know, I may have built a mental model of where the anchor is that has nothing to do with where it really is. In other words, if you drop me into the loop at random and then ask me to place a call, there is a good chance that I'll get it wrong (depending on the rhythm—for some rhythms, the anchor is obvious; for others, it isn't).
I vividly remember an experience I had within the first few months of drumming. I was shown this accompaniment without being given any pulse reference or call. Have a listen to the following sound clip. I've deliberately dropped into the loop at an arbitrary point:
You may recognize this, in which case it gives the game away, of course. But, to me back then, this pattern was new, and I could not relate it to anything.
Now, here is the same pattern with a beat reference. This is how I perceived it back then:
The bell illustrates how I felt the anchor.
I spent maybe half an hour playing this pattern with no defined reference provided by the teacher. By then, my mental model of the "anchor" had solidified. Only then, when it was too late, did the teacher provide the beat reference:
Of course, this is an accompaniment for Tiriba. Without a beat reference, the equally-spaced slaps strongly suggest that this is where the down-beat is. But, of course, it's not. The down-beat is actually one micro-pulse earlier, and the slaps trail the beat.
I took a few interesting insights away from this experience.
- I can play the pattern perfectly with my perception "in the wrong place".
- Once my perception is in place 1, it is incredibly hard to shift it to place 2. (I can do it now with ease but, back then, I couldn't.)
- With my perception in the wrong place, it is impossible for me to place the call, unless I feel the call with the same wrong perception.
In fact, my perception was so strongly fixed on feeling the pulse on the slaps that it took me months
to re-train myself to feel this pattern on "the other side." I remember driving around with a Tiriba CD in my car and listening to it over and over, trying to re-train myself to the correct feel.
As a teacher, I have an iron-cast rule: never
teach a rhythm without establishing a beat reference first. This is particularly important for ternary rhythms, which are much easier to "feel on the wrong side." But even some binary rhythms (such as Fankani) are easy to feel on the wrong side, particularly for newcomers who have not yet established sufficient vocabulary to intuitively recognize the down-beat (e.g., from the djembe accompaniments).
One of my teachers has this habit of teaching things without any call or beat reference. Even now, after 8.5 years of playing, he still throws me for six sometimes. He teaches a pattern or solo phrase with no reference whatsoever. I have no idea where to feel the beat. ("Is the first hit a pick-up or a down-beat?") I have learned to "keep my beat perception at arms length" when studying with him because I know that, if I allow myself to feel a beat somewhere else, I might find out 15 minutes later that I picked the wrong spot. Sometimes, I cannot even decide whether the rhythm is binary or ternary when I learn from him.
That's a very African way of teaching, and I've learned something from it. But, didactically, I think it's a disaster: doing this is just needlessly throwing rocks in the path of students.
Another observation about the "student M" and "student P" thing…
For some rhythms, there is a strong conversation between the sangban and kenkeni. For example, the kenkeni "calls" and the sangban "answers". When my mind is in "melody perception mode" and I play sangban, I'm part of the overall melody, and I respond to the cue from the kenkeni, answering back. Now, if the kenkeni player makes a mistake and fails to give me the cue, when I'm in that mental mode, I'm likely to lose it myself: the cue doesn't come, so I fail to respond.
On the other hand, when I play the same sangban part with my mind in "beat perception mode" and the kenkeni player fails to give me the cue, I will almost certainly stay locked in, even though the cue never happened.
The interesting thing is that I can play with better feel when I'm in "melody perception mode" than when my mental focus is more "on my own job". The price I pay is increased dependence on the other musician.
When I first learn a rhythm, I tend to fall more on the "student P" side but, as my understanding of the rhythm improves, I end up firmly on the "student M" side.
I strongly suspect that my playing is best when I manage to keep both perceptions active simultaneously (without thinking). That's "being in the zone." I'm connected to my fellow musicians and respond to their cues while, simultaneously, I'm strong enough to do my own job reliably, giving support to the musicians around me. The awareness is on the other musicians, the overall rhythm, and my own job, all at the same time.
It's sort of providing leadership while simultaneously receiving it…
For "student P" people, as a teacher, I try to encourage them to "let go" and not "hang onto" to the beat as much. For "student M" people, I try to make sure that they understand where the call goes and how it relates to the melody. (Usually, the students who have more problems "getting it" are in the "student P" category.)