Discuss traditional rhythms, singing etc
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By e2c
#27724
One other thing: I mentioned something in an earlier post about some musicians on a jazz board being nasty because I said that not all music fits their ideas of time signatures and "the one." (This was not long after I started studying djembe and duns.)

There was a group of people there who kept demanding that I put things in staff notation, which I could not do - partly because I'm not good at it, and partly because the things I was trying to discuss with them are not (I think) easily understood if a person insists on staying inside a totally Western framework.

Ultimately, these people got very abusive and I was banned from the board at their insistence. Prior to that, they did a great deal to try and discredit me and - frankly - the teachers whose opinions and teaching methods i was relying on. (For Middle Eastern music as well as for what little I then knew of djembe/dun music.) They said that I was musically illiterate because I did not speak in their terms re. "the one" and also because I had said something about having difficulty reading staff notation.

Well, maybe I am "musically illiterate" by their standards, but equally, they just could not get their heads around some of the most basic things regarding other approaches to music and to rhythm.

so, to make a long story very short, that's one of the main reasons why I get tense whenever this discussion about "the one" crops up - unless, as here, most people understand that we're not necessarily talking about what those guys understood as "the one." (True of most people who play salsa and Latin jazz, among other things, as they deal with ambiguous rhythms and clave all the time, and that can be very tricky!)
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By djembefeeling
#27725
e2c wrote:Ultimately, these people got very abusive and I was banned from the board at their insistence. Prior to that, they did a great deal to try and discredit me and - frankly - the teachers whose opinions and teaching methods i was relying on. (For Middle Eastern music as well as for what little I then knew of djembe/dun music.) They said that I was musically illiterate because I did not speak in their terms re. "the one" and also because I had said something about having difficulty reading staff notation.
I remember you mentioned this in earlier posts. I am very sorry for their behaviour. and I am sure this won't happen to you on this board. you always bring interesting points of view to the discussion and it's good you do not easily give away your opinion! that keeps the discussion alive till arguments become clearer.

I did quote you on "the one" because I still struggle to understand this topic. I do not really have a clue about Western notation. I can read it for the most part, but like a kid in elementary school. I do use drum notation within a framework of pulses. I share some of Michis experiences with a new melody that I learned with a "wrong" anchor and had a difficult time to relearn sometimes. Because I do notation from the recordings at home anyway and this takes a considerable amout of time, I started to write notation as I learn a new phrase. Today, often I rather notate a new rhythm then record it (only if the microtiming is not clear to me, I also do a recording), because I cannot listen to all the stuff, that takes too much time even searching for it. A quick view on my notation works better for me, but perhaps this is only because I got used to that. I do "suffer" from that approach the usual consequences, though, since I am distracted by visualization of notation and that sort of understanding while I play quite often. A straight "by ear" approach is better for the music, but I see that it helps me much as a teacher of this music to include every possible perspective into my focus. As both you and Michi do, I also look for the beats when I learn a new phrase on dundun or djembe as well as for the melody of the phrase and the melody that it creates with all other instruments. I came to learn that every possible perspective adds to my understanding and feeling of a rhythm, it just takes additional time while I learn.

This is my starting point for this discussion. I did hear and read so often that a Western understanding of music doesn't work for this kind of music (it seems many experts on ethnomusicology seem to agree with you), but I did not really get it. this is a good opportunity for me to finally get it. I know from the work of Rainer Polak, that ethnomusicologists struggled for a long time to understand and notate african music. I guess it is possible to transcribe every piece of music with Western notation, but that it gets ridiculously complex so nobody can read it like a piece of sheet paper in our own tradition. I did hear that there are several aspects of music we cannot put into notation in our own classical tradition and that you have to learn those things from a good teacher. but there seem to be even more requirements in african music.
So some came up with this notion of pulsation, stating that african musicians have an implicit sense for equal pulsation. Rainers work is dedicated to modify this idea and shows that equal pulsation does not work, that there are several frameworks of pulsation for the music in Mali.

back to "the one", though. what exactly does this concept include in Western music that does not work for African music?
Last edited by djembefeeling on Sat Aug 11, 2012 11:22 am, edited 3 times in total.
By djembeweaver
#27726
back to "the one", though. what exactly does this concept include in Western music that does not work for African music?
I'm not convinced one way or the other Jurgen. Like I said, knowing how someone else perceives something is very difficult (do you perceive colours exactly as I do?).

That said, everyone who studies this music has a sneaking suspicion that africans are not tied to pulse in quite the same way as westerners.

I know a guinean dancer called Idrissa Camara (of Ballet Nimba). When he teaches a step he counts 1234 very quickly then starts the step at a much slower tempo. I think he has learned that weterners count 1234 to start, but has not realised that for us this represents the speed of the pulse.

Of course there is always a one, but understanding how other people perceive it can be very opaque.
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By e2c
#27731
Jürgen - thanks for your kind words! I do not think anyone here would treat me - or anyone else - in the way I was treated on that other board.

Part of my point in telling that story is to show that some prejudices and ways of thinking are very deeply rooted, and there are some people who just don't want to listen. I have seen the same kinds of things happening on other music boards and think that it can be extremely difficult to communicate in this way, using text alone. If we could sit down and play a few examples of what we're discussing here for each other, I think we would not need so many words. :) Another thing that comes up with some people is that.... I don't quite know how to put this politely. So: in many music schools here in the US, there are things taught about *all* African music that are - perhaps - applicable to a few genres (from a number of countries where English is spoken), and people tend to have the idea then that they know everything there is to know about the subject. That is one of the main reasons that it can be so difficult to try and discuss some things objectively.

The book used by most of these teachers and musicians seems to be John Miller Chernoff's African Rhythms, African Sensibilities - which is good, so long as you realize that his experience with percussion ensemble music is limited to two styles from Ghana. However, he generalized a *lot* of what he learned there to apply to *all* African music, and I think that's where much of the confusion comes from. I do *not* mean to speak ill of Chernoff or his book - it really is good, but the generalizations he makes about all African music are - in my opinion - not accurate or particularly helpful. I do hope that his book will be one of many on African percussion music, but so far, it does not seem as if anyone else is writing - in English - works that are needed to supplement Chernoff's. Maybe someone who is both a good djembe/dun player and good writer will do that - we can hope!

*

As to notation: I have made up my own kind of "notation" in the past, more to help me remember certain things than out of any desire to write things down, let alone try to write them "correctly" (whatever that is).
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By Carl
#28216
Hey all... I'm hoping to be back for a while, and while vainly trying to get caught up with discussions here, I figured I'd mark my return with a fun topic!

Here is my understanding of "the one"

[Ok, I struggled to find some bad joke about the Matrix or Highlander... but nothing passed my admittedly low bar of quality... so feel free to make up your own.]

I am going to make some general statements in this to make the discussion a bit easier, if you feel something needs to be clarified please let me know down thread.

What does "the one" refer to? In the simplest expression it refers to the first beat of a measure as noted in Western culture.

But why is that the "one"? Gregorian chant (the very beginning of Western notation) had no barlines, and it had few structures that would make sense if translated to barlines. In gradschool I had to make some transcriptions from early Gregorian chant notation... very difficult work!

A quick web search says that the bar line did not come into use until the 15th century, which sounds right to my memory of 20+ years ago when I last cared about these things...

<begin oversimplification>

One of the uses of barlines is to show what Western theorists would call metric "weight". This weight most often comes from repeating patterns. The pattern does not have to be rhythmic, it could be harmonic or timbre or whatever is perceptible by the audience. For simplicity sake, I'll only discuss rhythmic repetition.

When a pattern repeats, it generates expectations on each repetition. Some expectations are "stronger" than others, this is a very simple idea of weight in this contexts.

Example 1:
Start counting 1, 2, 3, 4 repeatedly... let it sink in.
Now, while still counting, accent "1" and have the rest stay relatively quiet, repeat this for "2" and each of the other numbers individually.

If you have been listening to primarily western music (popular, jazz or classical) each of the numbers should have a different "feel" than the others.

Example 2:
After working on the above for a bit, try the same thing but count from "4" first, ie: 4, 1, 2, 3 repeat.

Try to make "4" have the same weight as "1" from above.

</oversimplification>

I firmly believe that the Western term "the one" does in fact point to a real "thing" in music. I'm not exactly sure what that "thing" is, but I would love to get into the details of it, but that's another whole conversation.

To take an example from dununs, think of the sangba for Mendiani:
Code: Select all
o . o . . i . . o . o .
If I move all of the opens to the beginning I get,
Code: Select all
o . o . o . o . . i . . 
I have worked with people learning this tune (and I had to work through the same thing myself) I can usually tell when someone is hearing their part like the second "wrong" example (relative to "one"). I'm not 100% with it, but even if noone else is playing there is a different weight to the part when the player places "one" in the wrong place.

To clarify, this is just as true for new musicians who haven't heard the term "one" in this context as for professional players.

This is most often proven true when the above player tries to enter relative to any of the other parts (not from a call... you can cheat a bit off the call, but hearing the other instruments is another whole matter)

The term I've heard used for this is "agreement" which I think comes from the "African sense" book mentioned before. Whatever this thing is, and whatever you call it, I think it is critical to have some understanding of what "it" is in order to play this music. Otherwise how could you play the kenkeni part for a dununba tune?

e2c, I'm sorry that you had that experience on the other board, I could share similar stories from various places. One thing I try to keep in mind is that everyone has their own way of understanding. If your way of understanding doesn't match theirs, there is an opportunity for friction, no one wants to be told that their personal way of understanding is "wrong". The more you defend your position (as you often have to do in school) the more reactionary you can become.

The other posters wanted to you only speak using their terms (with their unique understanding of the terms) and when you couldn't, they were not able to return the favor (speak using your terms).

I have many more thoughts, but I'm interested to see where this leads!

Carl
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By michi
#28220
Carl wrote:Hey all... I'm hoping to be back for a while, and while vainly trying to get caught up with discussions here, I figured I'd mark my return with a fun topic!
Hey Carl, good to have you back! :)
[Ok, I struggled to find some bad joke about the Matrix or Highlander... but nothing passed my admittedly low bar of quality... so feel free to make up your own.]
Where the one is depends on the color of the pill you took ;)
To take an example from dununs, think of the sangba for Mendiani:
Code: Select all
o . o . . i . . o . o .
If I move all of the opens to the beginning I get,
Code: Select all
o . o . o . o . . i . . 
I often hear Mendiani played with a little bit of swing (particularly by players from Mali), where the four opens are grouped into two pairs, such that the amount of time between first two opens is a little shorter, and the time between the last two opens is also a little shorter. It's a subtle swing, but noticeable. It suggests that the player perceives the first two opens as pick-up notes to the third open, which marks the down-beat. In western notation, the bar lines would be placed as in your first notation because the phrase is perceived as beginning with the first open, but it just so happens that the third open is the place where the player perceives the anchor of the rhythm.
I have worked with people learning this tune (and I had to work through the same thing myself) I can usually tell when someone is hearing their part like the second "wrong" example (relative to "one"). I'm not 100% with it, but even if noone else is playing there is a different weight to the part when the player places "one" in the wrong place.
I've noticed that too, and went through the same process. The perceptional shift causes variation in micro-timing. With the perception in the wrong place, the phrase has the wrong feel somehow.
To clarify, this is just as true for new musicians who haven't heard the term "one" in this context as for professional players.

This is most often proven true when the above player tries to enter relative to any of the other parts (not from a call... you can cheat a bit off the call, but hearing the other instruments is another whole matter)
A good exercise is to play this pattern on the sangban while singing either the dundunba part or the djembe 1 part. It really helps with perception.

Cheers,

Michi.
By bubudi
#28233
i remember epizo, during his first bundadgen camp, related how he had composed a jazz piece which he tried to get the members of his 1st (new york) formation of his band 'african express', who were jazz musicians, to play it. the structure was polyrythmic and although these jazz musos were used to harmonic and rhythmic complexity, they couldn't get their heads around the polyrhythm. within seconds, the music fell apart.

even some djembe players who have learned polyrhythms struggle with lamban or dunungbe or even, as just mentioned, with mendiani. i have observed that it's ot just westerners that have these issues. west african djembe/dunun learners go through this too. however, due to a lack of western concepts such as a 'one', they perceive the structure differently. they see the relationships within the music, but the idea of a 'one' seems artificial to them. some african teachers understand the concept (eg mamady) and point out the 'one' when demonstrating patterns, to cater for a western thinking audience. however, they don't do this when teaching africans.

the concept of 'one' works for most situations but has its limitations too within mande music. i have heard a few teachers say that in mande music, every beat has the potential to be a 'one'. that is to say, there are often several reference points in a polyrhythm. this has been more useful to me personally as well as to many of my students.
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By Carl
#28234
bubudi wrote: every beat has the potential to be a 'one'. that is to say, there are often several reference points in a polyrhythm. this has been more useful to me personally as well as to many of my students.
Could you give an example?

C
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By e2c
#28242
The other posters wanted to you only speak using their terms (with their unique understanding of the terms) and when you couldn't, they were not able to return the favor (speak using your terms).
Carl - good observation, although it was more like "wouldn't" (rather than "couldn't"). There was a ton of bad stuff going on at the time, and I wasn't the only target, though that's another story entirely.

Suffice it to say that this board is a very refreshing place after that one!
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By gr3vans
#28243
bubudi wrote: i have observed that it's not just westerners that have these issues. west african djembe/dunun learners go through this too.
this is an extremely important thing to remember. I have been becoming more aware of the fact that musicians from Africa are not all steeped in this music, have the same abilities as the masters we know, nor do they all understand it the same way. This helps when I reflect on my experience as a human studying music, and when I'm not frustrated I have an easier time being humble.
bubudi wrote: however, due to a lack of western concepts such as a 'one', they perceive the structure differently. they see the relationships within the music, but the idea of a 'one' seems artificial to them.
Here you have hit the nail on the head. What is important is the music and the relationship between the notes/ sounds/ silence. I do not discredit in anyway the written and 'scientific' observation and communication about what music is, but there is something that is intangible that can only be accessed through understanding working with a music on a level that can not be counted, written or spoken.

Furthermore, as an atheist, I would like to draw a relationship for you all to the similarities between imposing 'western' concepts on this subject matter. To do this I will be forced to introduce my religious soapbox.... (2 min version)
  • 'god' is not fully perceivable by any of us therefore during this human experience we can not fully understand god.
    this does not mean that we are incapable of experiencing parts of what we can not understand fully. we can.
    with this magnificent realization that we are not capable of being experts, we can not force our opinions on others.
    Religion happens when you take a spiritual experience, try to document it in a language that is imperfect, and then sell it or scare people into adopting it for fear of mortal doom.
    the key concept here is that the tools at our disposal (pictures, words, music, etc) are not capable of transferring the knowledge of your experience to another being... nothing (to my knowledge) is.
Agree with me or not. try to take this into account the next time you're learning or teaching.


Recently I stumbled upon a very insightful perspective looking for information on kpelle history.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kpelle_people wrote:An anthropologist, Joe Glick, while studying the Kpelle tribe asked adults to sort items into categories. Rather than producing taxonomic categories (e.g. "fruit" for apple), they sorted into functional groups (e.g. "eat" for apple). Such functional grouping is something only very young children in Western culture would usually do. Glick tried and failed, to teach them to categorize items. Eventually he decided they simply didn't have the mental ability to categorize in this way. Then, as a last resort, he asked them how a stupid person would do this task. At this point, without any hesitation, they sorted the items into taxonomic categories.
"They could do it, but in their culture, it was of no practical value. It was stupid."
It seems to me that the issue is more of relevance, and in relation to the music it is not relevant to place numbers and measure and identify and 'study' the music. If your purpose is to experience you need to let this stuff go. To me, releasing myself from the need to control my understanding of what I'm learning and being able to prove the command of my knowledge has been an incredibly difficult journey, one I hope to continue for a long time.


As as separate point my current teacher sometimes points to a place one should begin playing and loves fun arrangements where people all start together. I love this too. If get lost in a rhythm, though he tells me to find the time, not the one. this is much less about counting and more about the feeling of the music. I am personally terrible at counting. like if there is a roll that is supposed to be seven long, I have to rely on the feeling or the concept of coming in with one side of my body and coming out with the other or leaving before the beat/ time, or accent between the sangban, or end JUsT before that last dunnun stroke. I'm not saying that my way of understanding is right, but this is the path of learning I prefer. I think that if I continue this way I will have a deep and satisfying understanding/ ability to play at some point before my death. :)
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By Dugafola
#28245
Carl wrote:
bubudi wrote: every beat has the potential to be a 'one'. that is to say, there are often several reference points in a polyrhythm. this has been more useful to me personally as well as to many of my students.
Could you give an example?

C

dununba kenkeni is one. think about how many sangban parts start on the first open hit of the kenkeni....kon, bando, kurabadon, demosoni, kontemeru etc...
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By Carl
#28249
Dugafola wrote:dununba kenkeni is one. think about how many sangban parts start on the first open hit of the kenkeni....kon, bando, kurabadon, demosoni, kontemeru etc...
It is interesting that you chose this as an example... I see this as a function of understanding the pulse, which (again, as I see it) is different than finding the "one".

Soli-rapide, Tiriba and DununGbe all have "one" in the same place. (stretching things slightly to include DununGbe)

However they each have different relationships to the Pulse, and are therefore VERY different tunes.

One of the problems with many musical terms, in the classical world as well as jazz and ethnomusicology, is that the same term can be used in different ways in different situations.

This difficulty is compounded when the fundamental function of the term needs to be redefined in different musical styles.

As to your examples, I am familiar with Kurabadon, Demosoni and Kontemeru, and to my ear, they each have "one" in the usual place, but it is how they approach one that is different (which has a lot to do with the feel of the piece, and the relationship to the pulse.)

Duga- do you see the difference that I am trying to make between the "pulse" and "one"? (if not, this post probably didn't make much sense. :oops: :giggle:

Carl

PS: am I the only one getting "going for the one" by YES stuck in my head?

[video]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3fQ1wPCFdc[/video]
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By michi
#28255
Carl wrote:PS: am I the only one getting "going for the one" by YES stuck in my head?
No, you are not. Carl, we are showing our age… ;)

Michi.
By bubudi
#28267
carl, i don't think it's just the pulse we are talking about, but the way the parts fit together. the dununba rhythms is an excellent case in point because western minds tend to try to analyze the hell out of it and yet have great trouble keeping passport accompaniment (let alone any other part) in the right place. i struggled with that myself, until i let it all just go and let the music teach me the way it fits together. i could notate dununba rhythms if asked, and conventional notation methods need a 'one', otherwise it would all get too confusing. of course, i can find the same 'one' in any mande rhythm. that's not under dispute. but is it useful for learning dununba rhythms? imo it's a hindrance, and i've had to relearn rhythms in a different way to take my playing to the next level.

a lot of african teachers have commented on western djembe players with great technique, good solo chops and the abilty to stay in time, but lacking the feeling and a higher understanding of the rhythm. i remember one time when a djembe player here who at one time was the best white player in the country, had been corrected on his playing. he tried to improve and the teacher said 'that's better, but still a bit dodgey' !! this guy thought he new the rhythm well, but to a guinean percussionist he had only half the picture.
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By Carl
#28272
bubudi wrote:carl, i don't think it's just the pulse we are talking about, but the way the parts fit together. the dununba rhythms is an excellent case in point because western minds tend to try to analyze the hell out of it and yet have great trouble keeping passport accompaniment (let alone any other part) in the right place.
Ok, now I think we are getting somewhere.... :-)

I want to tread lightly here, as there are a few social landmines that I would like to avoid, but I feel the need to get awfully close to them...

I like to think that I am well versed in both the Western Musical Tradition (Masters Degree) and the Djembe Dunun tradition (13+ years studying the music of Mamady and Famoudou). While I am not the best djembe player, I take very seriously both the historical/cultural components of the music, as well as the stylistic subtleties we are discussing here. Now that that is out of the way...

With this experience, I definitely see stereotypes on both sides.

One of the stereotypes that I try to fight is that the Western Musical tradition is Cold and Sterile, and that all Western trained musicians are "tied to the page" of notation. While this is true of many "Western Musicians", the same thing is often said about the difference between Baroque players and Modern players, Jazz vrs rock, Folk vrs country... I could go on.

I have a friend who is very well versed in Middle-Eastern music, he has stopped working with a percussionist, not because he is not a good player, but because he is arrogant about 'his' interpretation of the music. (my way or the highway) He also happens to be a Western trained musician.

Here is a huge part of the problem as I see it: If you spend decades studying a specific style of music you can easily build an ego about "what you know". It is easy to forget that there are other ways of knowing. When someone comes along and tries to know something in a different way, it is easy to judge their way as "wrong" (in either direction in this case).

The other side of the problem comes from communication. If I have 20 years experience in Western Music and 0 years of Djembe experience, and my teacher has 20 years experience in traditional Djembe music, but 0 years experience in Western music, (add to that likely linguistic issues) I would be amazed if ANY communication was possible.

For example, Bubudi, I am painfully aware of the issue that you bring up for Dununba rhythms. In my Western trained experience what you are talking about is a "pulse" issue. Now keep in mind, I have a very specific application of the word "pulse" that I am using for only this discussion. If I was talking to a Western trained musician, this would not solve the issue, but it would most likely be the best starting point to help them understand what is going on. If you are not a Western trained musician, this might be the WORST place to start because it would most likely confuse the issue.

(does any of this make sense to anyone else?)

I think it is time for me to begin a blog post about teaching. The short version is that everybody learns differently, and some teachers are better for some students, others for others.

In my current most advanced class I have at least 3 distinct learning styles that I have to contend with.

One student really needs to "read" the music before he gets it. After that I have to give him extra help on feel.

I have another student who can not read at all. She gets it when I sing it to her. Her feel is usually very good, but her memorization and relation to other parts needs a lot of help.

The third student I have in mind is a "woodshedder" he kinda getts it in class, but has to go home and play the hell out of it before it "sinks in".

I would use the "pulse" term with the 1st and 3rd student, if I was doing so in class I would tell student # 2 to ignore everything I was about to say... :twisted:

Ok, I think I've gone on long enough... I will definitly have to start sketching some blog posts...

Carl