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Hand dominance - Page 3 - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

Discuss drumming technique here
By Daniel Preissler
Very nice comment, David!
davidognomo wrote:Starting with hand dominance and ending in instinctive/empiric approach vs. rational approach.

Can't resist to comment. I guess bubudi and a lot of other guys have the right to approach the matter in such rational and calculated way, Daniel.
Of course: There is no other chance to start! I think that later we should change a bit, we have to take it inside as much a s possible...
It's not the way for everyone, but I think, when Bubudi and me talk about this here, the niveau is high enough to speak out what I see as the goal of playing.
davidognomo wrote:I think that a lot of djembefolas and masters have to think about what hand they put on first and wich one ends a phrase, considering the next.
Weel, and I think they don't have to ;)
There very often is something between thinking and feeling (about the best way to go on), but the "inner sentence": "Now I will play this or that and therefor have to start with the left hand" is not there - IMO!
e2c wrote:What struck me as odd was the part about "percussionists" vs. "djembe players." No doubt a lot of African djembe players are accomplished on other kinds of drums as well, so ...
OK, so you see it differently. For me "percussionist" is already taken. A djembe player who plays other "percussion" instruments, too (which ones do you think of, by the way IYO?), would so be someone who plays djembe and another instrument, but I wouldn't call him a percussionist.

have a nice time,
By bubudi
Afoba wrote:Sorry Bubudi, but while you have the feeling that I'm avoiding the question, I got the feeling that you're approaching this question too much in a european (north-american) way - at least today.
don't be sorry. but i'm glad you added 'at least today' at the end of that statement! there's a difference to how i go about playing djembe, and how i discuss it on the forum. it's the nature of the beast - to write about the finer points of playing is already approaching it in a somewhat 'western' concept.
Afoba wrote:At the same time I'm not sure you really got my point yet.
actually, i had almost understood completely. when you added this bit:
PS: to make one more thing clear at least: I don't think there's only one correct way to play some phrases. My point was just that there are ways to play that avoid the problem you described in every situation.
i now know that we had the same opinion all along! it's just we have a different approach to explaining it, and therefore a slight misunderstanding on both our parts. does that make sense?
I got a lot of respect for you due to many things you know and gave to the forum (like just yesterday in the other thread) and I like the way you try to write as kindly as possible (quite better than me!). I think we can still learn a lot from each other, but probably not today in this thread and subject.
thanks, i respect your knowledge and experience a lot too and i learn a lot every time i read this forum, from everyone here.

one thing that always amazes me is that no matter how much i continue to learn, i discover how little that is compared to what there is to know!
By bubudi
Afoba wrote:There very often is something between thinking and feeling (about the best way to go on), but the "inner sentence": "Now I will play this or that and therefor have to start with the left hand" is not there - IMO
actually that is what i tried to explain earlier about instructions (maybe i should have said 'impulses'), not as a conscious thought, but still a signal between the nervous system and the hands. many of us are familiar with the concept of 'muscle memory' - essentially it's when sufficient practice of a skill enables us to perform it without conscious effort. these impulses continue to happen but without the need for any kind of conscious thinking/reasoning.

sorry for the temporary sidetrack, but the point that i was making before this got into a socio-cultural / racial debate (not my intention at all) and misunderstanding (my apologies on that one) was that it's useful to be strong in both hands. if i may just use another western concept: developing the pathways between the structures of the brain. there has been some research (it has been some time since i read it, so i am struggling to remember the source) to support that master musicians have more developed inter-cerebral pathways and this increases the efficacy of the neurons transmitting the impulses, explaining their incredible freedom to musically express what they want on their chosen instrument. a somewhat simplistic scientific explanation of mastery.
davidognomo wrote:a djembefola is born surrounded by all the culture, grows with it, plays with others like him, watches others better than him, has a master, a teacher, has the parties as his classrooms. These kind of doubts are probably answered and solved without a rational grasp of the matter.
nicely put. it's applicable to almost everything you do regularly in life! do you analyse how your feet are moving when you ride a bike or how you breathe each breath? (rhetorical question). i do analyse sometimes when discussing the finer points of playing, for the sake of bringing the point across, but i don't do it when i play. if i did, i really wouldn't have gotten very far with djembe music, and to play in a cerebral way... it's just not my concept of music in general.

time for some mindless djembe practice... ;)
User avatar
By e2c
Daniel - to me, a percussionist is someone who plays percussion instruments... so, to my way of thinking, a djembefola is a percussionist.

There are different ways of using this word in English, but usually with a description, like "orchestral percussion" (In a symphony orchestra), and I completely agree that the ideas and techniques involved there are very different than what an African drummer (not just a djembefola) would do when he/she plays.

I hope that's helpful.
User avatar
By e2c
That depends on the context. Over here - and maybe in Germany as well? - the word "drummer" is usually taken to refer to people who play drum set, but in a more general sense, it means anyone who plays any kind of drum... as I used it above. (Though I could be more specific: hand drums; someone who plays hand drums is a drummer, etc.)

But I usually reserve "drummer" for drum set players.

Does "percussionist" have a specific meaning in German, or is it more general?

Edited to add: I think the way percussion/percussionist and drummer/drumming are used in English can be very confusing at times... musical terminology (like most other technical terminology) is not something that translates easily from one language to another.
Last edited by e2c on Fri Jun 03, 2011 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
By Daniel Preissler
I would say (the language system is different inside of everyone)
"percussionists" play more than one percussive instrument and especially small instruments and Conga, Bongos, Cajon.
Others would say everyone playing so called "non-melodic" instruments (next discussion subject, I know d;-) ) apart from a drum set are "percussionists" (so djembe included).
So I would never accept to be called a percussionist, and others that I would call so either d;-). I know a "percussionist" in Freiburg who says he's a drummer ("Schlagzeuger" - normally someone who plays a drum set).

Even more complicated (but with some advantages), we use the english word "drummer" for people playing rock drums (drum set), "Schlagzeuger" for about the same AND orchestra drummers (and maybe jazz drummers) and then we got the word "Trommler" (normally just drummer) which can be used for
a) everything without small percussion
b) just djembé and dundun players
c) military music only
d) (old or a certain style of speach!) rock drum set
(depends from peoples distance to each scene: if you are closer to the djembé scene, you will use the word "Trommler" for djembé players. In my case it's a combination of b) and c).

I think over here "percussionist" very often means something like "he/she plays the rest" (and more than 1 instrument - so many people who do everything a bit are called that way - even if they are very good Conga players).

So, anyway, as you reserve "drummer" to some styles, so do I with "percussionist". I think your understanding might be different - you have a larger "percussive background" don't you? I think you mentioned carribean percussion music and it's East Coast derivates several times on the forum.
Is that right?

Greetings, Daniel
User avatar
By e2c
Daniel - I do think that over here, percussion/percussionist is used of people who play conga, bongo, batá, cajon, etc. + small percussion instruments (shakers, maracas, etc.).

But there is a whole thing about melodic (or "tuned") percussion (marimba, vibes, etc.) vs. drum set and other instruments. To me, that's silly - anyone who has ever tuned congas - or the drums used in a drum set - knows differently. It's *all* melodic. :)

I think we only have "rock drummer" for ... rock drummers; same for jazz drummers, etc.

The distinction seems to depend on context + whether a person plays drum set or not. The word "percussion" can be used to mean "everything that's not a drum set."

My background: well, I don't play Afro-Cuban or Brazilian percussion, but I am familiar with a lot of the music. I do play various kinds of frame drums (Arabic and Turkish), Arabic tabla ( = darbouka), etc. and a few "Latin " instruments (like the cajon), but I have never been able to study "Latin" rhythms for more than a few lessons at a time. : ( And I have been playing rhythm bones for a bit over a year now.

Although I am learning to play both djembe and duns, I am more attracted to the duns, bass djembe and low-tuned djembes. I am not very interested in being a big djembe soloist. ;)

As for how I would describe myself, I guess I would use the word "percussionist," with no shame whatsoever! :D
Last edited by e2c on Fri Jun 03, 2011 7:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By e2c
I guess I should add that what's called "Latin percussion" (the instruments) has been part of just about every genre of music made in the US for at least 50-60 years now.

Obviously, there are some people who have a couple of congas or a set of bongos who don't know what they are doing, but that's also true with guitar, keyboards, drum set, djembe... ;)
By davidognomo
just adding a thought about the hand dominance matter, related to the left or right-handed subject:

the left and right parts of the body are "commanded" by the opposite side of the brain. Each side of the brain has its own distinct functions. So, the right side of the body, "commanded" or correspondant to the left side of the brain, is more rational; the left side of the body, related to the right side of the brain, is usually associated to a more instinctive nature. I'm really not a neurologist, but I think I'm close enough.

So, even if a left handed drummer gets the handing reversed, playing left hand where right handed play the right hand, I believe it still won't be the exact same thing.
What I mean is, it's not just a dominant hand, it's a whole different sistem. I am not aware of any known left handed djembefola (maybe someone here on the forum could point one), but, after this discussion, I would be very interested in observing his game.
By davidognomo
davidognomo wrote:I think that a lot of djembefolas and masters have to think about what hand they put on first and wich one ends a phrase, considering the next.

Weel, and I think they don't have to ;)

I agree with you. Not when they are playing. But maybe when practising, or when they were learning, or creating a new phrase. Of course that, in a performance situation, the mind has to be free to interpretate, working on feel and dynamics, instead of mechanic issues. In my profession it's about the same thing. The art starts where the execution ends.
User avatar
By e2c
There is a huge difference between practicing and actually playing, I think... and in the latter case, no, I'm not thinking about which hand should come in at what time. If I do, i simply won't be able to play.

Honestly, I think a lot of these things are like riding a bike - once you learn, you never forget. Even if you have not ridden a bike for years, you can go back to it.

Working on technique is something different - you are consciously working. It's really much the same as a child memorizing spelling (how to spell words).

but I do think that there are different ways of learning - for myself, I have always done better at learning music "by ear."
By Daniel Preissler
right, both of you - but (again) only for none Westafricans. You forgot that a djembé player from Guinea won't work or practise. They would just play (if needed) and become better and better.

Now, if they want to SHOW something to a guest from EU or US, David, then they can be obliged to think - and to think about which hand to start with.
User avatar
By e2c
I would gladly just go and play (and learn in that manner) rather than practicing all on my own.

For us, I think it is about opportunity as much - or more - than it is about "Western" ways of learning. (My tendency to learn by ear is not terribly "Western." ;))
User avatar
By michi
This left-right dichotomy happens for me when I play the solo original for Garangedon. The last phrase is this one:
Final phrase of solo original for Garangedon
(324.68KiB)Downloaded 521 times
The natural handing for the theme of the solo for a right-handed player is to play the pick-up bass on the left:
Code: Select all
rlr  lrlr  l
This phrase is the "holding pattern" for the solo; all the other phrases are interspersed with this pattern. The other phrases all lead in with the pick-up bass on the left:
Code: Select all
rlr        l
So, throughout the solo, I play that pick-up bass left. But then, for the last phrase, I have a problem:
Code: Select all
sss  ttss  bsssTTsTTs  b
The "TT" indicates the three-roll.

Now let's look at the handing. For a right-handed player, the natural handing puts the bass left:
Code: Select all
rlr  lrlr  lrlrR  R    l
Now I have a problem. I roll right, so I really want to start the three-roll on the right. But I've just finished the lead-in phrase on the right, making for an awkward doubling up to start the three-roll. (I've indicated the start of the roll with "R" here.)

I can avoid the problem by reversing the handing leading towards the roll:
Code: Select all
rlr..lrlr..rlrlR  R    l
Now the phrase is much easier to play because I naturally have the right hand free to start the roll. But here is the catch: to play that phrase with the handing I'm comfortable with, I have to think two beats ahead and change the handing in advance leading into the phrase. I can do that of course, but only because I know what I want to play ahead of time. And that is artificial: in a real situation, improvising ad-lib, I would never do this because, when I'm improvising, I'm not thinking ahead.

More significantly, I have this handing problem only because this is Mamady's phrase, not my own. I'm trying to be Mamady in this solo. However, Mamady rolls left and I roll right. For Mamady, the handing conflict never arises because, for him, the phrase follows his natural and preferred handing.

There is another way of looking at this: if I had composed a solo for Garangedon, this particular phrase would never have been part of my solo. The phrase would never have occurred to me because it is not part of my natural repertoire of movement.

So, in a sense, my handing preference limits the musical space that I can creatively explore: any phrase that forces awkward doubling up or rolling left cannot be part of my "natural" creative repertoire.

I think this is what part of the preceding discussion was about. The handing issue doesn't arise in practice because most players will instinctively avoid phrases that result in handing conflicts and so they never have this problem.

For me playing the Garangedon solo, I have three choices:
  • Play with Mamady's handing and accept the left roll.
  • Play with my own handing and double up.
  • Reverse the handing ahead of time, anticipating the roll and adjusting beforehand to make the roll come out the way I prefer it.
To me, the only acceptable choices are the first two. The third one "cheats" in the sense that it is unrealistic. Reversing the handing ahead of time is possible only when I play pre-learned phrases, but not when I'm genuinely improvising.

Personally, I decided on option 2 because it is the lesser evil for me: the doubling up is worth the price for the sake of keeping the roll tight. With option 1, I end up with a messy roll.

As I get better, I would prefer to change to option 1. Ideally, a good drummer should roll equally well on both sides. But I suspect that is a tall order: even Mamady doubles up in some of the solos he teaches (one of the Zaouli breaks comes to mind) in order to avoid rolling from his weak side.

And note that Mamady has the problem for the same reason as me: the Zaouli phrase isn't one he composed, but one he learned from someone else. The original composer most likely never had this handing conflict. To put it differently, any Zaouli breaks that Mamady composes will almost certainly not contain any such conflicts because of this natural "blind spot" in the phase space of phrases explored by the composer.


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