Rhythm and Attitude

64 Arts

We pretty much covered as much as we could on the vina/veena and damaru playing in the traditional sense last week. I was reminded, however, of another percussive instrument I’ve got around the house that, were it not for the plastic bag they are kept in, would be collecting enough dust to put their carvings to shame.

They are my zills, from back when I took bellydance classes and was maybe a smidgen on the obsessed side of things.

Zills are to bellydancing, I think it’s fair to say, as castanets are to flamenco dancing. They punctuate the movements of the dance and add in another layer of skill.

It might seem like an easy thing to smash some finger cymbals together while you shake your hips.

It is, and it isn’t.

First there are the mechanics of playing the zills themselves. It may have been a while, but I remember getting the fit of the zills on the thumb and middle finger being a little tricky (it’s best to secure them with tiny safety pins until you’re sure of where to stitch them).

Just like their full-size counterparts, they produce different sounds based on their size, what type of metal they’re made out of, and whether you smash them together straight on (which chokes the sound) or strike the edges off of each other to produce a sustained ring.

Then there are the rhythms. I was taught to alternate between the left and right sets of  zills to make the beats easier to accomplish. For someone like me, used to 4/4 or even 6/8 time, keeping up with the various beat structures of the different dance rhythms takes some re-training, but it is possible. The video below shows a couple of them, there are, of course, many more.

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What that clip doesn’t show is the beautiful sound that can be achieved by striking the zills of one another, letting the sound ring out. It’s truly lovely on slower pieces and at the end of a performance as a final note.

Finally, I think one of the most impressive part of playing zills (or watching someone else perform with them), is not being able to both dance and play–that’s just layering your movements. No, the most impressive, to me, is when the artist recognizes that less is more.

Zills can easily turn into a cacophony of sound, pure noise, when over used or played so fast that the differentiation between each strike is lost. But when played with a little bit of reserve, as an accent to a song or dance performance, those chimes become part of the beautiful whole.

The Lesson of the Zills

  • Strap in and hold on tight–you don’t want to lose your grip mid-project.
  • Find your rhythm–it might not sound or feel like everyone else’s, and that’s okay.
  • Know when enough is enough, and when more would be too much. Stop before you get to the too much.

Have a wonderfully creative week, my friends!

The All-Important Rhythm

64 Arts

“Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. It’s the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy.”
~Jaques D’ambroise

And 5, 6, 7, 8–

Rhythm. Some say you either have it or you don’t. I think if a person is willing they can learn to find rhythms and follow them, though it might take a bit more effort for some.

A rhythm is a pattern. Count an even 1-2-3-4 and you have a simple rhythm. Usually the emphasis in music falls on the first (the downbeat) and third beats, with rock ‘n roll and R&B favoring back-beats or the 2nd and 4th beats. Of course, a beat or count can be subdivided a lot and rearranged so that it can take some effort to fit the counts of a dance to the rhythm of the music you are dancing to.

The rhythm floating through my head, as I type, would be counted 1-2-3-and-a-4-and-a (from Higher Ground, the RHCP cover).

Interpretation is a glorious thing in music. It’s what sets the true musician apart from someone playing notes on a horn. In dance, anyone can memorize a set of steps or movements. The dancer, though, imbues them with life, with style, with grace.

Recognizing rhythm is important because you can count off the choreography diligently but if you’re not matching the music, there will be a disconnect. You’ll be out of sync. It just won’t feel right. And if anyone is watching you? Chances are they’ll see it, too.

This can happen with people.

Humans are wonderfully varied individuals and we all have our little quirks. These personality traits make us who we are. But what we aren’t, always, is a perfect fit. Finding the people we click with starts with finding our own rhythm, figuring out the dance steps in our own life, first. Then, when we meet others, it’s easier to see (or hear) when our rhythms match up.

Sometimes people don’t “mesh well.” This can happen both in personal and professional situations. In the latter, you almost have to try and boil it down to it’s basic rhythms and find a common ground–sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In personal situations it’s (occasionally!) easier to find a new dance partner than make a 3/4 and a 4/4 match up.

My middle school band director used to challenge us to keep 4/4 time with one hand while keeping 3/4 waltz with the other. He could do it if he concentrated, I still can’t get it. Give it a try and let me know if you can do it (remember, the trick is that the four beats of one and the three beats of the other both take the same amount of time to complete).

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By the way, when I was writing for eHow.com, I wrote an article about choosing a dance teacher. If you’re thinking of plunging into the fun and learning to dance from a pro, give it a read. Not every teacher was made for every student, but when you find a good one you get way more than you pay for!