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.

Direct Link for the Feed Readers

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!