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FINGERS OF FURY Percussion of the Arabic World and beyond

Part 1 - Intro / Darbuka Matt Stonehouse


The Darbuka These days they all hang on the wall unplayable due to Australia’s humid climate, and my two metal and plastic drums come to all my gigs with me instead!

As briefly mentioned in the forward the darbuka is a goblet shaped hand drum. It has many names depending on the country and then the region within that country. One popular name given to the darbuka is doumbek. This comes from the bass tone of the drum, ‘doum’ and the high tone ‘bek’. Sometimes this name can create confusion due to the goblet drum of Iran called the Tombak. The Tombak is a timber and skin drum and has different tones to the doumbek hence the confusion. This also occurs with the Egyptians referring to the darbuka as the Tabla (tablah).

A great tragedy indeed. Expect the darbuka chapter to be fun, challenging and at times mildly frustrating. Just like learning anything worth your while it will require patience and some discipline. When practicing your technique it may be more inspiring to have your favourite Middle Eastern CD playing in the background to encourage you. I always do this when I’m practicing the real dry stuff although these days I’ll probably put the Beach Boys on and picture myself practicing under a coconut tree!

Whilst the name is correct, we still have to differentiate between the Indian tabla and the Egyptian one, which are both very different drums. It is not certain how long the goblet drum has enjoyed its success in music, but through artistic representation we find that frame drums were the chief percussion instrument up until the beginning of the last century. Having said this however, there are ancient paintings and miniatures of musicians playing what could be a goblet drum on their shoulder dating back to the 12th century. By having the drum on the shoulder it could be played in a similar way to the frame drum. As the names vary from region to region so do the techniques. The Lebanese players have their own original tone, ornamentation and representation of common Middle Eastern rhythms, as do the Syrians, Turkish and Egyptians. Recently a new technique called split finger has swept through Turkey and become extremely popular, especially with the younger players. This technique is very similar to the right hand motion of a North Indian tabla player allowing the drummer to play faster and more efficiently. Split finger technique is not covered in this book however we will develop the right hand in a similar fashion. The darbuka was originally made of clay for the shell and used skins such as goat, camel and fish tied over one end with the other open. Today these are still available however the aluminum and synthetic drums are far more durable and less sensitive to changing weather conditions. On returning from my first trip to Turkey and Iran I was so proud of all my beautiful skin drums.

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Holding the Darbuka

Have a good look at the pictures and notice that I have one leg slightly forward and one leg back. This creates a small dip in the right leg and locks the drum into position a bit. The left arm is also locking the drum against the body and it is these two points that will stop it wobbling about and falling of your lap. Notice too, I push the drum forward a little to give my arms some space to move. Depending on the type of sound that I want, usually my left arm will be resting on the drum and not suspended in the ai r. It will take some time in order to get the sound you want but will prevent any shoulder injuries in the future. It’s all about minimizing energy and maximizing tone.

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3 The basic techniques used in many of these rhythms are Dum, Tuk, Ka and Slap. Think of these as those three or four guitar chords that allow you to play all the Beatles and Neil Young songs you’ve dreamed of. The ‘Dum’ is played with the right hand (or left if you are that way inclined) and produces the bass tone, i.e. dum. Make sure when playing this stroke that you don’t ‘whack it’ and just play it as a nice solid…. duuuuuuoooooommmmmm. The high tone which is played on the outside of the skin is ‘Tuk’. This is also played with the right hand. There are several ways of playing the tuk including one where the drummer

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4 catches a knife being thrown at them by a crazed belly dancer not happy with the tempo! The high tone produced with the left hand is the ‘Ka’, generally not accented as much as the Tuk. The ‘ka’ seems to be the stroke most students have problems with. It seems like an awkward position to strike the skin at but later on will become comfortable and make more sense to your hand and wrist. This leaves us with the ‘Slap’ technique, which is also played with the right hand. This is the hardest of the basic techniques and is achieved when the hand is cupped and strikes the drum with only the high frequencies cutting through, without the sustain and with no bass frequencies.


Two FOUR RHYTHMS Dervishes of Turkey. In a graceful spin the dervishes gradually speed up and use the trance inspired rhythm sound of Ayub to elevate themselves closer to God: Allah. It’s very beautiful to watch and powerful to play in a group of like minded drummers. In Egypt, Ayub is called ‘Zar’ and is used for similar reasons but also to drive off evil spirits. You will also find Ayub being played across the Mahgreb.

Below I have listed most of my favourite 2/4 rhythms and then a couple of variations on these. We start with the fundamental pattern and build (ornament) onto this. The rhythms are in 2/4 thus meaning it will take a count of ‘2’ before the cycle is repeated again. I have started with a very powerful and more ‘spiritual’ rhythm called ‘Ayub.’ This rhythm is used across the Middle East and you may be familiar with it from the Sufi music of the Whirling

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K D T

21 e & a 2 e & a 4 T K K T K D

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D T K D T

21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K K D K K T K

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 T K T D

21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K K D K K S K

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 T K T K D

21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D T K

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Two FOUR RHYTHMS

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K K D K

21 e & a 2 e & a D K 4 D

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K T K D K T

21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K D

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K T K D K S

21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K K T K K T K

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21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D D D K

21 e & a 2 e & a 4 D K T K K T K K

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FOUR FOUR RHYTHMS Now we come to 4/4 rhythms which you guessed it, take a count of four before starting the cycle once again. You will now notice the extra length of these patterns and I’m sure also the familiar sound of Maqsum. If you have listened to much Middle Eastern music then you will know what I mean!

I learnt some great ways to play maqsum and saiidi from a wonderful Lebanese player in Melbourne, Australia. He showed me how to get the power and feel into it, to get the rhythm off the ground and take flight. There’s also the Turkish way of playing which has different techniques with the fingers. The feel that results from this is awesome, hard to play but sounds great. I think that many drummers would agree with me when I say that after 20 years of playing one would still be learning to play maqsum correctly. For this chapter I will keep it within the few basic yet important techniques we have learnt so far.

These rhythms are my teachers. I thought I could play them ten years ago and then discovered I didn’t have the right feel. Then I thought I could play them correctly a few years ago but later learnt that I couldn’t!!! I feel that I am just starting to get the hang of these now.

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THANK YOU FOR READING To read the full e-Book with embedded audio visit:

Introduction to the Darbuka (Doumbek) [ebook prt 1]  

Percussion of the Arabic World and beyond: Introduction to the Darbuka (Doumbek) drum. This first chapter with teach the darbuka and doumbe...

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