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Thoughts on a notation for djembe rhythms March 24, 2009

Posted by ficial in brain dump, drumming.
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About a year ago I started taking djembe lessons from the wonderful Lara and Yael of RootsHeartPulse/. This is the first instrument I’ve played, and in fact the first musical thing I’ve done. I really enjoy it, though it eats my brain a bit. Lara and Yael learned from Babatunde Olatunji and so teach using the vocables he invented: Gun (base), Go and Do (tone), and Pa and Ta (slap). That works OK for me, but I think in sounds much more and better than images, so I made up a notation that I could write and use to help me remember the various rhythms. However, it’s only hand-writable. I’d like something I can type with out resorting to making my own fonts first. With a bit of fussing, I think I like this as a starting point:

  • N = GUN
  • O = GO and DO
  • \ or / = PA and TA

Timing is indicated simply by spacing. The above doesn’t indicate handing, nor beat / emphasis. It’s easy enough to put additions marks when writing on paper, but types needs a more fixed syntax. So, I need to modify that a bit, and ideally make the characters a little more meaningful. My next idea is

  • N = GUN (main hand)
  • n = GUN (off hand)
  • \ = GO (main hand)
  • / = DO (off hand)
  • ( = PA (main hand)
  • ) = TA (off hand)
  • , (on line above, as needed/desired) = emphasis

Plus, I’d like to be able to denote pauses, where/when that need to be clear. Also, there are a few strikes that need additional notation:

  • , = tiny rest (used when spacing isn’t clear enough, e.g. in proportional fonts)
  • X = GO/DO played together
  • O = PA/TA played together

Spacing is still used for indicating time.

So, Fanga second part would look like N,N,n\/N,,Nn\/.

I’ll play with it a bit more, and if it works for me I’ll post a set of rhythms.

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