One of the most interesting drum lessons that I’ve ever had was when Kwaku Dadey showed me how to transfer African rhythms to the drumset. Kwaku plays traditional African music on his tuned conga drums in much the same manner as a piano player would imitate a full orchestra. The drumset player can play these African pieces by carefully tuning the tom-toms. The open tone of the congas is played on the set as the basic open drum sound. The high-pitched slap is emulated by playing a rim shot on the snare drum. The rim shots are not played loud; they are utilized as another color. The snare drum (with snares off) is the center drum from which the tom-tom melodies are played. Figure 1 is the first movement of a wrestling piece, played by the Ibo people of Africa.

Transferring African Rhythms 1

The part for hands (Fig. 1 A) should be learned first. The melody (played on the floor tom and the small tom) should sing out. There fore, it is important not to have the drums overly muffled. The tom-toms are playing one melody (the “call”), and the snare drum is playing a counter-melody (the “response”). The snare drum melody is manifest by rim shots and accents. After the hand part is mastered, practice the rhythms for the feet (Fig. IB). Note that this is a four-bar phrase. Bars three and four are the “response” to bars one and two (the “call”). When you are comfortable with the hands and the feet separately, you can proceed to play everything at once. (Fig. 1C).

Transferring African Rhythms 2

Transferring African Rhythms 3

Figure 2 is also part of the Ibo wrestling piece and is known as the “clock beat” because the melody is like a pendulum. The tom-toms are played with a clear singing tone, and the snare drum is played very lightly, except for accents and rim shots which are to be freely explored. The idea is to have the tom-toms never changing and the rim shots and accents playing in a constantly changing fashion. Figure 3 contains some rhythms to get you started with this beat. Practice simply at first. Later, add the bass drum and hi-hat. (Fig. 4).

Transferring African Rhythms 4

Transferring African Rhythms 5