Hello, and welcome to a new series on Brazilian samba drumming! It’s a great pleasure to be discussing Brazilian rhythms and my approach to this style on the drumset.
Generally, I feel that Brazilian rhythms can be divided into three layers of sound:
Bottom layer: low-pitched instruments, which are responsible for the rhythm’s pulse.
Middle layer: medium-pitched voices, which maintain the feel and subdivision of the groove.
Top layer: high-pitched instruments, which are responsible for the rhythm’s melodies and the syncopations and filigrees that create colors inside the groove.
In this article we’ll focus on the tamborim, a small, single-headed frame drum that sits in the top layer of sound in sambas.
Most good samba melodies are based on tamborim rhythms and are, normally, very syncopated. Great composers from samba’s “golden era” of the 1930s through the ’70s, such as Donga (who composed the first recorded samba, “Pelo Telefone”), João da Baiana, Noel Rosa, Silas de Oliveira, Ary Barroso, Armando Marçal, Bide, Cartola, Paulinho da Viola, and João Bosco, utilized tamborim rhythms (which they sometimes played on a small matchbox when a tamborim wasn’t available) as a basis for their works.
To understand and play any style of music, you should start by listening. Immersing yourself in a new language that you want to speak is essential to feel comfortable enough to express yourself. And when considering the samba style, I believe that it’s important to sing each percussion part that contributes to the groove in order to have an intimate understanding of the rhythms and to internalize the real feel of the style.
Samba is usually written in 2/4, with an emphasis on the second quarter note within a 16th-note feel. The tamborim pattern normally starts on a syncopated pickup, as demonstrated in the following example.
First let’s play the tamborim pattern on the hi-hat while singing “bah” on each quarter-note.
Once that feels comfortable, practice singing each offbeat 16th-note partial (“e,” “&,” and “a”) individually while playing the tamborim rhythm.
Exercise 4 demonstrates combinations of 16th notes that we’ll be playing on the snare in the coming examples. First try singing the figures while playing the tamborim rhythm on the hi-hat. It’s important to repeat each example many times so that you’re comfortable with the pattern before moving on.
The next step is to orchestrate Patterns A–I on the snare while maintaining the tamborim pattern with the ride hand on a closed hi-hat or cymbal. We’ll also incorporate the kick.
Here are four bass drum figures to play with the hand patterns. Practice these slowly and individually while trying to feel the samba atmosphere.
Once you’re comfortable with the previous examples, combine the hi-hat tamborim rhythm with one of the previous snare figures and one of the bass drum patterns. Let’s start with Snare Pattern A and Bass Drum Pattern B.
This next example combines the tamborim rhythm with Snare Pattern B and Bass Drum Pattern A.
Here’s the tamborim rhythm with Snare Pattern H and Bass Drum Pattern D.
And here’s a samba groove that employs Snare Pattern C and Bass Drum Pattern C.
After you’ve practiced the previous variations, try moving the tamborim rhythm to the ride and incorporating your hi-hat foot. Mix the following hi-hat foot patterns with the previous snare and bass drum combinations.
Exercise 11 demonstrates an example that utilizes all four voices to create a full samba groove. We’ll play the tamborim rhythm on the ride, Snare Pattern I, Bass Drum Pattern D, and the fourth hi-hat pattern. Remember that it’s important to sing each individual snare, bass drum, and hi-hat part along with the tamborim rhythm before playing the complete phrase.
Always remember, music is not on a piece of paper—it’s inside you and must come from your heart through the tools and vocabulary you’ve practiced and the musical references you’ve listened to and learned from.
It’s very important to listen deeply to the styles you want to play until they’re a part of your vocabulary and you can speak the rhythms freely and comfortably. Head to moderndrummer.com to check out musical examples in which I employ the concepts explained in this lesson. See you next time!
Kiko Freitas is a Brazilian drummer, educator, and international clinician who’s performed with João Bosco, Michel Legrand, Nico Assumpção, Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, and Frank Gambale, among others. Freitas endorses Pearl drums, Paiste cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, and Gavazzi cases. For more information, visit kikofreitas.com.br/en.