South Of The Border

New Directions In Latin Drumming

by Norbert Goldberg

Much of contemporary popular music draws greatly from the rhythms of Latin America. The contagious excitement generated by these rhythms is partly responsible for the success which disco has enjoyed over the past few years, and fills an important place in the repertoire of many jazz, rock, and fusion artists.Since many Latin rhythms are based on syncopated eighth and sixteenth note combinations, they are highly adaptable to current musical styles which share the same characteristic. For example, the rhythms of Brazil can be integrated into very versatile and effective drum beats, as heard in Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”, which was propelled by a lilting bossa-nova style beat whose simplicity blended perfectly with the character of the song.South Of The Border

The bass drum’s strong emphasis on the second and fourthbeat is typical of Brazilian rhythms and can be carried over to disco beats, this time played on either small or large tom-toms by the right hand which alternates off the hi-hat.

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The samba rhythm has been used successfully in the funkidiom by Steve Gadd and David Garibaldi, who have combined the syncopation of samba together with funk elements yielding some very innovative results.

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Afro-Cuban rhythms can also be used in a variety of contexts, particularly in disco and funk. A mambo cowbell beat when played on top of a disco beat, adds a great deal of drive and reinforcement. The left hand plays both hi-hat and snare drum, leaving the right free to play many different possibilities. When approaching the following beats, practice the left hand rhythm first until it’s almost automatic. Then start adding cowbell rhythms of gradually increasing complexity.

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The following beat has the right hand moving from the cowbell to the small tom-tom and then to the large tom-tom. The effect achieved is similar to that of a percussionist playing along, since the tom-tom accents are derived from a conga beat.

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The bass drum rhythm in the following beat reinforces the common mambo bass line while the hands play a funky pattern. It’s sometimes helpful to throw in the down beat with the bass drum in case the rhythm starts loosening up.
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West Indian rhythms like reggae and calypso blend very nicely with rock and funk beats and are widely used in today’s music. Reggae beats can be used to change the feel in a slow funk number, particularly during solo sections, since they are very simple and sparse and can build dramatically.
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Calypso is said to be the predecessor of disco because of the similarity in the hi-hat pattern. It’s a very versatile rhythm and can also be used when a change of feel is desired, or in combination with other beats. This example has an unusual effect since it begins with a reversal of the hands; the right on the snare and left on the hi-hat.

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By reaching into the rhythms of Latin America, and combining them with already established beats, we can come up with many new and exciting possibilities. In so doing, we can make our drumming more interesting to ourselves and to others around us.