South Of The Border

Brazilian Drumming: The Samba

by Norbert Goldberg

Born in Argentina, Norbert Goldberg is 24 years old and holds a R.A. degree from Brooklyn College where he studied percussion with Morris Lang. At the age of 18, he travelled to Viet Nam and Thailand playing drums with a U.S.O. show. The following year, he toured Roumania with the Brooklyn College Percussion Ensemble, and has recently returned from doing independent research in Argentina and Brazil culminating with an engagement in the only jazz club in Rio de Janeiro. Currently Mr. Goldberg is a free-lance drummer-percussionist in New York, and is recording with his group “Nightflight”.The samba is a typical rhythm and dance of Brazil. It gained popularity in this country during the forties initially as a ballroom dance mostly through the famous Brazilian singer actress Carmen Miranda, who may be remembered as having the elaborate headdress made of tropical fruits. At that time, the common way of playing samba on the drums was with a brush and a stick, (see Ted Reed’s Latin Rhythms), and for a while it was a standard beat in the dance drummers repertoire.

Since then, the samba has evolved greatly, in Brazil and in this country as well, where it has been recently rediscovered and incorporated with jazz-rock elements by musicians like Chick Corea, Airto, and others. Having spent some time in Brazil, I had the opportunity to observe some excellent drummers and, more importantly, to trace the roots of samba drumming as related to the Brazilian percussion section.

The following are steps in which the samba rhythms and “feel” can be developed, starting from the bass drum alone, then to the hands and their different functions, and finally, as a cohesive unit using all of the limbs. As with any music you hear or read, try to individualize these beats by bringing your own style as you play them, and by experimenting with your own variations.

The essence of samba drumming lies mostly in the feet, particularly in the bass drum, whose rhythm is derived from the “surdo” which is the large cylindrical bass drum used in Brazilian percussion. The surdo rhythm involves striking and muffling the first beat and letting the second one ring freely, thereby placing an accent on the second beat in a 2/4 bar, which is characteristic of samba music. Try this on your floor tom with a soft mallet to help you achieve the right feel.
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Practice the above until a comfortable and relaxed feeling is obtained.

The snare drum rhythms punctuate the steady throb of the bass drum and are related to the rhythms of the “tamborim”, a small hand held, single headed drum, and also to the differently pitched agogo bells. Although the bass drum is in two, the accompanying rhythms usually span two measures, or in this case one measure of four quarter time.
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Do the above with rim clicks first, then on the snare drum head. Also, alternate between clicks, head, and rim-shots for interesting effects. Phrasing is important!

An excellent and very effective variation utilizes the tom toms in an almost melodic way. Take any of the snare beats and distribute them among the tom toms. Here’s one example of the many variations possible.
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Many Brazilian drummers have highly developed right hands that play sixteenth notes on the cymbal for prolonged periods of time. There are a number of options as to how the right hand can function, each creating a different style of playing.
1) Play exact rhythm of snare drum. Both hands together.
2) Straight sixteenth notes with samba accents similar to clave beat.
3) Sixteenth and eighth note rhythms outlining snare drum beat.
4) For jazz samba. Best when combined with #6 on snare drum.

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Another variation can be derived at by playing one of the snare rhythms on the cymbal and combining it with a different snare rhythm, (R.H.#2,L.H.#4). In my opinion, the most effective cymbal rhythm combination is number three shown in the sample beat above, which emphasizes the snare drum rhythm and also subtly fills out the beat.

In playing samba on the drums, one should become familiar with each of the variations and be able to change from one to the other depending on the character of the music played. Although there is much activity and rhythmic interplay involved in samba drumming, the beauty of the samba beat lies in its free and relaxed feeling, and it is that which one should strive for in playing these beats.