West-African Percussion rhythms from Guinee and surrounding countrys

mail to Paul Nas (paul[at]paulnas.nl) for questions or remarks

Index | Introduction (en) | Legend (en)

Legend (en) :


4/4 :
S . . S S . T T S . b S S . T .
f . . l r . 2 r l . r l r . r .

The rhythm is written normally between the dark section (two small squares at each side). Therefore you will see 4 times 4 pulses or 8 times 3 pulses.

T (tenor, tone or open tone), S (slap) en B (bass). If t,s or b are used, it means that an extra optional hit is possible to be played.

Position of the hands
r (right), l (left). f (flam); two hits that are just not at the same time, d (muffeled hit), k (hands-clapping), 2 (dubbelstroke in a "roulement", c = muffling during the stroke. Right and left can be switched for the lefthanded people.
I use the roling hands where each pulse get alternating a rihgt and left hand position. Sometimes, it is because of the speed or a roulement better to play a more practical positioning of the hands.

Doun Doun-patterns

O O . O O . C . . C . . C . . O O . C . . C . .
x x . x x . x x . x x . x x x x . x x . x x .

Drum- en belstrokes:
O (open stroke/hit), C (muffled stroke), H (stroke with stick on wooden part of the drum), x = bel-stroke. When o,c or h are used, an extra stroke can be played optionally.

Orange colored cells
This is usually the place where the first stroke in this pattern is played.

Other remarks in the rhythm-box:
If there's an A, B, C, etc. there can be a referance to this point later on during the notation. Also pre-strokes (before the one-position) can be written here.

d = down, u = up

Used terms

Binairy en ternairy rhythms
All West-African rhythms are cyclic; they repaet themselfs in a certain pattern. The end of each pattern links to the beginning of the same one. A cycle consists of a number of pulses; some of them are "filled" with a stroke on a drum and/or bell. De total amount of pulses can be devided in groups of four or three pulses so we have binairy (actually quaternairy) and ternairy rhythms. ( 4/4 or 6/8)

The start of a rhythm
A rhythm can start in different ways. One way is that a person strats playing the pattern for his/hers instrument, and others take out there instruments and find the way to combine theire patterns wioth the one of the first person. An other way is to play a "call" or "appel" to all strat the rhythm at the same time. This way became more in use in the "ballet"-styting. In these pages each pattern start on the place that is "comon use". Where patterns strart before the call had ended, there is an explanation given.

Sometimes there are variations possible in a pattern. Sometimes they become an element in the cycle, and sometimes they are incidentaly played. Sometimes a variation is altenately played with the basic-pattern. Variations can also be made with variations on another instrument (like a conversation).

Solo Accompagnement
This is a pattern that is not a basic-pattern, but a pattern that the solo-player can play in between two solo's (to take a rest /pause between these solo's). Also a new dancer can come to stage during this solo accompagnement.

The flam
The flam (f) is an incidental dubbelstroke for djembe were the strokes follow shorter to one another as in the roulement. With the flam there are two strokes in one square.

The roulement is a roll, an incidental dubbelstroke for djembe, directly followed by a number of slaps or tones. In the notation there is only one square (one pulse) available while still two strokes are played. Therefore there is a "2" in the square.

The echauffement is a heating, intensifying part of the rhythm (not always speeding up!). In the echauffement there is a building up to a climax for the dancer (the end of a solo-dance). It end with a call (to end the playing completely or with a look-a-like-call (or -break); an improvised frase that indicates not to end the rhythm, but continue (for the next dancer). Not all the instruments have an echauffement-part, but all the instruments that have one, play it together.

Combination of bass-drums doundoun, sangban and kenkeni
Only some Malinke in Guinea play on the three separate bass-drums with three different players (for each instrument one player). In many areas to or three drums ar made to one set, played only by one player; one hand the bell and the other hand a stick for the two or three drums. In Mali only two drums are used and in the Ivory Coast some rhythms are played on a tilted drum-set with two sticks and no bells ( Zaouli ).

Shifting / micro timing
In some rhythms some djembe-hits are "pulled" to other hits. They are slightly delayed or speeded up. This notation-system gives limited possibilitys to show these shifts. I will try to show this by placing a "<" or a ">" in the block where this djembe-hit is played.. See also the article on micro-timing by Rainer Polak on the djembe-mande-list (see links-page).

Last changed at 16-10-2015