Drumming to me, especially drumming from the African diaspora is about learning and always playing basics, or “fundamentals”. If you have ever read any of my articles, you may have noticed me saying, “with out the framework the house will fall down”. Like any other musical instrument you have to practice regularly. No matter what stage you are in in your drumming career or hobby, be it pro or amateur it is always important to practice your “basics” and if you do not have the solid foundation built yet it is important to learn them.
What are “the basics” ? First you need to understand what the pulse is, the 4 count that goes through each and every African rhythm that we play and how your part or pattern fits in and relates to it. With out understanding and knowing where this 4 pulse is you will be lost. In other words you need to understand what you are playing so you can play and or find your way in the rythym. This means knowing where “the one” is.
“The one” can always be found by knowing or learning or asking your teacher what is the break or moreover, “can you call the rhythm in from the break”. Many teachers do not like to use western notation or counting. This is because this is not how they learned it in their country and maybe they understand it or maybe they don’t. Therefore, if you ask many African teachers “where is the one” they might not understand the question.
However if you ask, “can you play it in from the break (or call)”? Then you can now know where “the one” or start of the pattern you are trying to play is. Breaks or calls (same difference) always lead into the one. So knowing this is powerful information in terms of giving yourself a tool to finding the first beat in sometimes tricky patterns.
Sometimes your rhythm can start before the break finishes. This happens to make a rhythm arrangement more exciting or for other reasons as well. I call this starting on an “anticipation” note, because you come in before the other players or before the call gets to the one. This happens often in Ballet arrangements as well. But any rhythm that you play in west african djembe music has “the one” and this “one” can be found by playing the call in or break.
Almost every west african drum rhythm I have learned from Guinee, Mali and Senegal has some part of the rhythm arrangement that either hits on the 4 pulse somehow or at least refers to it. I like to try to find those parts and focus on them when I am first learning a rhythm structure.
So if you have the call being played and you find a reference point to a part that plays the 4 pulse or refers to it you now have a good road map to start understanding the relationships with in the rhythm arrangements. I cal this the “lock in point”.
The lock in point is where you fit in, where your one fits in with the other players or parts. Learning how to find your lock in spot is the trickiest part of learning how to play in an ensemble. This is because certain rhythms are very hard to find the common ground parts that hit together. But again, if you start from the call this is your best way to find it.