Pattern Embellishment

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Djembe pattern embellishment - explained
It's not easy to see what is hidden behind advanced embellishments. In this tutorial I will explain the "what" the "why" and the "how" from one isolated sound to a classic solo pattern you certainly have already heard. Enjoy.
Step 1 - Initial statement
The most intuitive pattern we all go through is playing on the opening of the groove (first beat). This is what I do on figure 1 with a single slap and two contiguous slaps on figure 2.

figure 1 - Single slap pattern

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figure 2 - Two contiguous slaps pattern

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Step 2 - Confirmation
To make sure you understand/feel what will come later, we will picture what follows like this. After making a statement at figure 2 confirm it with figure 3. This leads to figure 4 which is a fully-working solo pattern everybody plays on binary djembe grooves.

figure 3 - Confirmation

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figure 4 - Complete solo pattern

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Step 3 - Conviction
Now we need to make the pattern sound convincing. This pattern will sound better with ternary phrasing. Transcribing nuances of phrasing is not the goal of music writing because phrasing is not an absolute science. It is linked to tones choice, speed, and personal taste, that's why patterns should be written in their simplest form, the amount and type of phrasing staying a matter of personal choice. That said, to be completely understandable the figure 5a shows how a strict ternary phrasing could be written. Don't play like this it would be too much, it shows just the direction. The figure 5b is another graphic way commonly used to describe ternary phrasing.

figure 5a - Extreme ternary phrasing

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figure 5b - Lighter graphic description of ternary phrasing

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To add even more conviction to the second part of the pattern, a bass is generally added to introduce it like in figure 6.

figure 6 - With introductory bass

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Step 4 - Decoration
Because we want more, we will now start decorating the pattern. Give some bite to the end of the figure 3 with a flam on the last tone. This leads to figure 7a or figure 7b depending if you play the second note of the flam with an open tone or a slap. The slap bites more.

You can either play the bass at the end of the pattern to introduce the first segment figure 8.

figure 7a - Flam ending with an open tone

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figure 7b - Flam ending with a slap

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figure 8 - Playing the introductory bass at the beginning of pattern

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Step 5 - Tone Rebound - Ending a segment
Another way to make the pattern more biting is to make the flam rebound. It works with a tone/slap flam but in this case, with the two following slaps the contrast works better with an open tone like in figure 9a. Figure 9a explains how the variation is built from the flam, figure 9b shows more accurately how the rebounded flam should sound.

Explaining how to rebound is out of the scope of this tutorial. The rebound is an advanced technique which needs to be shown, explaining it is not effective. Check the video in detail to see how I do it.

figure 9a - Flam and rebound

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figure 9b - Flam and rebound - How it sounds

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Step 6 - Rocking hand technique to Start a segment
The rocking hand technique is good ingredient to introduce a segment of a pattern. At figure 10 i use the rocking hand technique to produce two touch tones to fall on the middle bass of the pattern.

By the way, the rocking hand technique is not an Afro Cuban-only technique. It's just that it is not used a lot now. Most people seem to prefer watching djembe players mimic blenders and "kill goats a second time" than using techniques like this, that's why it's not much in the light nowadays.

figure 10 - With rocking hand technique

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Step 7 - Liquid Playing
Add some magic to the pattern by mixing different effects along the repetition (No change being an effect too). This includes variations on flam tones, use of basses, muting some parts, change the rhythm for a few beats and go back... anything which adds interest and enjoyment - check figure 11 pick what you like here and there but don't learn it by heart! The goal is to be able to produce your own variations in real time.

figure 11 - A liquid playing option

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