A Different Method
Finger cymbals are an ancient percussion instrument, invented during the Bronze Age some 1,500 years ago as accompaniment to drum instruments. They were typically played either by percussionists in a band or by dancers during religious ceremonies, rituals, and entertainment events. The word “cymbal” comes from the Greek kymbala. Finger cymbals are frequently referred to in this guide as zills—a nickname taken from the Armenian Zildjian family, producers of some of the finest cymbals in the world—but may also be known as sagat or sunouj (Arabic), or zang (Persian).
This guide will explore learning belly dance rhythms (from North Africa, the Near and Middle East, Greece, Turkey, Persia, and India) by hearing and “feeling” them, rather than demanding that students learn through rigid pattern repetition. While the latter method of learning may work for some (especially those with a music background), my experience in teaching finger cymbals since 1978 has revealed that most people learn rhythm best when they are not “force-fed” a formula.
While I love many different kinds of music from all over the world, I never studied music seriously. I learned to play finger cymbals and drums through listening only. I suspect that I developed more flexibility and adaptability because of this. Rhythms come naturally to me, and I’m rarely baffled by a complex rhythm for long.
Another interesting thing that happened through my self-teaching approach was the particular way in which I play finger cymbals. To pick up speed, I employ a kind of “brushing” motion (called a “zing”; see page 8) on one hand for the faster beats, rather than try to produce the beats on alternate hands. And, although I am right-handed, my hands somehow decided to change dominance when I began to pick up speed: I play the faster beats on the left hand. This works best for me. You may find the same works for you, and you may also discover that neither hand is dominant, and you can easily switch hands in producing the faster beats. I may not have learned to play zills as well had I been taught to play through rigid pattern repetition (the typical R-L-R, or R-R-L in standard zill instruction).
The bottom line is this: Listening to your music is the key to learning to play zills. It does not matter how you produce the sounds as long as you keep time. Your ears will tell you if you are on target. You don’t need to analyze how you generate the sounds as long as you are successful in doing so. Indeed, you will probably find that if you try to scrutinize what you are doing and how you are doing it, you will lose it. Let your ears, your hands, and your spirit create your experience and by all means, enjoy!
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