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Beyond Salsa for Beginners - Rhythmic Perspective Exercises: Tricky Rhythms

Tricky rhythms for beginners? Sorry about that, but there is a method to this madness. Here's the problem. The premise of the book is to listen over and over to a playlist of classic tracks until you've fallen in love with them. Then,  the theory goes, you'll be ready and willing to learn about the history, rhythms and backstory of your new favorite tracks.

This has presumably worked brilliantly with the first three listening tours, but no so much with folkloric music (rumba, changüí, batá, palo, abakuá et al). The problem is that this music has no piano or bass and if you weren't born and raised in Cuba (or Africa), there are just too many ways that you can hear the rhythm and more often than not, you'll pick the wrong one. Changüí will still sound great to you, but when you try to dance it with someone who grew up on it ... well, it can get pretty ugly.

So ... before moving on to the final Listening Tour on folkloric music, we start with an admittedly "tricky" chapter called "Rhythmic Perspective Problems". We patiently break down all the most common mistakes that well meaning non-Cubans make with these ultra-sophisticated rhythms. 


    Chapter 4: Perspective in Rhythm
Common Misunderstandings

Rhythmic Perspective Problem 3: 4 Groups of 3 or 3 Groups of 4?

Hearing the beat correctly in Afro-Cuban 12/8 rhythms is the most common category of Latin music rhythmic perspective issues. To see it in action, all you need to do is attend a concert, class or clinic on Afro-Cuban songs and rhythms. Scan the crowd, focusing on the tapping feet and nodding heads of the audience members. You’ll find that some are tapping at one tempo while others are happily grooving away to a completely different tempo.

To understand why this is so common, think about the number 12. It’s divisible by both 3 and 4. The following table uses shading to show the two common ways that 12 subdivisions can be grouped, followed by the two most common folkloric rhythms, shown without shading. 

Of course, not all music uses 12 subdivisions. Various genres use three groups of three, or (as in all the rhythms we’ve learned up to this point), four groups of four. But no major Cuban genre is grouped in three groups of anything. (The exception that proves the rule is frenté, from the tumba francesa family, which uses three groups of four). You can hear the rest of the Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms in 3 groups of 4 (or 6 groups of 2), and you can enjoy what you’re hearing, but that’s not how the performers and dancers are feeling the groove.

So let’s look at the table again, this time adding the proper shading to the bell and clave patterns:

Exercise RP-5 is by far the most common and most important 12/8 bell pattern.

Exercise RP-5: main beats + standard 12/8 bell • Audio Tracks RP-5a-d

Audio Track RP-5a  (full speed)

Audio Track RP-5b (slow speed)

Audio Track RP-5c (trainer method - full speed)

Audio Track RP-5d (trainer method - slow speed) .

Dance in place or stomp your foot with the low kick drum sound and clap or sing the bell part.

It’s very important to learn this pattern with the main beats from the very beginning. The most common mistake made by students is to hear this pattern as three or six groups of two subdivisions instead of four groups of three subdivisions – i.e., as a waltz instead of a shuffle.

To drive this point home, let’s be aware of the wrong way to feel this pattern.

Rhythmic Perspective Problem 4: “Where’s ‘1’ in 12/8?”

The 12 possible displacements of the standard 12/8 bell pattern.
(If you really want to induce a headache, note that the first line is the same pattern as the intervals of a major scale.)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012, 09:24 PM