Monday, March 11, 2013

African bell pattern and its inversions

What we have here is the familiar 12/8 or 6/8 bell pattern (here called “short”; in the US it's commonly called “Afro-Cuban”, or Naningo, or BembĂ©), run through several common inversions, each starting on a different note of the pattern. Users call this the Bembe wheel (or Bembe Wheels, or the Wheels of Bembe). It's not my original thing, but it has been kicked around the web enough that I'm not sure who to credit for it, other than the Ewe people of Ghana.

UPDATE: The author of this methodology is Gary Harding, a percussionist, scholar, and teacher from Washington state. There is further information on his site, which you can regard as authoritative— if there's any conflict with anything I say about this, go with Gary's info.

You can find it easily in “tab” form, but here it is for people who read music:

The patterns called “long” and especially  “short” will be most familiar. I always thought I was pretty sophisticated, African-influenced cat for occasionally using the long pattern, but as you can see there's quite a bit more to it than that.

Here's an article comparing the inversions of the bell pattern with the melodic modes in European music, which you could say are formed in a similar way. Use with caution— there is no actual connection I am aware of between the two things in practice or in history. I guess the conclusion we are meant to draw is that humans apply similar logic to music across cultures and media. But it wouldn't be a bad practice to think of the inversions as rhythmic modes, each with its own special color. And it may be that that is what is done; I'm a simple jazz drummer, and this concept is as new to me as it is to many of you.

Coming up we'll look at a few ways of developing this on the drum set.

Get the pdf

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