Learning Doumbek

Rhythm is created by the timing of melody and percussion. Common percussion in Middle Eastern music
comes from doumbeks (drums), riqs (tambourines) and zills (finger cymbals). The most common drum is the
doumbek. It's goblet shaped with a membrane of fish skin, plastic or other thin material, stretched very tight.

The doumbek rests across the leg opposite your dominant hand, facing your dominant hand, and is held in
place by the elbow of the non-dominant arm. Some drummers elevate the drum by stretching out the
dominant leg, or resting the other foot on something.

The two basic notes on a doumbek are “dum” and “tek”, from which the drum is named. Dum is a low bass
note played by briefly hitting the drum head with the flat of the hand and the fingers together. The heel of
the hand is on or near the rim. It should be struck flat, and the hand should not linger. Play as if the head is
hot and you don’t want to burn yourself.

Tek is a sharp, high note played by striking the head at or near the rim with the fingertip of the middle finger
(it’s okay if the adjacent fingers hit too). Both are played with the dominant hand. There's a third note called
“ka” which is like tek but played with the ring finger of the other hand. It should sound as close to the tek as
possible. In other parts of the world this note is called tek, but American drummers call it ka to distinguish it
from the dominant hand. Tek and ka are hit with the palm side of the fingertip, beyond the joint. The force
should come from the wrist and arm, not the finger muscles.

The basic rhythm is generally played with the dominant hand, and the left embellishes with extra notes.
Rhythms are also embellished by substituting a dum or tek with a slap, pop or other accent.

Below is the rhythm known in the belly dance community as baladi (the spelling may vary). Many, many
songs use this rhythm or related rhythms and variations. The letters D, T and K stand for dum, tek and ka.
Upper case letters are accented.

Typical baladi:
D D tkT D tkT tk

The baladi rhythm is pronounced, “dum dum teka-tek dum teka-tek teka”. This is how most drummers
memorize a rhythm, and sometimes say it while playing. The spaces in the rhythm are rests where no note
is played, but which take the same length of time as a sounded note. Some drummers pronounce the rests
“es” (pronounced ess) or “and”. The last “tk” is optional, and is a lead-in or bridge to the next repetition of
the rhythm. After the last count the rhythm starts again from the Learning with no delay or change in
tempo. The numbers above the rhythm are for counting. Baladi is generally considered to be a 4/4 rhythm,
meaning there are 4 counts or beats (the top 4 in 4/x), and each beat has the length of a quarter note (the
bottom four in x/4).  Looking at the accented notes, you can see that the core rhythm is this:

Basic baladi:
D D   T D   T

If you hear, “dum dum … tek dum … tek”, you're probably listening to baladi, even if it has a lot of extra
notes in it.  There are other rhythms very similar to baladi. You might consider them all in the same family.

Maksoum (spelling may vary):
D T   T D   T      Basic maksoum
D T tkT D tkT tk   A common maksoum

Maksoum is almost idential to baladi, but starts with D T instead of D D.

D T   D D   T     A basic sai'idi
D T tkD D tkT tk  A common saiidi

Looking at the basic rhythm, you can see it too is like baladi, but it has two dums instead of the tek dum in
the middle of baladi. Baladi is dum dum … dum, maksoum is dum … dum, and saiidi is dum … dum dum.

A drummer can easily (and often does) switch between these rhythms because they are so close together.
A drummer will also switch between variations of the same rhythm, by adding, subtracting or changing
notes. These three rhythms all have the same number of counts. Two common rhythms that are half the
length are ayub and malfouf:

D  T  T   Basic
DkkTkkTk  Filled

Ayoub (aka zar, or calypso):
D  kD T

These are 2/4 rhythms (2 quarter-notes), where the baladi family are 4/4 rhythms. Masmoudi and ciftitelli
are twice as long as baladi.

Ciftetelli 8/4
D   ktT   ktT   D   D   T    ktt

Masmoudi 8/4
D   D           D
D   D  ktttkT   D tktktktktktk

Some rhythms have unusual counts, such as 9/8 (often called karsilama), with 9 counts. The first three
notes are twice as long: dum and tek and dum and tek tek tek. Counting the “ands” (the rests), that's 9.

D   T   D   T T t

- Dave Goodman

<- Back to Home Page