Danielle Elizabeth and Paul Evans of Baksana have been developing a language of written notation that can be used to accurately record finger cymbal patterns and compositions within the context of classic western music notation. Inspired by general percussion notation, we have assigned specific symbols to denote the various tones we use while playing, and on which hand we play them, while incorporating other preexisting formal notation vocabulary such as time signatures, tempo, volume etc. We hope you’ll enjoy learning and incorporating this new system into your dance/music creativity.
Volume 1 & 2 are now available! Print or E-Books on Lulu!
New Course for Finger Cymbal Notation!
Translating Longa and Baladi into Baksana Finger Cymbal Notation.
A step-by-step video tutorial on the writing and playing of the Longa pattern and Baladi rhythm for finger cymbals.
FINGER CYMBAL AWARENESS MONTH
What is it?
In 2014, Danielle felt compelled to write an essay about the importance of playing cymbals mindfully and intentionally, especially when working with live musicians. This sparked the catch phrase of February being “Finger Cymbal Awareness Month.” A time for dancers to dedicate themselves to strengthening their technique and learning more about the contexts and applications of cymbal playing. Baksana as a whole has decided to take up the banner, and wave it proudly, as cymbal playing has become an essential and bonding element of the group. Now this Finger Cymbal Awareness Month celebration has spread world-wide! Each February we host an interactive social media campaign full of challenges, videos of some of our inspirations, and practice tips. To join in the fun, follow our Instagram and/or Facebook page! Be sure to tag @baksanaensemble and #fingercymbalawarenessmonth in all your cymbal related posts so we, and the community at large, can find you and shower you with excitement and support!
Here’s some archiving of our Finger Cymbal Celebrations:
-Here is a copy of the original blog post Danielle published on her old website in February, 2014-
In a recent conversation with my friend, Henna, I jokingly mentioned that “I’d like to dub February as Finger Cymbal Awareness Month.” We laughed, then realized the actual importance of the statement, and thus I’ve decided to take action! Not that a finger cymbal player should only devote one month a year to practice (it’s an instrument that takes years of consistent energy, as much as any other instrument) but perhaps we can have a yearly “reminder” to celebrate finger cymbals! A time for dancers to pick them up again if perhaps they’ve taken a back-seat, introduce a new dancer to playing zils, or even encourage musicians to give them a try!
Why should we care about finger cymbals?
Finger cymbals (aka zils or sagaat) are amazing, pocket-sized, percussion powerhouses. They’re an essential companion for any Raqs Sharqi dancer. When mastered, zils can truly express and add as much to a performance as any other percussion instrument. Paring interesting zil rhythms with musical compositions can bring new vibrancy and life into a song. They can also demonstrate/express a dancers intimate understanding of the music they are performing to. It is truly fulfilling for a dancer to be able to accompany their own dancing! Finger cymbals are one of the things that tie this dance form uniquely to it’s music.
Finger cymbals are deceptively challenging to truly master, however. Good dancers/players make anything look easy, right?! Just strap them on, smash them together, and they make lots of audible noise with little effort. Many dancers consider them “just a prop”, and many musicians are mighty weary of them. Well, I’m here to offer a different, more nuanced perspective…
Finger Cymbals are one of my favorite things about this dance form. I am a percussionist as well as a dancer, so this might naturally make sense. Being a wearer of both the dancer and musician hats has given me certain insights and observations about the awesomeness and challenges of finger cymbals.
Being a musician also makes me hyper-aware of the “sound-space” every time I go to a show, especially shows with live music. In addition to melodies, rhythms, lyrics and compositions, I pay attention to dynamics, tempo, and quality of the overall auditory experience. Personally, I’m a sucker for well-balanced, dynamic, acoustic music. I have felt the incredible magic of a band in-tune and in-time, in an acoustically complimentary space, and I yearn for it. It’s not easy to achieve; a lot goes into creating and maintaining an awesome mix. I also know not everyone shares my same desire for “intentional sound making” and/or attentive, appreciative “audience-ing”… but there are many out there who do.
So, whats all that got to do with dancers playing finger cymbals?
When a dancer plays finger cymbals, they effect the sound-space of the entire room.
Cymbals are loud by nature, they were designed that way. High-pitched sounds -like cymbals- “cut” through/above other noises. With great power comes great responsibility. Finger cymbals can effect the entire composition of a piece of music, for better or worse. Cymbals become a part of the music. The dancer becomes a musician by default.
In my opinion: when creating one of the most audible noises in the room, it would be for the benefit of all to be as conscious as possible about volume, tempo, and overall quality of playing. As I mentioned, dancers become a part of the band when they play zils. That is an exciting honor, and a responsibility. A dancer should take that position as serious as other members of the band consider their instruments. Practice lots and know your stuff. (If you’re not dancing to live music, the same applies, except that you are even more visible/audible because there’s no band to share focus.)
Overall, lets admit it, it’s extremely difficult to play an instrument and simultaneously execute complex, syncopated dance movements at the same time…. well.
If a dancer choses to perform with finger cymbals, I think its as important to master as any other part of their performance. As important as perfecting isolations, remembering choreography, and costuming. Anything a dancer choses to include in performance should be presented with as much energy and consideration as possible. Things like music, zils, costumes and venue are important because they frame, support, and effect the overall dance experience.
My dream? To see a world where finger cymbals are loved, appreciated, and respected by all for the great percussion instruments that they truly are. Experiences where dancers, musicians, and audiences alike look forward to that exciting finger cymbal section of a performance!
Cheers to lots of learning, practicing, and supporting dancer musicality!
Finger Cymbal Awareness Tips:
1) Become familiar with the all the sounds finger cymbals make (yes, there are more than one! Loud rings, soft “clacks”, sharp “tics”…. etc).
2) Practice with a metronome. http://a.bestmetronome.com/ record your practice sessions, and listen back to observe your progress.
3) Learn about basic Arabic rhythms, then learn common zil patterns that accompany them.
4) Study music in general. Understanding even just the basics of musical counting and song structures will help immensely!
5) Finger cymbals are an instrument, if you want to get good and stay good, you ideally need to practice daily, or as frequently as you practice dance! Try for 30 mins, with a metronome and/or a song, at least once a week. Strive to achieve technical proficiency with the cymbals before performing with them.
6) If you live in an apartment, make an “x” with electrical tape on the underside of your cymbals to dampen the ring. Also… controlling the volume of your cymbals and learning to play quietly is a really good skill to foster.
7) Improvise! Know your instrument so well, and feel so confident, that you can turn on any song and play with ease and fluidity.
8) If you’re performing with live music (lucky!) consider letting the band know that you are planning to play finger cymbals. That may effect the song they chose to play for you.
9) Play with a smile!!!! Relax and have fun!
10) Once you’ve mastered playing cymbals solo, find some friends and play as an ensemble. Enjoy the benefits and challenges of syncing up together and playing as one.
p.s. my favorite place to get Finger Cymbals:
Saroyan MasterCrafts – http://www.saroyancymbals.com/index.html
-End of Original Post
2021 Interview with Sahira about our connections to playing Finger Cymbals
Scroll below for some of our archived social media posts related to cymbal awareness month! ❤ Follow our Instagram page directly for MANY MORE #FingerCymbalAwarenessMonth goodness! We have things archived there in our “highlights” sections
SOCIAL MEDIA #FingerCymbalAwarenessMonth CONTENT
STYLES OF FINGER CYMBAL PLAYING – ESSAY BY SHINING
Article written by Shining, http://www.shiningbellydance.com, created for Baksana’s February Finger Cymbal Awareness Month, 2-2018
As with so many other piece of information, context is everything. Below, I’ve listed various contexts under the “Belly Dance” umbrella in which you might find someone playing finger cymbals while belly dancing, to help give you an idea of how the same fundamental rhythms and patterns are applied in different situations. In the next article we will talk about the many names finger cymbals carry throughout the Middle East and the context of finger cymbals in Egypt, in and outside the world of Belly Dance.
Vintage American Oriental
Influenced by Greek and Turkish dancers and music. Complex or continuous patterns (meaning less space between repetitions of a pattern) played by a solo dancer throughout a routine, using different rhythms (such as masmoudi sagir/baladi, chiftitelli, etc), patterns (like 123, 12345, 1234567 in various exchanging arrangements) and sound types (clap, ring, tek). Some dancers use teks instead of loud ring for slow or soft sections, some dancers did not play during slow section. Some dancers like Aida Al Adawi played their own “cymbal solo”.
Naima Greek Routine (start around 4:50 to hear cymbals played during a “soft/slow” section)
John Compton solo (start about 4:20 for finger cymbals)
Aida Adawi Cymbal Solo (start at 2:20 to hear finger cymbals most clearly)
Modern American Oriental
Most American Oriental/AmCab dancers now play a more simplified style using longa and runs, pausing where appropriate in the phrasing of the music.
Aziza (forgive the strange proportions of the video, cymbals start at 1:10)
Yana (makes use of longa and masmoudi segir)
Raqs Sharqi dancers in Egypt from about the 1920’s onward began to reduce their use of cymbals in dance routines, introducing a musician into their orchestras to play cymbals while she danced. When the dancer does play, she uses something akin to “half-ring” technique in simple “longa” (ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum) and running patterns, often during the Baladi (traditional urban music sections of the show) which last at most a few minutes, then removed her cymbals and continues with her show. Also used during tableaus like the Candelabra dance (Raqs Shamadan) to refer to the older traditions of Urban dance entertainment, or to reference rural entertainers like the Ghawzee. (This category is surprisingly hard to find videos on youtube of audible cymbal playing, I would say in general it is played a little faster than in the Nadia Hamdi clip below.)
Souheir Zaki (see 6:30-8:40)
Fifi Abdou (3:10-6:20 cymbals are not audible, but you can see attitude and hear music changes)
Nadia Hamdi (Candelabra dance, cymbals can be clearly heard throughout)
Nadia Fouad (plays throughout the first 18min of the video, during the first half of her show, hard to hear the cymbals, but around 16:30-16:50 you can make them out a little bit)
Upper Egyptian Ghawazee dancers, especially the Banat Mazin, are known for playing finger cymbals throughout their shows, usually longa and running patterns fitted with the music of the region.
Banat Mazin sisters (Starting 1:30)
Khyriya Mazin (starts with claps matching the beat, brief “longa” followed by running pattern throughout remaining video to match the upbeat tempo change, including pauses for singing)
Khyriya Mazin (first two min feature longa and some misc. accents, second half feature running pattern)
Unknown Upper Egyptian Ghawazee (two dancers, two different tempos 1:30-4:00 & 6:30-8:00)
The patterns are not so different in ATS, longa is the predominant pattern, but have a much more evenly-spaced feeling. All members tend to play the same patterns, some movement patterns have cymbal combinations built into them, but generally the playing is 4/4 and consistent throughout the upbeat sections of a show. Unlike a Solo American Oriental performer, the cymbals in this group style will play unceasingly throughout upbeat section of the music (rather than pausing at the end of certain phrases or during lulls in a song).
Fatchance (cymbals start 3:20)
Improvisational Tribal, Fusion, Fantasy, and Other Group Cymbal Work
Not many Solo Fusion dancers make use of cymbals, but various groups in the fusion community including “fakelore” (folkloric inspired dance with personal creative interpretations) and other branches of theater and folkloric presentation do, and so the style of playing varies case by case, some groups have created their own format/sound presentation that incorporate elements of traditional (Middle Eastern) playing with western or other external influences.
Hahbi ‘Ru is a folkloric-inspired/early “tribal” group that incorporates traditional Middle Eastern/N. African dance and music into their own aesthetic and theatrical storyline. (2:20-5:20 group cymbal playing)
Baksana is an semi-improvisational group (utilizing choreography sometimes) that ties movement combinations together with specific complex finger cymbal patterns, I do not personally know of any other group that has done this. (0.30-1:10 for group playing)
Bal Anat, The Salimpours’ troupe famous as the impetus of theatrical interpretation and “tribal” presentation in American Belly Dance had dancers who played cymbals as well as a supporting cast of background musicians. Focusing on just the dancing roles for this article, let’s look at this Turkish Romani tableau from (3:00-5:00 min), Sword routine (8:50-12:00) and another dancer using cymbals consistent with vintage American Oriental technique including a fun two handed technique, from (26:40-29:00).
Below is an example video from an exercise on page 26 of the notation book. Feel free to write to us anytime with questions: email@example.com