An Overview of Middle Eastern Drumming

…after a semester of playing it? What is there left to learn?

Of course, this is a naive question – otherwise this would have been the shortest blog post possibly ever!

This week, the one and only Omar Al-Musfi joined us in class to teach us Middle Eastern rhythms. I had the chance to be in the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, which he also directs, so yes there was a good amount of overlap, but that is not to say that I came out without having learned anything.

Even if I didn’t live by the mantra that you can gain something out of every experience, I, once again, learned quite a bit about Omar’s teaching style in an ensemble versus more of a “lecture” type setting.

At least as far as drumming goes, Omar prefers to teach strictly by rote. This isn’t surprising, as Western music is really one of the only parts of the musical world that tends to prefer otherwise. In Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, we often would be given a copy of the melody that the other players were using and told to play certain rhythms at certain places, and Omar would then usually just make sure we knew what the rhythm was called so we knew next time he referenced it. On the whole, this learning setting was pretty low-key.

On the other hand, when he came in to teach our class a handful of rhythms, we of course had to start with basic sounds (which is never bad to go back over, even for people with any amount of prior experience), but when it was time to move on to learning the actual rhythms, he handed out a packet with pages full of notated rhythms organized by time signature. After an entire semester of playing in his ensemble, I had never seen this packet before.

So why did he approach is so differently in the classroom? He knew that each setting had a different goal. In Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, the goal is to learn tunes to perform for a concert. In that class, the goal is to be able to use and reference these rhythms in the future, and given only about two hours to cover a topic worth a lifetime, he knew that supplying these rhythms in notated form and playing through a handful of them to understand how they are supposed to feel and sound would be the best use of our time, and I couldn’t agree with him more. Simple as they seem, experiences like these will undoubtedly hold a lasting effect on the way I decide to teach in the future.