How To Find Traditional Rhythms

How does one find out the "truth" about traditional rhythms?


I usually use a method that might be called the rule of three.


1. Get at least 3 recordings of the rhythm.

2. Performed by 3 different groups.

3. In 3 different localities.

4. Recorded by 3 different producers.

5. Who were sponsored by 3 different organizations or institutions.

6. Each recording being done in a different decade.

7. Find transcriptions of the rhythm in ethnographic research reports.

8. Transcribe all 3 recordings. Compare them and keep only the notes they have in common.


The result, what all 3 examples have in common, is what I call a footprint. Like a bear's print; could be griz or polar or adult or cub or male or female, but it is a bear. There may be a lot of ways to play a Guaguanco, but its footprint is distinctly different from that of a Samba or Calypso.


I learned early on to not accept just someone from (e.g. Luis) Nigeria telling me, "This is the way Ewo is done." Maybe it is just the way his village does it, or the way he does it, or maybe he doesn't know what he's talking about.


I either want to see three different groups play it, or get the recordings of three separate groups.


This may not be a perfect method, but it is a whole lot better than just believing someone because he dresses like an African and American drummers think he is African.


Unfortunately, this method takes a lot of time. Individual rhythms are usually not listed in discographies or catalogs. Here is the method I've used in the past:


Buy all the ethnographic recordings of the culture you are examining.


Buy all the ethnomusicological disertations, thesi and research reports and their recordings of the culture. These are usually on microfilm and can be accessed by computer through University Microfilms in Michigan (don't know if this is still current. Luis)


Possibly, you already know all this, but it is too time consuming and difficult to do.


Jim's Notes: A Course in Drumming