Rhythm is one of the most fundamental musical elements, in my opinion, one of the most important and most powerful. Unless we’re a drummer, our focus on rhythm often is overshadowed by other demands of the instrument or voice: tone production, fingering, intonation, and a host of other important things to think about. The metronome will help you with precision, but I think there’s a better way to really get deep into a rhythmic groove, and that’s by playing a percussion instrument. There are SO many to choose from. Learn more in Chapter 34: Rhythmning, in The Practice of Practice. Below are three of my favorite rhythm instruments I use in practice.
I’ve found that focusing exclusively on rhythm (though there are tone and technique aspects to rhythmic instruments, too!), helps my overall rhythm. Plus, it’s fun to learn to play a new instrument. The first, like the Farmer foot pedals, don’t take a whole lot of technique, but when you combine foot percussion with playing your main instrument, it opens up a whole new realm of independent movement that I’ve found to be a big help in both my guitar and trumpet playing. Maybe I”ll post a video later of how I use these. For now, check ’em out:
here’s an extreme, musical, and super-cool use of pedals by drummer Marco Iannetta:
Djembe master Sidiki Dembele spoke with me about his experience of practice for The Practice of Practice. Here he is in a djembe duet (Sidiki plays first). For a most excellent app to practice djembe, check out Piti Piti Pa.
To play djembe well you have to learn the 3 sounds: slap, tone, and bass. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Like any instrument, to get a good sound takes practice, but let me tell you, it’s worth it. Djembe is a super fun instrument. Below, another djembe master, M’Bemba Bangoura, teaches the three sounds of the djembe. Get a djembe here.
Another fantastic instrument that is fairly easy to play but, like everything, takes lots of study to master. You can benefit from any of these instruments right away, because their basic techniques are easy to do at a basic level, and then you can focus deeply on the rhythmic aspects. I love playing conga along with masters like Tito Puente and his congueros Mongo Santamaria, Ray Baretto, and others, like master conguero Carlos “Patato” Valdez. Below is another modern master, virtuoso Giovanni Hidalgo. Amazing! Below that are a few excellent beginning conga videos on how to play the tumbao. Get a conga here (don’t choose the “mini”).