As Duke Ellington taught us, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Rhythm is the most fundamental of musical elements. It’s the glue that holds everything together. A clue to how powerful rhythm is can be heard when a “wrong” note played with a funky rhythm: it still sounds good.
There is a new tool that can help you acquire better rhythm for yourself in a fun and easy way: Mo Rhythm Africa, from San Diego percussionist and teacher Monette Marino. More on the app below, after the video.
In The Practice of Practice, there’s a chapter on acquiring rhythm skills using a conga or other percussion instruments, like djembe, one of the coolest sounding drums on the planet. The djembe is a drum invented and used originally in the Mali region of West Africa, but has been adopted all over the planet. One of the world-class musicians who shared their practice experience for the book was djembefola master Sidiki Dembele (he’s the player in white in this example).
You don’t have to be a world class expert to get something from the djembe. Marino’s app, Mo Rhythm Africa will help you acquire the traditional rhythms on djembe (and also on dunun, another drum used in this tradition). If you’re new to this kind of music, each traditional rhythm (there are 10 in the app) has instructional videos that go along with them, and they’re only 99 cents for around 5 videos. Here’s a quick diagram, but you can learn more at Monette Marino’s site.
If you don’t have a drum, I’d recommend a WULA drum. I have one and it’s gorgeous and gets amazing sound, even from a relative beginner like myself. Even better than that, WULA’s philosophy and practice is to support the artists in Guinea who make these drums.