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Frame Drum Notation

Framedrums Of the World

Daf and other frame drums in Asia, North Africa and East Europe

Peyman Nasehpour ©2002


Daf is one of the percussion-skinned instruments of Persia that it...


Frame Drum Scoring - Introduction

With many of the more ancient forms of drumming, the traditional patterns have been passed from generation to generation in an oral form, i.e. that the rhythm is spoken. If you can say it, you can play it is the basic tenet.

This is true of Japanese taiko, Indian tabla, African djembe in fact nearly every culture has some form of spoken tradition associated with its drum music. Most of them are onomatopoeic and refer to the sounds that are made by the drums themselves.  The information contained in this page will work equally for doumbek, tar, riqq, and any number of the mid-eastern family of drums or frame drums of similar design.

Frame drumming notation

There is much discussion in frame drumming circles regarding methods for storing or passing on rhythms. There is one method that seems to be common as a general method of sharing rhythms, this method works for many types of hand drumming at its most basic level.

The two main sounds are the bass sound which is called ‘Doum’ and a treble sound that is called ‘Tek’ or ‘Ka’. Tek is played by the dominant hand (right hand in the case of a right handed person) and Ka by the subdominant or ‘weaker’ hand.  These are notated by ‘d’ ‘t’ & ‘k’.  Accents are notated by capital letters ‘D’,’T’ & ‘K’.

Gaps or ‘rests’ in the music also require to be notated and this can be shown by using one of a number of passive symbols such as - or *, it is best if you use symbols that are individually recognizable such as *. On some screens ‘- -‘ may be seen as ‘–‘ which could be misinterpreted as a single count instead of two


Lets look at a common middle eastern bellydance rhythm called ‘Baladi’.

It goes Doum rest Doum rest tek ka Tek rest Doum rest tek ka Tek rest tek ka. If I write ‘d d t k t d t k t t k ’ to represent the strikes on the drum, it appears that there are 11 beats which gives no indication of how the rhythm should sound

Given that the bar needs to be sub-divided into 16 equal measures to get the feel of the rhythm, If I write the phrase out as ‘d * d * t k t * d * t k t * t k’ I have16 beats, the extra 5 being rests. As they are now placed in their relative positions to each other, the rhythm makes sense. I sometimes suggest to students that when learning the rhythm at a slow pace, they count a rest as an out-breath ‘Ah’.  In the out-breath method it is Doum Ah Doum Ah tek ka Tek Ah Doum Ah tek ka Tek Ah tek ka

If I add in accents which are signified by capitals we get ‘D * D * t k T * D * t k T * t k’ The accents emphasise the main classic bellydance underlying rhythm D*D***T*D***T** which could also be written DD*TD*T* if there are 8 beats to the bar.

One further useful option is the count line.

  • In the case of 4 beats to the bar we count 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . .

  • in the case of 8 beats to the bar we count 1 . + . 2 . + . 3 . + . 4 . + .
  • in the case of 16 beats to the bar we count 1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a.

Here is the same Baladi rhythm with the count line

1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a

D * D * t k T * D * t k T * t k

One Word of advice if using this for sharing information on screen or on paper is to make sure that you are using a fixed width font (such as courier) in order to maintain the vertical relationship between the count and rhythm lines, if this relationship is lost, confusion will arise!

Of course this does not mean that you should avoid contemporary notation using the staff, quite the opposite, go and learn!! In the meantime, you will find that the great majority of drummers and other hobbyist musicians are not classically trained. Most professional hand drummers that I know personally and through the internet (including myself) seem to use a mixture of basic notation and all the above techniques depending on the nature of their requirements and their specific target audience.

This is merely a tool for transmitting information at its most basic level however this is more than sufficient for most drummers to learn manyof the hundreds of rhythms out there. You will find that if frame drum notation scoring music printed crotchets quavers oral aural tradition tar daf duff riq bendiryou get into hand drumming for real, that this system may be suitable only for ‘gross’ notation.

Finer notation where you are required to subdivide again, say where you might need a 32nd beat finger roll, flams or other more complicated activities may be more problematic. At that stage, music notation becomes extremely useful but by that stage you will have realized that yourself :)

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