Goblet Drumming for Beginners
Presented by Madog Barfog of House Neverwinter
Welcome to the class, and if this is your first time drumming, welcome to the world of
This class is designed for those who want to learn about drums and drumming in the
SCA. By the end of the class, you will understand how to select a drum, how to join a
drum circle, and how to continue expanding your knowledge.
The drum we are discussing is part of a class of drums known as goblet drums. Goblet
drums are used in many areas of the world, and go by many names. Some of the names
include darbukka, dumbelek, tarambuka, thon, tabla (not to be confused with the Indian
tabla, a 2 drum set with a disc of black tar in the middle of each head). In the SCA, the
most common name is dumbek (or doumbek). There are so many names because of the
large number of areas in which these drums are used-Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and
of course countries ranging from Turkey to Persia and even Japan.
While the dumbek is a very old instrument, its popularity has soared only in the last
century or so. Prior to this, the most prominent drum used in Middle Eastern music is a
type of frame drum call a riq. A riq is a type of tambourine. Since the dumbek was in use
in many areas of the world as early as the 12th century (although its origins are probably
much older), its use in the SCA is appropriate.
There is an African style of goblet drum called a djimbe. While African rhythms and
playing styles are different than those in the Middle East, djimbes can also be played as
Basic Drum Construction
All goblet drums share the common characteristic of a goblet shaped body, with a head
stretched over the large end.
Body materials include:
Ceramic (traditional Egyptian)
Nickel (traditional Turkish)
Aluminum or copper (modern professional)
Aluminum or copper bodies are considered to have the best sound today, but ceramic is a
more traditional material.
Heads can be either synthetic or natural. Ideally, the head should be adjustable through
screws (modern synthetic heads) or cords (traditional animal skin heads).
Skin materials include:
Goatskin (very common and traditional, but subject to heat/humidity changes)
Fish skin (the finest of the natural heads, almost impervious to changes in the
environment, giving a very fine tone-but also the most delicate of the natural materials)
Mylar (which modern professionals use-impervious to elements, fairly sturdy, crisp
Fyberskin (another synthetic material, a bit more durable and cheaper than mylar, but
with a duller sound)
Heads are attached to the drum body by:
Glue (cheapest, but subject to loosening if your tent floods)
Screws (most modern, least traditional)
Cords (traditional, adjustable with difficulty)
Selecting a Drum
While the information above gives you some advantages and disadvantages of different
material, there is no right or wrong drum. Pick a drum that has a sound and feel you like,
and that fits your needs and price range. When we were selling drums, we sold a small
ceramic drum good for a beginner or practice for $50, and our large djimbes for up to
$300. Our most popular drums went for $85 and $120.
Natural skin drums can suck the oil from your hands. In dry climates, it’s a good idea to
use hand lotion on before playing to prevent dry skin. You can rub some on the drum,
Natural skins can also absorb too much moisture in humid climates, causing the sound to
be low and dull. Warm the drumhead by rubbing it with your hands or carefully holding
the head near a heat source. Expect to see people periodically “toasting” their drum at
damp drum circles. Do not toast your synthetic head!
Remove rings before playing to avoid damaging the drumhead.
Store your drum standing on its head. This is for better stability, and to prevent changes
in air pressure from breaking the head.
Playing Your Drum
There are 2 methods of holding your dumbek. From a comfortable seated position, put
the drum between your legs with its head in your lap. You may cross your ankles to help
you hold the drum. This is an easy, comfortable position that leaves both hands free. It’s
sometimes referred to as the Moroccan hold, as many wooden bodied African drums are
held this way. Alternatively, rest the drum on your left thigh (if you are right handed) and
rest your left arm on the drum with your palm at the edge of the head. This is the way
most modern professionals hold it, and it is more traditional for Middle Eastern styles.
Djimbes are played standing up, usually with the drum hanging from a neck strap due to
its size. You can also rest it between you legs, but be sure to tilt it so the bottom is open
and the sound not muffled. If your drum is large, you can even straddle it like a horse.
As long as you don’t set your drum down and drum it into the ground, choose whatever
method you like.
Dumbeks make 2 and ½ sounds-Dum, Tek (or Bek), and Ka (or La). Dum is almost
always played with your dominant hand. Strike the drum near the middle of the head with
your palm, as if spanking it. You should hear a rich, powerful bass note. This is the note
you can use to join in on or learn new rhythms or variations. If you can play no other part
of the beat besides the dum, you are still playing and contributing.
Teks are made by striking the edge of the drum with the fingers of your dominant hand,
primarily around the second knuckle. It should be a sharp, high-pitched sound, although
the timbre will vary widely between drums.
Kas are teks made with your weaker hand.
The last page contains several popular rhythms. Dums, teks and kas are denoted by D, T,
or K. Capital letters indicate accented notes, played a bit more enthusiastically. If you can
count the rhythm, great-but you can also just memorize the beat. Remember that a pause
is also a note! There are many variations of each of these rhythms, and they can be played
very simply or with complex patterns woven around the basic beat.
Counting: even rhythms (specifically 4 beat rhythms) are counted “1 e an a 2 e an a 3 e
an a 4 e an a”. You can say this out loud as you play the dums, teks, and kas, to see where
the fall. It’s important to maintain an even rhythm. I find it useful to have a friend count
out loud for me so I can concentrate on hand placement.
Odd beat rhythms are counted differently. For example, a 7 may be counted 1,2,1,2,1,2,3.
While these rhythms are very fun and fairly easy, we’ll cover those in an intermediate
Beledi is the most popular rhythm. The word belly dancing comes from beledi. Most of
the modern belly dance music we’ve heard consists almost entirely of beledi variants.
Ayub (I’m not even going to attempt to list the spelling variations) is another easy to
learn, useful rhythm. It’s a trance rhythm and can be very soothing to play in a circle.
Finally, Masmoudi is similar to beladi and can be played alternately with it. One of the
names of beledi means “little masmoudi”, as beledi is actually a masmoudi variant.
There are many other rhythms, but these three are the focus of this class.
Drum Circle Etiquette
Ask permission before playing somebody else’s drum. Really, you should make
arrangements ahead of time.
Listen as much as you play. By listening to what’s going on in the circle as you play, you
will have a better sense of how you might fit into the spontaneous pattern being created.
Support the fundamental beat that you hear in the drum song as it develops. You don’t
have to be a rhythm robot and hold down the same part all night long. There is plenty of
freedom within the fundamental groove to experiment with while expressing your
Play at the volume of the group. If you can only hear yourself, you are probably not
having a constructive musical relationship with the rest of the players in the circle. While
you are drumming, be sure to follow and support the dynamic changes in volume and
tempo that the group will go through.
Don't smoke in the circle. Drumming is exercise, and dancers are working even harder!
Respect the need of everyone to breathe clean air in such a closely packed environment.
Listen for, then play along with and around the pulse that will always be somewhere in
the music. It is like keeping the side of the pool within reach as you are learning how to
swim. The simple pulse will always be there for you to “grab on to” if you ever get
rhythmically lost while playing. When in doubt, fall back to the dums, and play the other
beats very softly until you have a feel for them. Watch the hands of other drummers
around you for clues.
When in doubt, ask. Every rhythm event is different, and has its own particular variations
of drum circle etiquette.
http://www.crispyneurons.com/index.php/Dumbek -more rhythms and information
http://www.drumfest.com –Daveed (my teacher) Korup’s website. Downloadable music.
http://www.khafif.com/khafif/ -more rhythms and information
http://www.mid-east.com -decent drums at decent prices, and Daveed’s practice CDs
http://www.remo.com -very nice drums, and more info
My email: email@example.com
If you’re near Columbus, Ohio, let’s get together and drum!
First, without the instructional material produced by my teacher Daveed Korup and his
mentor Billy Woods (Sylvanus), we wouldn’t be where we are today.
I’d especially like to thank my wife Ursula for not only drumming with me, but for
drumming better than I do (as you do most things). It’s great to have another way to
communicate with you. Also, thanks for letting me wander at 2 AM at wars.
Thanks also to my son Ulric, whose drum skills have grown admirably over the past year.
Not only that, but he plays the didgeridoo and the dumbek at the same time!
Special thanks to my daughter, Dorinda. While 3 drummers is a decent “circle seed”, our
formula is not complete without a dancer to set an example-and what an example!
Finally, I’d like to thank all those people who feel their night is best spent drumming or
dancing. I’d be a very lonely drummer without you, and I’d probably pack up and go
home dejected. The feelings I’ve experienced at drum circles range from fun to spiritual,
and it wouldn’t have been possible without so many drummers. Still, there needs to be
more of us-so come on, come out and drum! I’ll be waiting for you.